Prosecutor: Career loss punishment enough for Clarksburg police officers
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The top federal prosecutor for Northern West Virginia says he didn't give special treatment to the Clarksburg police chief and lieutenant by allowing them to step down to avoid prosecution for lying to federal agents.
U.S. Attorney William Ihlenfeld II announced Tuesday that Chief Marshall Goff and Lt. Tim Smith are accused of civil rights violations and making false statements to federal authorities. Both resigned Monday after making a deal with federal prosecutors never to serve as law enforcement officials again.
On April 2, Clarksburg police were called to Clarksburg City Councilman Sam "Zeke" Lopez's home, where his wife claimed Lopez pinned her down, hit her with a rolling pin and dumped food on her during an argument.
Lopez wasn't arrested until July 3, weeks after he was re-elected to the City Council. He is charged with one count of domestic battery.
"Goff and Smith became involved in the response, and the actions that they took led to a separate investigation into their handling of the case," Ihlenfeld said in a news release.
Ihlenfeld told the Sunday Gazette-Mail on Friday he didn't know if the men will be allowed to keep their pensions but said it wasn't mentioned in the agreement. They agreed to cooperate with authorities in the investigation into the handling of the Lopez case, he said.
"This was a case where we struck a balance between addressing the conduct that occurred and also doing what we believe to be fair," said Ihlenfeld, who handles the state's Northern District.
"There's not a law that protects them," he said, adding that he can see how the public might think the pair got off easy.
"One of the benefits to the agreement that was reached was that both officials resigned immediately," he said. "Had we prosecuted them and charged them with criminal offenses, they would have possibly remained in their positions, and we wanted to be able to address that immediately."
Ihlenfeld told the Gazette-Mail he would not release details of the officers' involvement in the response. He did say, however, that one reason for the delay in charging Lopez was that the Harrison County prosecutor recused himself and a Marion County prosecutor was appointed before a warrant was issued for Lopez' arrest.
"It wouldn't be fair to put all of the facts out to exactly what their conduct was," Ihlenfeld said. "As far as whether or not their actions delayed the charging of Mr. Lopez, I'm not sure if it did or not."
Ihlenfeld added that Goff and Smith were immediately forthcoming with information when approached by investigators.
Goff became chief in 2007, after 23 years with the department. He spent five years in the Anmoore Police Department before starting work in Clarksburg.
When asked if there would be further exploration of Goff's and Smith's police careers, Ihlenfeld said, "We encourage the public to provide us with information regarding public corruption.
"Since the time [they resigned], and its only been a few days, we have received a high volume of calls to our public-corruption tip line." That's how his office was alerted to the officers' involvement in the case, he noted.
"I would never [comment] -- and I'm not now -- about what those tips are about or who may be involved or what area of the state it may involve," Ihlenfeld said. If the public has additional information they think we should be aware of, we will certainly consider it."
Ihlenfeld said the resignations, which end the officers' careers, provide enough punishment.
"These are two individuals who needed to have their conduct addressed," he said, "and I believe we have fairly and justly addressed their conduct."
An understandable question the public might have after the alleged incident is where to turn, according to Ihlenfeld.
"If the police chief is involved, where else can I go?" he said some might ask. "The public deserves to be able to trust its local, state and federal officials, and anytime there's a breach of that trust, those who are involved need to be held accountable."
Ihlenfeld said, regarding the justice system, police officers "are treated just as anyone else would be.
"Not just on the federal level but, unfortunately, in state courts throughout the state, police officers from time to time are prosecuted for any number of offenses, and I don't believe they are shown any leniency by the judges in our state."
Ihlenfeld will continue to investigate the case and look into whether others were involved.
Reach Kate White at email@example.com or 304-348-1723.