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Feds investigating return of missing evidence in drug case

Rachel Dove rbaldwin@civitasmedia.com

February 26, 2014

WILLIAMSON - “In all the fourteen years that I’ve been an officer, I have to say I have never seen or dealt with anything quite like this,” stated Mingo County Sheriff James Smith, speaking about former Chief Field Deputy David Rockel delivering a box to him on Tuesday that contained a total of 35 drug case files that had been in his possession, unbeknownst to anyone else.


“I was shocked when he came in the office with the box,” said the Sheriff. “We counted the files before I signed off that I had received them. I logged them into our evidence locker and immediately contacted the FBI, to ask what they wanted me to do from here.”


“There is no excuse for something like this to happen…no excuse whatsoever.”


“We’ve been informed of irregularities involving the handling of evidence in a Mingo County drug case,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby. “An investigation is underway.”


As of approximately 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, federal investigators were behind closed doors with the sheriff at the Mingo County Courthouse, examining the files. One of the files that was returned that had been reported missing and was at the center of a hearing held on Monday, was pertaining to drug charges that were dismissed with prejudice (meaning they cannot be reinstated) against George Ruben White, 65, of Delbarton. The reasoning behind the motion to dismiss filed by Special Prosecutor Keith Randolph was the fact that evidence pertaining to the case was missing.


Rockel had spent close to 20 years with the Williamson Police Department and was serving as their chief before he became working alongside the late Sheriff Eugene Crum, while Crum was serving as a Drug Force Investigator for the prosecutor’s office, after winning his 2012 election bid for sheriff. Rockel and Crum continued to investigate drug cases in the county after Crum was sworn in as sheriff, and was named as Drug Task Force Commander prior to the death of the late Sheriff in April of last year. Rockel was then employed with the sheriff’s department during the time Crum’s widow filled his vacancy as the Chief Field Deputy, and continued in that role until which time the current Sheriff, James Smith, was appointed by the County Commission. Smith terminated Rockel the day after becoming sheriff.


“We don’t have a definite policy in place that spells out the rules about not taking files home with us, but we all clearly understand that’s not something we do,” explained the Sheriff. “The fact that he’s evidently had these files for months is what really blows my mind. He told us when he brought them in that they had been in his garage and he had forgot all about them.”


The Special Prosecutor over White’s case stated that he received a call Monday, prior to White’s hearing, from a man that identified himself as Brian Abraham, attorney for Rockel, stating that his client was in possession of police files, including that of White.


“It does nothing more than to create more suspicion surrounding White’s case,” said Randolph. “As if there wasn’t enough already there.”


When asked if he would have continued the hearing to dismiss the charges against White if the file in question would have been returned by Rockel prior to Monday, Randolph replied that yes he would have continued, saying that the files were compromised and could have been tampered with.


Randolph added that he feels that the alleged evidence showing up the day of the hearing creates a bigger issue for the state than what they were originally facing.


Former Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury and former Prosecutor Michael Sparks have both entered guilty pleas in federal court to depriving White of his constitutional rights, stemming from an alleged scheme concocted to protect the late-sheriff, who according to White, had him indicted on drug charges to keep from paying a debt he owed the defendant for political signs and other campaign supplies purchased from White during the 2012 election. After being indicted and arrested, White, through his attorney Charles “Butch” West, began talking to the feds about providing Crum with prescription pain-killers while he was serving as magistrate, prior to seeking the office of Sheriff.


According to federal records, Crum enlisted the assistance of the judge, prosecutor and former Commissioner David Baisden to offer White a shorter prison sentence and a reduced amount he would have to forfeit, if he ceased communication with the FBI, fired West and hired another attorney. White accepted their offer and did their bidding. He was sentenced to prison, but was later let out by Interim Circuit Judge John Cummings, who then threw out the guilty plea but left the charges in place. White was re-arraigned on the drug charges, but had those dismissed on Monday by Judge Cummings, and is now a free man.


Prior to the hearing to dismiss, Randolph worked diligently to try to recover the missing evidence, but to no avail. The only recording of the alleged drug buy in the court’s possession was inaudible. Sheriff Smith and Williamson Police Chief Barry Blair both assisted the prosecutor in his attempts, but could not locate any evidence relating to the case.


Neither Randolph or White’s defense attorneys have yet been allowed access to the files pertaining to White, that are now in the possession of federal investigators.


Sheriff Smith told the Williamson Daily News that Rockel producing police files that had been missing makes the county look bad once again, and continues to hurt the process of rebuilding trust in the public’s eyes.


“I want to emphasize that all those accused of crimes or discrepancies relating to this case are of a “past regime”, and not anyone currently in office,” said the sheriff. “I assure the public those days are over and behind us.”