Trooper's Conduct Under Investigation

From the Charleston Daily Mail

Chris Stirewalt
Daily Mail Staff

Saturday June 08, 2002

A special prosecutor is investigating the conduct of a state trooper involved in the yearlong prosecution of a Calhoun County woman later cleared of drug charges.

The substance that 37-year-old Kelley Mace was accused of possessing turned out to be plant food, her lawyer said Friday.

Gerry Hough, who was appointed special prosecutor for the case by a circuit judge, is investigating Trooper Doug Starcher's handling of the case and expects to reach a conclusion by the end of the month.

"I'd say we're about 40 percent done with what we need to do," Hough said. "There are still some people we need to talk to, but we have made what I would call significant progress."

The case against Mace, a mother of two, started in the spring of 2000.

Her lawyer, Drew Patton, said Starcher obtained a warrant to search her home based on information from an informant who said there had been a "million- dollar" drug deal there. The informant reportedly also said Mace was keeping nearly 300 stolen guns in her parents' home next door, Patton added.

Patton, who was then a public defender but is now in private practice, said the trooper's information came from a "local character" from Clay County who was "well-known to police and well known for telling tall tales."

"He starts telling this yarn about this million-dollar drug deal, and the cops are just pulled in," Patton said. "They're sucked in. and they run with it."

Patton said a warrant was obtained from a local magistrate for a police search of Mace's home just off W.Va. 16 in Stinson, Calhoun County.

"They made it sound like they had been investigating Kelley for years and were finally closing in," Patton said. "They had some crazy stuff in there about stopping some unnamed people on the road that said they had bought drugs from her or something."

On the day that police raided Mace's home, Patton said the Clay county informant started calling his client at about 10 a.m. and harassing her.

"He was laughing and telling her that the cops were coming," Patton said. "That kept up all day. When she'd ask what he was talking about, he'd just tell her 'You'll see.'"

Police showed up just before midnight, with multiple cruisers, lights flashing, parked on Mace's lawn. Patton said they stayed until 4 a.m. "tearing the house apart."

He said their report, which he reviewed later, contained exaggerations and embellishments.

"First of all they put in their report that they found hypodermic needles hidden in the ceiling tiles -- like she was some kind of a heroin user."

Patton said Mace actually had hung a metal tray from the low rafters of the workshop adjacent to her home. In the tray were -- among bits of rope, odd tools and other items -- several syringes.

"She told them that the needles were for giving medicine to her dogs," Patton said. "She even went in the refrigerator and showed them the medicine, but they weren't listening to that."

Officers also reported finding a small quantity of white powder in a coffee can on a set of shelves in the shed. Patton said the shelves held potted plants and garden tools.

Patton said Mace told the troopers that they had found only some garden sulfur, but they told her they were taking their discovery to the state police lab.

Eventually, the case was presented to a Calhoun County grand jury, and Starcher was called to testify.

"He told the grand jury he found 2 ounces of methamphetamine," said Patton, who reviewed a transcript of the proceedings. "He didn't say it was possibly methamphetamine or might have been methamphetamine. He said that's what it was.

"He also said that there was a bunch of stolen property around the house. When a juror asked why those charges weren't being brought, he just told them that the charges were pending, which was totally untrue. There wasn't any stolen property, and there weren't any charges."

Patton said he never saw any lab work on the suspected methamphetamine, and doubts that the lab work was ever done.

Based on Starcher's testimony, the grand jury handed down a felony indictment against Mace. She had to make bond to stay out of jail and waited for her trial.

More than a year after the raid, Patton said he got a call from Calhoun County Prosecutor Tony Morgan.

"He called up and told me they were dropping the case because there wasn't any controlled substance found," Patton said. "That was it. The case was gone. There was no million-dollar drug deal or anything of the sort."

Patton said Mace wants to sue the State Police but hasn't been able to find a lawyer for a case that has a limited potential award and involves taking on the state's top law enforcement agency.

He says he would take the case but doesn't think he has enough experience with civil law to attempt it.

Trooper Jay Powers, a spokesman for the state police, said the agency has completed an internal investigation into Starcher's conduct but cannot release the findings. Starcher has been reassigned to the Spencer detachment. A call placed to him there was not returned.

Hough said he is trying to include multiple sources, including the results of the State Police inquiry, in his investigation of what he calls a "fascinating situation."

"We will talk to any source that can help us get at the truth," Hough said. "I'm sure there are people out there that know more about this than we've heard. We need to find them and talk to them."

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