|By Bob Weaver|
Judge David W. Nibert dismissed a drug case Monday against John Manis Richards, after the Grantsville detachment of the State Police lost the evidence.
The dismissal of the high profile case is but one in a series of blunders to besiege the State Police in Calhoun County.
Richards had been indicted for allegedly operating a clandestine drug lab producing methamphetamine.
Nibert's ruling said "A box of evidence seized by investigating officers was accidentally thrown away and destroyed. The State asserts that the offending officers' actions were not willful and malicious, but were the result of mere negligence."
Richards' attorney Robert C. Catlett was critical of the Grantsville State Police, saying before a December 19, 2006 hearing, an officer testified that to the best of his knowledge these items (evidence) were in his possession, when they had "been in a garbage dump for three months."
Catlett said "Staggering negligence is the conclusion most charitable to the state...There is no claim that the evidence was destroyed during testing, as there was no testing done."
He further contended there is "a much darker picture than mere negligence," indicating "a shocking failure to preserve the evidence" or that the evidence ever made it to the detachment.
SOUTH GRANTSVILLE HOUSE RAIDED
A search warrant obtained for Richards' house in south Grantsville in 2005 was partially based on statements given to authorities by his domestic partner.
Richards partner claimed he had manufactured meth on July 28th and 29th of 2005.
Police said meth ingredients and paraphernalia were confiscated from the Richards property.
State Police said in 2005 they "observed a quantity of pseudoephedrine, along with plastic tubing, three bottles of Heet, three bottles of iodine, acetone and Coleman camp fuel," those items and others were taken into evidence.
Grantsville detachment commander, Sgt. C. J. Ellyson, just before the case was to go to trial, advised Calhoun Prosecutor Matt Minney that his predecessor Sgt. Darrin Campbell "declined to place it (evidence) in our evidence storage."
"Evidence in the above mentioned case has been destroyed," Ellyson wrote. "The...evidence was received from the Grantsville Police Department (Ron Gordon) without any custody receipt..."
Ellyson said upon his arrival at the detachment last September to replace Sgt. Campbell, who had sustained a back injury, began cleaning the storage area "believing the items were mere garbage, (and) inadvertently disposed of the items."
Sgt. Campbell, Sgt. Tom Yanero, Trooper First Class Jeff Hunt and former Grantsville Police Chief Ron Gordon participated in the bust.
RICHARDS ON THE OFFENSE
Richards, after being charged in 2005, began publishing a newsletter called "The Lone Meth Ranger," which has also been placed on the Internet.
Richards has claimed he has been working behind the scenes to eradicate meth from Calhoun and Gilmer Counties, producing "educational" video tapes demonstrating how meth is manufactured and its harmful effects.
His undercover operation involved taping alleged drug deals in Calhoun and Gilmer Counties, reportedly showing drug transactions.
Richards has claimed he has single-handedly decreased meth operations, by providing material to meth makers that caused them to "flop batches," denouncing local law enforcement for not making arrests on meth producers.
DARK CLOUDS OVER STATE POLICE
The loss of evidence in the Richards case is but one of several apparent blunders by the Grantsville Detachment.
More recently, special prosecutor Jerry Hough asked Judge Thomas Evans III to dismiss seven felony counts against former Chief Deputy Ron Bandy, indicating investigating officer Cpl. Doug Starcher could not produce recorded transcripts of witness interviews. Evans has yet to grant the request.
Ronnie Rush, who was found guilty of one of the county's most brutal double murders, was granted a new trial by the WV State Supreme Court. Following a large number of serious errors in the case during the State Police investigation, one officer was reprimanded and given one day off with pay.
State Police, after a year, have yet to bring evidence for an indictment against former Grantsville Police Chief Ron Gordon, although he has been held on home confinement. State Police claim Gordon sexually abused women under his custody.
The family of Heather Richards Myer contends the State Police failed to perform professionally after the young woman was killed in a car accident.
Recently, members of the local detachment have reportedly been given lie detector tests, allegedly related to missing money or items.
While these and other incidents appear to have reached critical mass, the WV State Police has declined to sustain or deny problems, or issue a statement to Calhoun citizens that they are working toward improving supervision and professional standards.
Detachment supervisor Sgt. Dale Fluharty declined to respond to a public information request regarding problems.