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Richwood mayor defends hiring police chief

RICHWOOD, W.Va. -- Richwood Mayor Robert Johnson is defending the hiring of a police chief after questions arose about the man's qualifications.

Christopher Cole was charged in Jefferson County, Ky., with theft by unlawful taking, receiving stolen property over $300 and official misconduct. The charges were dropped in 2007 on the condition that Cole not seek or accept subsequent employment as a peace officer in Kentucky, The Register-Herald reported Thursday, citing court documents.

Johnson said he is aware of the Kentucky case.

"It's a well-known concept that this country was founded on the [rule] that the accused are innocent until proven guilty," Johnson told the newspaper. "I have certainly seen information enough to satisfy me that Mr. Cole is certainly qualified for the slot and qualified in the state of West Virginia to be a law enforcement officer. That was good enough for me."

Johnson said hiring Cole is the first step in rebuilding the police department, which the city dissolved earlier this year because its officers were not certified.

Cole said he hopes everyone will give him a chance.

"I'm very thankful that I was able to obtain this position and that I was appointed to this position," Cole told the newspaper. "As far as the controversy goes, hopefully people will see me for the work that I do and the type of person that I am versus the rumors that are out there."

Nicholas County Sheriff David Hopkins said his department would not endorse the decision to hire Cole and that it will continue to provide patrols in the Richwood area.

"I believed that it wasn't going to be an issue and that they weren't going to hire this guy," Hopkins told the newspaper. "I sent one of my deputies to the meeting with the paper we'd found online that said the guy was indicted for a felony and told him to make sure the council knew that we couldn't endorse this guy."

Councilwoman Robin Brown, who also opposed Cole's hiring, said the city should have taken more time to fill the position.

"As a City Council member, I believe that it is my duty to vote for what I believe is best for the city of Richwood," she said. "I feel that we should have taken our time on this issue, posted the position, reviewed the applicants and then made a choice based on all the information.

"I wish the newly elected police chief luck and hope that he will provide outstanding service to our town. I only wish that protocol had been followed and that the council had been more involved in the process."

Johnson said it was his decision to offer the job to Cole.

"It was done certainly independently of [the] council," he said. "One candidate we could not recruit because of pay and the other candidate I was unsure about. Their credentials were there, but I made the decision to go with Mr. Cole."


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