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Claims made against Barbour sheriff

Philippi woman says arrest was intended to keep her silent

June 9, 2012
By Brad Johnson and Melissa Toothman Staff Writers , The Inter-Mountain

A Philippi woman who filed a domestic violence protection order petition against Barbour County Sheriff John Hawkins - and was then named in a sealed indictment - claims her arrest was intended to intimidate her into silence.

Brittany Mae Keene, 18, filed the petition May 11 in Randolph County. A hearing was originally scheduled on the petition for May 24 in Randolph County, but the case was shifted to Barbour County instead, according to court representatives.

Barbour Family Court Judge Beth Longo then recused herself from the case because it involved the county sheriff, according to her office.

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Last week, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals appointed Judge Cornelia A. Reep of Doddridge and Harrison Counties Family Court to rule on the petition, according to a Supreme Court representative.

On Tuesday, Hawkins said at the Barbour County Commission meeting that "the civil petition that was filed against me" had been "dismissed" that afternoon in Harrison County Family Court.

"The petitioner felt that they couldn't meet the burden of proof so they decided before the hearing to dismiss the petition. So that's a done deal," Hawkins said at the commission meeting.

Keene told The Inter-Mountain this week that she filed the petition because Hawkins had threatened to have her indicted, and also threatened her with death, if she spoke publicly about an alleged sexual relationship between them.

Contacted by The Inter-Mountain Friday, Hawkins said he could only reiterate what he said in the commission meeting Tuesday, that "the petition had been dropped" by the petitioner.

Hawkins had declined to make any comment about the petition when contacted by The Inter-Mountain last week.

In the petition, a copy of which was obtained by The Inter-Mountain, Keene claimed that she and Hawkins dated and were "sexual partners." She also alleged in the petition that Hawkins "raped" her in July 2011, and then threatened her with death if she told anyone about it.

The Inter-Mountain would not normally name an alleged victim of sexual assault. However, Keene contacted The Inter-Mountain and asked to be identified and to comment on the case.

Keene wrote in the petition filing that Hawkins "recently told me my body would be the next found at Arden."

The small community of Arden in Barbour County has over the years been the site of several human remains discoveries, as well as multiple drownings. In January, the remains of a man were found in a shallow grave along the Tygart River near Arden. The body was identified as Thomas Ray "T.J." Blankenship Jr., 20, of West Union. Two Clarksburg men were arrested and charged in his death.

This week, Keene also told The Inter-Mountain Hawkins warned her earlier this year he would have her indicted if she went to the authorities.

"He told me if I didn't drop it, if I ever told anything about it, he'd have me indicted," she said.

Keene said, because of the alleged threats, she had been staying at Women's Aid in Crisis in Randolph County when she filed the petition on May 11.

Keene was named in a Barbour County Grand Jury sealed indictment on May 29, 18 days after she filed the petition. She was arrested later in the day on May 29.

The indictment charged her with one felony count of receiving stolen property and two misdemeanor counts of transferring stolen property. Bond was set at $5,000 and Keene was taken to the Tygart Valley Regional Jail, where she was held until her arraignment hearing on May 31.

At her arraignment, Keene entered a not guilty plea to the charges. Circuit Judge Alan Moats ordered that she be released on a $1,000 personal recognizance bond, under the condition she live with her grandmother, who resides in Barbour County.

On Tuesday, five days after her arraignment, Keene decided not to go forward with the domestic violence protective petition the day of its scheduled hearing in Harrison County.

Keene told The Inter-Mountain this week she wasn't aware until after she'd withdrawn the petition that she could have asked to have the hearing continued.

"I'm going to try to get the original (petition) upheld because I didn't want to drop it," Keene said.

She said she contacted The Inter-Mountain because she wants the public to hear her story.

"Them throwing me in jail to keep my mouth shut added coal to the fire," she said.

Keene claims she is innocent of the charges in the indictment, which alleges Keene came into possession of two guitars stolen from Haven of Hope Church on or about March 22 or 23.

According to the indictment, the two guitars - a Takamine acoustic, with electric pickup, and an acoustic Ovation - are valued at more than $1,000. The indictment alleges Keene knew or had reason to believe the guitars had been stolen. Keene allegedly sold the Takamine guitar to Hank's Discount and Pawn Shop. The Ovation guitar was allegedly transferred by Keene to Lynn Marie Moore.

"I'm trying to get everything dropped to where it won't even go to court because he threatened me with an indictment," Keene said. "I don't see how he gets by with that."

On Friday, The Inter-Mountain asked Barbour County Prosecuting Attorney Leckta Poling about her reasons for wanting Keene's indictment to be sealed.

"The state had information that she was going to flee," Poling said. "And the indictment was only sealed until she was arrested."

Philip W. Morrison II, the executive director of the West Virginia Prosecuting Attorneys Institute, told The Inter-Mountain this week that there are "no restrictions that I know of" regarding what charges can be contained in a sealed indictment.

Morrison said a motion has to be made to have an indictment sealed. The prosecuting attorney must present a compelling reason in order for the judge to allow the indictment to be sealed.

"Typically, sealed indictments are used when dealing with drug raids, or crimes in which there is a potential danger to witnesses or the public safety, or cases in which they are used to prevent people from fleeing the jurisdiction before their arrests," Morrison said.

However, there can be "myriad reasons" for prosecutors to ask for an indictment to be sealed, Morrison said. "Each case is unique," he said.

There has been a discrepancy in how Keene's birthdate has been listed on official documents.

When Keene was booked at the Tygart Valley Regional Jail, her date of birth was listed as July 7, 1993. However, when she appeared before Moats at her arraignment, under oath she stated that her birthdate was Aug. 7, 1993.

This week Keene showed The Inter-Mountain her driver's license, which states that her birthdate is Aug. 7, 1993.

In the petition filing, Keene also listed her birthdate as Aug. 7, 1993.

Keene alleges in the petition that her first sexual contact with Hawkins occurred in July 2011, when she was 17 years old.

In a prepared statement released two weeks ago, Poling addressed recent rumors circulating about the Barbour County Sheriff's Department.

"Because of vicious and malicious rumors circulating about law enforcement in Barbour County, Prosecuting Attorney Leckta L. Poling reports that no law enforcement officers in Barbour County have been arrested, no criminal charges have been filed against any law enforcement officers and no charges are pending," the release stated.

"To continue to foster rumors and innuendoes is only hurting law enforcement and preventing them from serving the public," the release stated. "Various reports of arrests to social networking sites and media sources are untrue."

Barbour County Commission President Phil Hart told The Inter-Mountain last week that, to the best of his knowledge, the Sheriff's Department is not being investigated.

A representative of the Philippi detachment of the West Virginia State Police told The Inter-Mountain Friday that he could neither confirm nor deny whether there is a current investigation of the Barbour County Sheriff's Department.



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