Hawkins has history of legal woes

Thursday’s guilty plea by the now former Barbour County Sheriff John Hawkins isn’t his first legal entanglement in recent months.

In July, teenager Brittany Mae Keene filed a 15-count lawsuit in federal court for the Northern District of West Virginia, alleging Hawkins sexually assaulted her and then threatened to kill her if she told anyone. The suit also accuses Hawkins of sexually assaulting five other unnamed females, referenced only as Females No. 1-5.

Hawkins has repeatedly denied Keene’s allegations, which she first made public in summer 2012.

One week after Keene’s July lawsuit was filed, Barbour County private investigator Franklin D. Streets filed a lawsuit in Barbour County Circuit Court against Hawkins that accuses the former lawman of libel and defamation – accusations stemming from Streets’ investigation of the Keene case.

On June 24, Hawkins posted the following statement on his Facebook page: “Well if there is a good side to any of this, I have received a couple calls from people who were offered money by the investigator to sign false statements. Hmmmm. Print that on the front page! Anyway, logging off FB for a while friends so please don’t be offended if I don’t return your messages. Be safe. God bless you all!”

In an unrelated incident, audits of the Barbour County Commission for fiscal years 2011 and 2012 returned findings that an unspecified amount of money was misused from the Barbour County Sheriff Department’s weapons fund to purchase flowers, alcohol and gift cards for sheriff’s deputies and office staff.

The audit results were announced in September. Hawkins repeatedly declined to comment about the findings.

In December, Barbour County Commissioner Phil Hart openly questioned whether Hawkins was neglecting his duties as sheriff. Again, Hawkins vehemently denied any allegations of wrongdoing or neglect of duties.

After the guilty plea to mail fraud, Hawkins becomes the latest sheriff in West Virginia to resign amid legal troubles. A sealed indictment in federal court resulted after a two-year investigation by the FBI, and he faces a 20-year sentence along with a fine of up to $250,000, among other penalties.

Former Clay County Sheriff Miles Slack was sentenced to probation in December for hacking his now ex-wife’s work computer. He resigned in September.

Ex-Jefferson County Sheriff Robert Shirley was sentenced in May to a year in federal prison for his role in the 2010 beating of a bank robbery suspect after a high-speed chase. Shirley was re-elected last year while under indictment but later resigned.

In Mingo County, the late Sheriff Eugene Crum was a key figure in a federal investigation that charged a former prosecutor and an ex-circuit judge in a scheme to keep Crum’s alleged drug supplier and campaign sign maker, George White, from talking to the FBI about the late sheriff. Crum was killed in April in an unrelated shooting.

Former prosecutor Michael Sparks and ex-circuit judge Michael Thornsbury will be sentenced later this year. Sparks has pleaded guilty to depriving White of his constitutional rights, and Thornsbury has pleaded guilty to conspiring to deprive White of his rights.

– The Associated Press contributed to this story.