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Kanawha prosecutor arrested

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Kanawha County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Plants was arrested by the West Virginia State Police Tuesday morning for allegedly violating a protective order granted to his ex-wife after she accused him of child abuse last month.

After he was arraigned in Kanawha County Magistrate Court, Plants told reporters his children were in a vehicle outside a local pharmacy, and he waited with them until his ex-wife, Allison Plants, came out of the pharmacy.

According to a criminal complaint, Allison Plants said her ex-husband was standing by her car talking to their children when she came out of the pharmacy. She told a State Police trooper that Plants questioned her about who was babysitting the children while she was at work, then walked to his car to leave, according to the complaint. The charge he faces is a misdemeanor.

"Last night, I walked out of Fruth [Pharmacy]. My kids were unattended in a vehicle. It was dark. I stood with them until my ex-wife came back out," Mark Plants said Tuesday. "At this point, that's the basis of the allegation. That's why I'm arrested." He didn't elaborate or answer any questions from reporters.

After the State Police announced last month that it was investigating the child-abuse allegations against Mark Plants, Kanawha County Family Court Judge Mike Kelly issued a domestic-violence protection order that prevented Plants from contacting his ex-wife or their two sons. All Kanawha circuit and family court judges then recused themselves from the case.

The West Virginia Supreme Court appointed Mercer Circuit Judge Derek Swope and Cabell Family Court Judge Patricia Keller to hear the case. Keller has scheduled a hearing for Friday on the protection order and, last week, Swope appointed former McDowell County prosecutor Sid Bell to handle any criminal charges in the case.

In a previous order, Swope said the State Police had finished its investigation of Plants and was waiting for a special prosecutor to review its findings.

Bell told the Gazette on Tuesday that he had been sworn in as special prosecutor earlier in the day and planned to arrange a meeting with the State Police next week.

Plants, 37, was first elected Kanawha prosecutor in 2008 and was re-elected in 2012. Bell, who served as McDowell's prosecutor for 20 years before retiring in 2012, said he has never met Plants.

"In a case of this nature, when there's a public official involved, normally police look at a prosecutor before making a charging decision," Bell said. "Depending on what evidence appears, we could go ahead and file a complaint or present the case to a grand jury or decide there isn't probable cause."

State Police Sgt. M.S. Adams, of the Crimes Against Children Unit in Wheeling, conducted the investigation into the allegations against Plants.

Allison Plants filed for divorce from the prosecutor in June 2012. Mark Plants has since married Sarah Foster, his former secretary. He has been criticized for the $15,000 in pay raises she received during the four years she worked for him. Foster also had multiple motor-vehicle violations dismissed in magistrate court without proof that the violations were corrected. The state Office of Disciplinary Counsel is investigating the alleged favoritism.

If found guilty of violating the order, possible penalties include up to one year in jail, a $2,000 fine or both. Bell said he believes he also would be appointed special prosecutor in the case from Tuesday's charge.

Magistrate Kim Aaron reiterated the terms of the protective order, which states that Plants cannot have any contact with Allison Plants or their two children until the matter is resolved. She released him on a personal recognizance bond.

According to the complaint, Allison Plants told State Police that she is scared of her ex-husband and that she would be staying with a friend Monday night.

Reach Rachel Molenda at rachel.molenda@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.

Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.


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