Sheriff interviews set to start

CHARLES TOWN – The County Commission will interview three candidates for the office of sheriff next week before a possible vote on the matter early next month.

In all, 16 county residents have applied for the opening.

Commission President Dale Manuel said the three candidates to be interviewed will be the lead vote-getters from among each commissioner’s top three choices.

“We decided as a body to each pick three candidates from the pool,” said Commission President Dale Manuel.

Manuel promised to make the process as transparent as possible, but said the commission has reserved the right to ask questions in executive session as well.

“The majority of the interviews will be public,” he said. “We don’t anticipate, though we do want to have the ability, to ask questions in executive session. We just wanted the option open if it is necessary.”

A vote could be taken on Tuesday, though the commission has not yet decided whether it will take a vote on that day.

In related news, six new individuals entered applications before the deadline last Friday, including Jefferson County assistant prosecutor Stephen Groh, school board member Peter Dougherty and two county residents with backgrounds in law enforcement and intelligence, Willard Liston, a former Montgomery County, Md., police officer and Francis Post Casto, who worked for the National Reconnaissance Office and the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Groh, a Charles Town resident, has worked as a county assistant prosecuting attorney for the last nine years, a position which involves regular interaction with the Sheriff’s Department. Groh said he thinks of the sheriff as more of an administrative position and less one that requires being on the road.

“That’s what I do now,” he said. “They will call me in the middle of the night and say, ‘We have a situation. These are the facts. What advice do you have?’ I think I could step right into that as sheriff.”

In his application, Groh said he would work to increase the thoroughness of criminal investigations and shift more funds to the training of deputies.

“They train them at the academy to work their way toward an arrest,” Groh said. “But to get from an arrest to a conviction, there is lab work and there are interviews. In the current budget, less than one half of 1 percent is allocated for training. It seems that there are other areas in the budget that we can use for more training without increasing the overall budget.”

Groh said he would make it a priority to retrain deputies on arrest procedures and use of force policies in order to regain the trust of the public in the wake of Robert “Bobby” Shirley’s guilty plea to using excessive force during the 2010 arrest of a bank robber.

Dougherty, also a Charles Town resident, is the director of homeless veterans programs at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and has been a member of the county board of education for 25 years. He also served as a legislative staffer to U.S. Representative Harley “Bucky” Staggers Jr. , and as magistrate from 1977 until 1983.

“I started out my career in Jefferson County, working in the probation and parol office,” he said. “I’ve had a long history of service in the community. This is a way for me to return, on a full-time basis, to working in Jefferson County.”

Dougherty said the position of sheriff needs to be a person who is respectful of the law and respectful of the process.

“Public service is the privilege to serve citizens,” he said.

Willard Liston, of Charles Town, worked for 28 years as an officer with the Montgomery County Department of Police, retiring as an assistant to the chief. He then worked 18 years as a federal law enforcement officer with the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Health and Human Services and the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency both inside an outside the country.

Francis Post Casto, a Charles Town resident, is a former quality control officer who has worked on contract with several intelligence agencies, including the National Reconnaissance Office and the Defense Intelligence Agency. He worked with intelligence officials looking for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in 2005.

“My job was to make sure that everyone was doing their job correctly,” Casto said. “Basically, what is a sheriff’s job? His job is to make sure that everyone is obeying the law.”

Casto said he does not think any major steps need to be taken in the wake of Shirley’s resignation.

“Everything was in place that took care of the original problem,” he said. “The camcorders on the dash of the computer were already in place.”

Casto said, if chosen, he would see himself as a placeholder who hold have the job for a year. “I could not foresee being on office long enough to make any major changes,” he said. “If anyone says they’re going to make big changes in this amount of time, I would not believe them.”

Other candidates are Mimi Rogers, a Shepherdstown resident and Amanda Piatt, of Harpers Ferry, is a cashier and babysitter.

Rogers is a former legal assistant who has worked with several law firms since the mid-1980s. She also worked as a security guard at Hollywood Casino in 2005.

Two other applicants were disqualified because they listed out-of-county addresses. State law requires the sheriff to reside in the county.

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