By Lacie Pierson Staff Writer for the Charleston Gazette

A former Clay County legislator is one of two people who are suing the Clay County Sheriff's Department in federal court, claiming deputies there violated their constitutional rights in two separate incidents.

Randy Schoonover said two deputies used excessive and wrongful force and cruel and unusual punishment when they arrested him while he stood in his brother's driveway last September.

Schoonover filed suit the same day that Rita Kaye Taylor sued the department, saying a deputy illegally entered her home without her permission and without a search warrant in November.

Both lawsuits were filed in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of West Virginia, and both plaintiffs are being represented by Charleston attorney Mark Atkinson.

In their respective lawsuits, Schoonover and Taylor each are seeking punitive damages plus interest, along with attorney and court fees.

Schoonover said he was unreasonably arrested by two deputies, Michael Patrick Morris and Jonathan Holcomb, while he was at his brother's home on Sept. 27, 2018.

Schoonover had gone to his brother's home to get a ride to the hospital after he began experiencing chest pains and found his son wasn't home to help him get to the hospital, according to the lawsuit.

Schoonover, 65, was walking up his brother's driveway when Morris drove up in his sheriff's vehicle and turned on the lights.

After asking for Schoonover's license and registration, which Schoonover said he didn’t have, Morris allowed Schoonover to enter his brother's home to take an aspirin after Schoonover's sister-in-law offered for him to do so.

Inside the home, Schoonover called Clay County Magistrate Jeff Boggs "to ask him to stay after 4 p.m. in the event [Schoonover] would be brought in front of him," Atkinson said in the lawsuit.

After Schoonover returned outside, he told Morris he'd talked to Boggs after Morris inquired who he was talking to.

"Then, Deputy Morris told the plaintiff that he would have to arrest him because he called Magistrate Boggs," Atkinson said.

Schoonover's brother and a second deputy, Holcomb, arrived at the home, and Morris told them he was arresting Schoonover because he called Boggs, Atkinson said.

Holcomb took Schoonover into custody by cuffing his right wrist to his right ankle, and he placed Schoonover into Morris' vehicle. Schoonover lost his left arm in an ATV accident in 2004.

In the suit, Schoonover said neither deputy read him his Miranda rights nor did they tell him why he was being detained or what he was being charged with.

Schoonover asked his brother for an aspirin from the back of the vehicle to which he said Holcomb told him, "Shut your mouth, old man, or I'll shut it for you," according to the lawsuit.

The deputies never stated why they approached Schoonover or why he was taken into custody, Atkinson said.

Schoonover served in the West Virginia Senate from 1989 to 1999, when he admitted in federal court that he accepted bribes from a Summersville towing company in exchange for business along the West Virginia Turnpike. Schoonover spent 14 months in prison.

In May 2004, doctors amputated Schoonover's left arm after he wrecked an ATV, which pinned his arm beneath it. Schoonover was trapped by the wrecked vehicle for a day before emergency responders found him.

Schoonover subsequently became addicted to prescription painkillers, and he eventually was sentenced to six months in a recovery center in Beckley in 2008.

In 2009, Schoonover testified about his experiences before the state Legislative Oversight Committee on Regional Jails and Corrections, advocating for more recovery-based sentencing for people charged with drug-related crimes.

In the second lawsuit filed Thursday, Rita Kaye Taylor said Holcomb knocked on her door the morning of Nov. 14, 2018.

She said he asked her if Pat Dawson was at her home, and she said Dawson wasn't there, Atkinson said in Taylor's lawsuit.

Holcomb asked Taylor if he could enter her home and search it, and she said, "No. Not without a warrant," according to the lawsuit.

Holcomb told Dawson he would get a warrant, but while she talked to Holcomb, Taylor said Deputy Robert Belt entered her home through another door and walked into her kitchen.

"The plaintiff told Deputy Belt he would also need a warrant to enter her home," Atkinson wrote in the lawsuit. "Deputy Belt then told the plaintiff that he can charge her with obstruction."

Taylor said she told Belt at least three times that he was not permitted to enter her home without a search warrant, but she said Belt and Holcomb searched her home even though she never gave them consent and requested multiple times that they obtain search warrants.

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