Trial for Hawkins set for 2014

A trial date has been set in the case of Barbour County Sheriff John Hawkins – but that date is more than a year away.

In a scheduling order issued late Tuesday in U.S. District Court, Judge John Preston Bailey set Hawkins’ federal civil trial for 8:30 a.m. Sept. 30, 2014.

Hawkins and the Barbour County Commission are named as co-defendants in a 15-count civil complaint filed by 19-year-old Brittany Mae Keene July 18 in the Elkins office of U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia.

In the complaint, Keene, of Moatsville, accuses Hawkins of sexually assaulting her “in late July/early August” and then threatening to kill her if she told anyone. It also alleges he sexually assaulted five other unnamed women, referenced as Females No. 1-5.

Hawkins has repeatedly denied those allegations, and in an August response filed by his attorney, Harry A. Smith III from the law firm McNeer, Highland, McMunn and Varner, asks that Keene’s complaint be dismissed and Hawkins be awarded court costs.

The Barbour County Commission has likewise asked to be dismissed from the suit, which was prepared by Keene’s attorneys, Paul J. Harris and Shawn L. Fluharty, of the Wheeling law firm Harris Law Office.

Specifically, Keene’s filing accuses Hawkins, the commission and/or both of: unlawful arrest; excessive force; civil conspiracy; tort of outrage/intentional infliction of emotional distress; battery; negligent retention and hiring; false imprisonment; negligent training and supervision; assault; deliberate indifference; malicious prosecution; abuse of process; sexual assault; providing alcohol to a minor; and dissemination of a nude photo of a minor.

In addition to establishing a trial date, Tuesday’s scheduling order also sets a mediation deadline of July 1, 2014, and pretrial conference date of Sept. 22, 2014.

Smith, Hawkins’ attorney, said Wednesday he was satisfied with the timeline and that all parties – including Keene’s attorneys and the Barbour County Commission’s counsel – had input during the scheduling process.

“The process we utilized is all the attorneys got together over the phone, and we did a planning meeting report in which we established a reasonable timetable and submitted it to the judge for his review,” Smith told The Inter-Mountain in a phone interview.

“Generally, the judge is free to accept it, reject it or modify it as he deems appropriate. In our case, basically on first glance, (the dates) are essentially what all parties agreed to.”

The Barbour County Commission’s attorney, Keith Gamble of the Morgantown law firm Pullin, Fowler, Flanagan, Brown & Poe, said it’s not unusual for a year to lapse prior to civil cases going to trial.

“The civil process is not known for being speedy,” Gamble said in a phone interview Wednesday. “It takes a lot of time, and what happens is if you don’t have enough time, you have to go back and ask for more time.

“A year for a civil case is pretty common,” he added. “If you have 30 civil cases, 25 of them are going to take a year.”

Gamble also said he wasn’t certain when and how the judge would rule on the commission’s motion to be dismissed from the case. Some judges prefer to set hearings for such motions, while others make decisions based simply upon attorneys’ written filings, he said.

“It’s really up to the court,” Gamble said.

Hawkins was also sued in Barbour County Circuit Court July 25 – exactly one week after Keene filed her federal complaint – by Barbour County resident and private investigator Franklin D. Streets Jr.

The two-count complaint, which charges Hawkins with defamation in count 1 and outrage in count 2, claims the sheriff made a libelous statement on Facebook by accusing Streets of paying individuals money to sign false statements.

In a response, filed in late August, Hawkins, who is representing himself in the case, demands a jury trial.

“Defendant (Hawkins) contends that this action is frivolous and abusive,” Hawkins wrote. “The facts complained of are alleged to have occurred less than 24 hours before the filing of this complaint.”

The sheriff also “reserves the right to file additional affirmative defenses, counter-claims, cross claims, motions to dismiss and/or third party claims if a sufficient or factual basis is developed through continuing investigation or discovery.”

The federal and county civil suits are not the only controversies Hawkins has become involved in recently.

The Inter-Mountain reported Sept. 14 that audit reports from the past two fiscal years claimed money from the Barbour County Sheriff’s Department’s concealed weapons fund was used to purchase alcohol, flowers and gift cards for office staff. The audit results have been forwarded to the state Ethics Commission.

Contact Katie Kuba by email at Follow her on Twitter at IMT_Kuba.