By Mannix Porterfield and Wendy Holdren
A veteran Raleigh County sheriff’s deputy has been indicted on a felony charge of child battery and suspended with pay until the case is resolved, Sheriff Steve Tanner disclosed Thursday.
Lt. Randy Burgess, who has been a lawman more than two decades and served as the night shift supervisor, was the target of a months-long investigation by West Virginia State Police, the sheriff said.
Tanner said he only learned of the formal accusation Wednesday afternoon, when State Police presented the case to a county grand jury, which returned a true bill against Burgess.
That information was the first he had received since learning of the initial complaint, Tanner said.
“Many months ago, the State Police told me they had received a criminal complaint and were going to do an investigation,” Tanner said.
“We pledged our complete support for that and our support for anything they needed in regard to that information. That was the last I heard of it until yesterday (Wednesday).”
Burgess put up bond and was released by the court, then was given an interview by Tanner and placed on suspension.
Under Civil Service laws, Tanner pointed out, a deputy cannot be suspended without pay, or without the right to a hearing.
“He is suspended administratively,” the sheriff said.
“It is with pay but not with authority as a deputy. He had his guns and his cruiser taken. He has rights in place. He is innocent until proven guilty of anything.”
The prosecuting attorney’s office said Burgess was arraigned by Circuit Judge H.L. Kirkpatrick and released on a $10,000 bond. The matter has been investigated by the Princeton detachment of the State Police in tandem with Mercer County Child Protective Services.
“We stand by him that he is innocent until proven guilty,” Tanner said.
Tanner said Burgess agreed with him that the proper course now is for him to be suspended, “simply because the sheriff’s office has got to maintain the highest level of professionalism and integrity.”
“We can’t allow this to be hanging over him and him to continue to work and investigate similar crimes,” the sheriff said.
“Until he can get his household in order and this can be resolved by the courts, he cannot be allowed to work and represent this agency.”
Tanner said he doesn’t know any particulars of the alleged offense but termed it “apparently a child abuse case.”
“I say ‘apparently’ because I’m not privy to this information, nor should I be,” he said.
“I have specifically been excluded because while we do understand and respect his right to be innocent and won’t assume any guilt on his part unless proven by the court. Quite honestly, should the court find him guilty, then it becomes incumbent on me to make an administrative decision about his employment or punitive action against him.”
Tanner said he wouldn’t have firsthand knowledge of the police inquiry but would stay away from the case until a conclusion comes, in case the outcome mandates some action by him.
In that scenario, “I would have to do that with a clean slate, not with any preconceived notions,” the sheriff added.
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org