By Wendy Holdren
After pleading guilty to taking oxycodone from the Beckley Police Department where she was employed as the evidence technician, Gabriella Brown was sentenced Monday to four years probation by U.S. District Judge David Faber.
While Judge Faber said his decision “may appear to be somewhat light,” he believes Brown has been “justly punished through humiliation.”
Brown, 31, of Beckley, formerly employed as the BPD evidence technician, pleaded guilty Dec. 5, 2012 to obtaining a quantity of oxycodone by fraud from the evidence holding room Aug. 17, 2012, and as part of her plea agreement, U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin stated that Brown admitted she had stolen narcotics on a number of other occasions.
Because evidence control was compromised, Raleigh County Prosecuting Attorney Kristen Keller announced Aug. 22 that any drug-related cases involving evidence housed at the BPD during Brown’s employment, from May 2011 through Aug. 2012, would be dismissed. Keller estimated that hundreds of cases were affected, not only pending cases, but convictions and guilty pleas that were already entered into court.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Lowe asked Judge Faber to take those compromised cases into consideration.
“Opiate addiction is a huge problem in our country and in southern West Virginia,” Lowe said. “Unfortunately, this defendant was in a position of trust and had access to opiates. Her crime had far reaching ramifications in Raleigh County.”
Defense attorney J. Miles Morgan called Brown’s father, John Hutchison, who is also a Raleigh County Circuit Court judge, as a witness.
Hutchison reviewed his daughter’s childhood, how she had grown up in Beckley, played soccer, worked as a baby-sitter and lifeguard, and eventually went on to college.
After obtaining her bachelor’s degree, Hutchison said Brown started experiencing issues with depression. She started working toward her master’s degree, but eventually came home to seek employment.
She was hired in 2005 or 2006, Hutchison said, as a clerk for the Beckley Police Department.
He said they found her a hard worker, competent and capable, and soon promoted her within the department. She even went on to complete her master’s degree online through Marshall University.
“Do you acknowledge that your daughter is an addict?” Morgan asked.
“Without a doubt,” Hutchison said.
He said she did not have any drug problems when she began her employment at BPD, but following some back trouble and a gallbladder surgery, she began taking prescription opiates for pain.
They also discussed Brown’s marriage to her husband, John Brown, who was for some time a Beckley police officer. He was injured in the military and an additional on-duty injury at the BPD led to his retirement.
Hutchison said the availability of her husband’s opiates contributed to his daughter’s addiction.
When the news broke about Brown stealing pills from the evidence locker, Hutchison took her to a psychologist in Charleston and set up a treatment program at St. Francis Hospital.
He said she graduated from the program in October, has been sober ever since, and continues to see a counselor.
It was noted that Brown has two children, Theron, 6, and Smith, 4, and their well-being was discussed at length in court Monday.
Hutchison said they know that “Mommy is sick and has to get better,” but they also know everything is not totally right.
Hutchison and his wife have been caring for the children a great deal throughout Brown’s rehabilitation.
“They really need their mom,” he said. “Permanency is important. Kids need to know where they’re going to be. Six months in the life of a child is a lifetime.”
He said he believed if she were to go to jail, it would be devastating for her sons.
“I cannot excuse her conduct and I am deeply saddened and hurt, but I believe she can be a good mother and a good person and she can rebuild her career.”
Brown then addressed the court, taking the opportunity to apologize to the judicial system, her friends and co-workers, but most of all, her family.
“Mortified is the appropriate word to use to describe how I feel about my actions,” Brown said. “I don’t think I will ever meet a lower point in my life. I don’t think I’ll ever stop regretting it.”
She said her children were her driving force for her rehabilitation; “I think I need them as much or as more as they need me.”
“I’m going to take every day one day at a time and try to restore my bonds with the community, my family, and most of all my children.”
She said she could not apologize enough to the officers and her co-workers for the “irreversible” problems she has caused.
“I will continue to work as hard as I can to show them sometime down the road they can trust me again.”
Brown could have been sentenced to a maximum of four years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and a year of supervised release.
Judge Faber, however, gave Brown no jail time, four years probation, and imposed no fine.
“I believe this sentence is sufficient, but not greater than necessary.”
He said Brown was well on her way to being rehabilitated and incarceration would interfere with that.
“You have been justly punished through humiliation and the potential loss of your family.”
He said the sentence was weak on deterrence to others who may commit similar crimes, but because of the other factors, he was going "out on a limb for her."
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