PHILIPPI - A Barbour County Commissioner questioned Monday during a public meeting whether Sheriff John Hawkins is neglecting his duties in relation to property estates and settlements.
At the Barbour County Commission meeting, County Clerk Macel Auvil noted that no action had been taken on three estates and she asked about appointing a fiduciary commissioner in place of Hawkins.
In response, Commissioner Phil Hart openly questioned whether Hawkins - who was not present at Monday's meeting - was neglecting his duties.
"I say we give all this stuff to her (Prosecuting Attorney Leckta Poling) and let her investigate it because he's neglecting his duty," Hart said.
Hart's comment was the first in what became a heated back-and-forth exchange between he and Poling.
"Sometimes what somebody thinks needs done ASAP is just not able to happen," Poling said. "Sometimes you can't close an estate because they're receiving payments in a settlement."
Hart interjected that someone had tried to contact Hawkins by phone regarding an estate; however, that individual received no answer and their calls never were returned.
Poling said she didn't have any information about Hawkins not returning calls.
"Can you investigate that to see if there's any illegality there in his office, (or instances of) him not fulfilling his duties?" Hart asked Poling.
"I don't have any control over the sheriff when he's not returning somebody's phone call," Poling responded.
Hart replied, "He has a job to do."
"Oh, I absolutely agree, but he's not the only one," Poling said.
"So we're just going to tell these people that he doesn't want to do his job, and we'll have to wait another month to give them an answer?" Hart asked.
"I didn't say that, Phil, but I'm an office of one as you know," Poling said. "I'm required to be in Circuit Court, Magistrate Court. I can look into it, but I have to have the information to be able to look into it."
Hawkins has been named as a defendant in two separate lawsuits this year.
Brittany Keene, 19, of Moatsville, filed a 15-count federal civil lawsuit against him in July. He has adamantly denied allegations made in the suit,
In the complaint, Keene accuses Hawkins of sexually assaulting her "in late July/early August" of 2011 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.
After he and the Barbour County Commission were named as co-defendants in the lawsuit, Hawkins released a statement denying the allegations and indicated, "We (the Barbour County Sheriff's Office) will handle business to the best of our ability and respond to your needs as quickly and efficiently as we can... Some tasks, such as estates, grants and other duties may be put on a back burner while I prepare a defense to these allegations, as our staff is limited."
The trial in that case has been scheduled for Sept. 30.
In response to these new allegations, Hawkins had little to say when contacted by the Inter-Mountain after Monday's meeting.
The sheriff said, "Nope, no response. Not sure what they are talking about so no comment on that."
Asked about specific estates mentioned at the meeting, Hawkins did not change his response on the matter.
"Again, no clue what they're talking about, so I have no comment," Hawkins said. "That's the first I've heard of it, so I have to wait and see what they (commissioners) say."
After the meeting, Commissioner Jedd Schola told The Inter-Mountain that only a few of the estates that had not been dealt with were mentioned during the meeting. He said there are three-and-a half pages of unsettled estates, one of which dates back to 2012.
Also during Monday's meeting, Schola asked Poling if it was "proper to remove the sheriff and appoint somebody else to expedite (the estates)." Poling replied that she thinks it's possible to assign someone else to complete those tasks.
Poling later said she could not stay until the end of the meeting and left.
After the meeting, when asked for additional comments, Hart referred The Inter-Mountain to Schola.
"When (individuals with interest in the estates) contacted me, they said they had contacted the sheriff's office a number of times and very few get returned phone calls," Schola said.
"I'd like to apologize to these people," he added. "It's a shame. It's bad enough losing somebody, then for it to be dragged out."
In addition to the federal civil lawsuit, Hawkins was named as a defendant in a separate lawsuit, which was filed July 25 in Barbour County Circuit Court by Franklin D. Streets Jr., a private investigator who also lives in Barbour County. In that two-count complaint, Streets accuses Hawkins of libel and defamation regarding a Facebook post Hawkins allegedly made.
Streets is a private investigator for Keene's defense attorney, Paul Harris of the Wheeling law firm Harris Law Offices.
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 as well.
Contact Melissa Toothman by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.