The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

October 17, 2012

Ex-W.Va. officer pleads guilty in bribery case

Assistant Prosecutor: ‘He can never be a police officer again’

By Greg Jordan
For The Register-Herald

PRINCETON — A former Princeton police officer faces a suspended sentence and probation as part of a plea agreement that drops a charge of attempted sexual abuse by a custodian or guardian.

Christopher Winkler, 27, of Princeton appeared Tuesday in Mercer County Circuit Court for a plea hearing. Winkler was charged in March 2011 with attempted sexual abuse of a minor by a custodian or guardian and solicitation of bribery.

The charges were filed after an incident that occurred March 1, 2011 in a parking lot near the intersection of Route 20 and Route 104 in the Princeton city limits. In a criminal complaint filed by the West Virginia State Police, Winkler allegedly “attempted to negotiate sexual favors” from a 17-year-old male subject.

Winkler was suspended from the Princeton Police Department the day after the incident, Prosecuting Attorney Scott Ash said at the time of Winkler’s arraignment. Winkler resigned from the department soon afterwards.

During Monday’s plea hearing, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney George Sitler said that at a trial, evidence would have shown that between 2010 and 2011, Winkler gave the male juvenile, then 16, a debit card that the boy then used to accumulate $2,300 in debt. The juvenile performed dog walking and personal massage services to help pay the debt, Sitler said.

In March 2011, Winkler confronted the juvenile — then 17 years and 8 months old — about the debt and suggested that he could be prosecuted, Sitler said. Winkler also threatened to report the juvenile’s mother to state Child Protective Service on a separate matter. The juvenile then went to the West Virginia State Police.

The male juvenile, wearing a microphone, met with Winkler and suggested sexual favors as a way of paying off the debt, Sitler said. Winkler “did not cast aside the suggestion” and said they could talk about it at his apartment.

Winkler’s attorney, William Flanigan, said he would have disagreed with the evidence. In the plea agreement, Winkler does not concede that he asked for sexual favors; the juvenile had broached the subject of sexual favors first.

Winkler pleaded guilty to an information on solicitation of bribery, a charge carrying a penalty of one to 10 years in prison. He has been disqualified for any public service job in the future, Sitler said.

“He can never be a police officer again,” Sitler added.

In the plea agreement, the state dismissed the charge of attempted sexual abuse by a custodian or guardian, he said. Winkler faces up to five years probation. He will not be required to register as a sex offender.

Judge William Sadler told Winkler that if he violated the terms of his probation, it will be revoked and he will face an indeterminate sentence of one to 10 years imprisonment. A hearing would be conducted to determine if the terms of probation had been violated.

Sadler ordered a presentencing report. Sentencing was scheduled for Dec. 10. Winkler remains free on bond.