At sentencing, former sheriff gets year; feds recommended longer prison term
WHEELING – The prison sentence handed down to former Jefferson County Sheriff Robert “Bobby” Shirley in U.S. District Court Monday was lighter than it could have been, despite the presence of “enhancements” that called for a stiffer punishment.
[cleeng_content id="211343346" description="Read it now!" price="0.15" t="article"]The enhancements were for committing crimes while on duty as a law enforcement officer, and for committing crimes against a “vulnerable victim.” Shirley also received an obstruction of justice enhancement for attempting to influence witnesses to alter their testimony and produce false documents, according to court testimony.
Shirley is in Northern Regional Jail awaiting transfer to a federal facility, having been sentenced Monday in Wheeling to one year and one day in prison.
In January, Shirley resigned as sheriff and pleaded guilty to the charge of deprivation of rights under color of law for using excessive force when arresting Mark Daniel Haines, a since-convicted bank robber, following a high-speed chase in 2010.
Judge John Preston Bailey, who overruled objections to the vulnerable victim and obstruction of justice enhancements after hearing oral arguments, also denied a sentencing reduction that is extended to those who take responsibility for their crimes. According to testimony on Monday, Bailey’s denial was due to statements he had made to his probation officer that he was pleading guilty for his family’s sake.
Nevertheless, Shirley was the beneficiary of a 2005 Supreme Court decision that converted federal sentencing guidelines, which were originally mandatory, into recommendations, allowing judges discretion to impose sentences lower than the minimum.
Bailey exercised that discretion, reducing by two thirds the 33-month minimum recommended by federal probation officers in their pre-sentence report, and sentenced Shirley to serve one year and a day in federal prison, dismissing a request by the former sheriff’s attorney, Keven Mills, that Shirley be ordered to serve home confinement, third-party custody or supervised release.
Mills said incarcerating a law enforcement officer was “a hellish fate.”
Addressing an open court room filled with around 60 supporters of Shirley, Bailey said that since he was a law enforcement officer for 30 years, “any amount of prison is going to be very difficult for him.”
Bailey acknowledged Shirley’s contribution to the safety of Jefferson County through his years as a sheriff and a deputy. “He has helped to make the community safer by taking dangerous criminals off the street,” he said.
But, Bailey said Shirley failed to uphold an oath to uphold the law when he stomped on Haines’ head while he was being restrained by several other law enforcement officers, and he reminded the audience that Haines “was innocent at that time in the eyes of the law.”
“(Shirley) was tasked with that duty every day – to uphold the law,” said Bailey. “He did not do this on that day.”
Bailey also brushed aside an argument by Mills, who asked him to compare Shirley and Haines, noting that he had previously sentenced Haines to 20 years in federal prison.
Shirley was also sentenced to 18 months of supervised release and ordered to pay $1,855 in restitution.
Though Shirley’s defense continued to disagree with prosecutors about the precise nature of the events surrounding Haines’ arrest, he admitted that he exceeded the legal bounds for an arresting officer.
Shirley requested the privilege of self-reporting to prison in order to avoid serving time in a regional jail prior to his transfer to federal prison, but Judge John Preston Bailey denied that request, saying that he was concerned the former lawman might harm himself. Several defense witnesses testified that he had been severely depressed in recent months, though Mills suggested that his outlook had improved after seeking counseling.
County Commissioner and former Magistrate Patsy Noland, Ranson Parks and Recreation Director James Pierson and local farmer Lyle “Cam” Tabb testified to Shirley’s character, saying that he had been a major asset to the community. Each said they would happily take Shirley into their own home if Bailey approved third-party release.
Haines, dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit, gave victim testimony at Monday’s sentencing hearing.
Haines has filed a civil complaint against Shirley, along with several other area law enforcement officers. The county’s insurer has been seeking to be freed from its obligation both to pay for Shirley’s defense and to indemnify him against any eventual settlement.
Last month, Bailey, who is also presiding over that case, upheld a motion to dismiss the “official capacity” portion of Haines’ suit against Shirley, which could have resulted in a judgement against Jefferson County.
Shirley is still being sued in his individual capacity.
A look back at the Shirley-Haines saga
Dec. 27, 2010: Suspected bank robber Mark Daniel Haines (right) alleges he was beaten by his arresting officers following a high-speed chase. Medical records show he had numerous injuries when he was examined after the arrest, including a broken nose, sinus cavity and eye socket.
May 8: Sheriff Robert “Bobby” Shirley defeats Former Sheriff “Ed” Boober, in the Democratic primary election, 2,217 votes to 1,221.
May 14: Haines is sentenced to 225 months in prison, three years of probation plus restitution after pleading guilty to one count of bank robbery.
May 29: Shirley, 14 other police officers are sued for violating Haines’ civil rights. The charges in the complaint include assault, battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
June 5: Shirley is indicted by a federal grand jury, charged with one count of deprivation of rights under color of law and with altering or falsifying records while he was under investigation, according to reports. If convicted, he faces up to 30 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.
June 18: Shirley pleads “not guilty” in federal court in Martinsburg. He is released on a personal recognizance bond and ordered him not to carry a firearm on duty.
Nov. 6: Shirley defeats Republican Earl Ballenger by 408 votes in the general election, receiving 10,620 votes to Ballenger’s 10,216 votes.
Nov XX: Haines files an amended complaint that names the nine police officers also accused in his December 2010 beating. The complaint charging the officers from __________ with using excessive force, assault, battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Jan. 14: Shirley pleads guilty to using excessive force against Haines during his arrest. Federal prosecutors agree to drop a charge that Shirley altered records to impede the FBI’s investigation.