CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A private investigator who ran for sheriff in Mingo County last year says county officials cooked up charges against him because they believed he was investigating Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury.
Donald Stevens filed a 30-day notice with the state Supreme Court on Friday, saying he planned to sue them because of Thornsbury's conduct. Stevens says that at the judge's behest, Mingo officials had him arrested and gave him the choice of going to jail or signing an agreement saying he would move his investigation business out of the county.
Kevin Thompson, Stevens' lawyer, said the lawsuit would echo federal prosecutors' allegations that Thornsbury trumped up charges for personal gain.
Last month, federal prosecutors alleged Thornsbury tried to get the husband of the judge's ex-lover and secretary unfairly sent to jail. Last week, they charged Thornsbury with conspiring to keep a drug dealer from giving information to federal investigators about former Mingo Sheriff Eugene Crum. Thornsbury has agreed to plead guilty to the latter charge, U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said last week.
"I completely believe [Stevens]. I've known Judge Thornsbury to be corrupt for some time now," Thompson told the Gazette on Monday.
Stevens' notice to the state Supreme Court says, "Laboring under the false impression that Mr. Stevens was investigating him, Judge Thornsbury concocted and then caused the execution of a scheme to imprison Mr. Stevens for more than 10 years on a false charge of attempted possession of an illegal wiretap."
Stevens was arrested Oct. 15 of last year and charged with two felonies. According to a criminal complaint filed by then-Williamson Police Chief Dave Rockel, Stevens tried to obtain a recording of a phone conversation among Crum, who was then a special investigator for the Williamson Police Department and was about to be elected sheriff; Eric Sherrill, a deputy in the Mingo sheriff's department; and another man, James Cline.
According to the complaint, the conversation was illegally recorded by two other people, Christopher Cline and Christina Tidwell. Both of them have pleaded guilty to drug charges as part of plea bargains that dropped wiretapping charges against them, according to an employee in the Mingo circuit clerk's office.
Rockel wrote in the complaint that Stevens approached Tidwell, asked for a copy of the recording and gave her equipment to make a copy.
Fifteen days after Stevens was arrested, he and Mingo County Prosecuting Attorney Michael Sparks signed a pretrial sentencing agreement. That agreement, on file in the Mingo County circuit clerk's office, says the wiretapping charges would be dropped if Stevens "ceased to operate a private investigation business principally in Mingo County."
The case was originally assigned to county Magistrate Dee Sidebottom, then transferred to another magistrate, Dallas Toler, according to documents in the circuit clerk's office. Toler took office when Crum resigned as a magistrate to run for sheriff.
Stevens, 56, of Lenore, finished a distant third in last year's Democratic primary behind Crum and James Smith. Crum was shot to death in April in downtown Williamson. Smith was appointed as Mingo sheriff last week.
Stevens told the Gazette on Monday that before Crum was elected, he would often help conduct investigations for the sheriff's department and routinely helped out at the county's public defender office.
According to Stevens' lawsuit notice sent to the Supreme Court, at about the beginning of August, Thornsbury instructed Sherill, Crum, Rockel and the county's former flood plain director, William Davis, to frame Stevens for attempted possession of an illegal wiretap.
Stevens said Davis saw him in Thornsbury's neighborhood, and that's where the assumption he was investigating the judge came from. But Stevens said he was only there serving an eviction notice at a nearby insurance business.
To avoid imprisonment, Stevens complied with the "forced" pre-trial deal from Sparks, the notice alleges.
In March, after he closed his Williamson office, Stevens had an encounter with Crum, according to the notice. Crum, who was now sheriff, allegedly told Stevens that he "was not afraid of him."
A few days later, on March 13, Stevens was "brutally attacked" at his residence by two people, according to the notice.
"During the beating, the assailants told Mr. Stevens that he 'had been warned to get out of Mingo County,'" according to the notice.
Rockel, who joined the Mingo sheriff's department in June after Crum's death, was fired by Smith last week. Federal prosecutors have described him as a friend and political ally of Crum, and Rosie Crum, who took over as interim sheriff after her husband was killed, recommended Rockel as a permanent replacement.
Sherrill still works at the sheriff's department, a courthouse employee said. Davis, the county's former 911 director and floodplain coordinator, signed a proffer agreement with federal prosecutors, which provides some protection against prosecution, according to federal court documents.