By Ken Bustin
Three criminal investigations into Hardy County officials – into Hardy County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Tommie McCausley and Hardy County Prosecutor Lucas See – have, to date, cost the taxpayers at least $154,000, according to figures obtained from the County Clerk, pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act request last week.
Those figures show that, from Jan, 1, 2021 until May 14, 2022, when he returned to active duty, Deputy Tommie McCausley’s leave cost $86,627.63, a figure that includes $57,060.34 in wages, $11, 576.29 in Employer Taxes and Contributions, and $17,969.00 in insurance premiums.[private]
McCausley was placed on paid leave by Sheriff Steve Dawson after a security audit of Sheriff’s Department computers, tablets and cell phones, ordered by then-Chief Deputy David Warren, at the behest of then-Sheriff Bryan Ward, uncovered evidence of a “back door” into one or more of the Department’s computers, and three computer hard drives in McCausley’s possession allegedly were found to contain a large number of explicit pornographic images of juveniles. The matter was turned over to West Virginia State Police to investigate.
That investigation, and a second involving an alleged death threat made by McCausley during his leave, remain active. However, despite two ongoing criminal investigations, Dawson restored McCausley to active duty on May 14, 2022.
A third active criminal investigation by West Virginia State Police, this one into alleged sexual misconduct by Hardy County Prosecutor Lucas See and involving two female employees of the County Prosecutor’s Office, started late last year after State Police received reports from the women. It resulted in Jessica Liller and Laiken Shoemaker being placed on paid administrative leave on Dec. 16, 2021.
Unlike the McCausley concern, where the alleged perpetrator was put on leave, in this instance the alleged victims were put on leave, while the alleged perpetrator remains on the job.
To date, Liller has received $27,499.95 in wages, with Employer Taxes and Contributions adding another $4,751.18 and insurance premiums accounting for the final $8,167.50 of the $40,415.63 outlay.
During the same time period, Shoemaker received $16,875.00 in salary, while Employer Taxes and Contributions amounted to $2,955.94, and insurance premiums added another $7,132.50 to the total expenditure of $26,963.44.
Both Liller and Shoemaker remain on leave, so their salaries and employment expenses will likely continue at least until the conclusion of the criminal investigation into See, unless County Commissioners initiate action to attempt to remove See from office, pursuant to West Virginia Code §6-6-7(b)(1)(A). That process, outlined in detail in the July 27, 2022 edition of the Moorefield Examiner, provides a way for the County Commission to remove another County officer for cause.
In addition to the ongoing criminal investigations into McCausley and See, both are Defendants in civil actions, creating additional expensive liability on the part of the County.
McCausley, Sheriff Steve Dawson and the Hardy County Commission are named in a civil action being brought by former Sheriff’s Department Public Information Officer and Technical Operator David Maher, after Dawson abruptly terminated Maher at the beginning of the investigation into McCausley. Maher originally discovered the security breaches in Sheriff’s Department computers and was able to recover some of the pornographic images from the encrypted hard drives in McCausley’s care, after being directed to conduct the security audit by then-Chief Deputy Warren. Upon taking office in January 2021, Sheriff-Elect Dawson told State Police that he was “concerned” Maher might have planted the images on McCausley’s hard drives, and asked State Police to expand the investigation to include him. Maher’s civil action encompasses several counts, including Wrongful Termination, Violation of the Whistleblower Act, Slander, Failure to Adequately Supervise [Deputy McCausley], and Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress. A final count of Vicarious Liability Against the Hardy County Commission for the Actions of Tommie McCausley and Sheriff Steve Dawson includes the Commission’s actions by virtue of being Dawson and McCausley’s employer. Similarly, the County Commission has additional exposure on the other counts, especially the Wrongful Termination and Violation of the Whistleblower Statute counts, because it was also Maher’s employer.
Two additional civil actions were filed earlier this month by Liller and Shoemaker, and name See and the Hardy County Commission as Defendants. Both suits, similar in nature, include the same four counts: Sexual Harassment, Retaliation, Battery, and False Imprisonment.
Because Dawson, McCausley and See are all being sued in their official capacities as well as personally, Hardy County bears the cost of the lawyer representing them in their professional capacities.
According to County Clerk Gregg Ely, the County’s insurance has paid any lawyer’s charges incurred to date. However, that could change in the future if policy limits are reached, or premiums for the coverage could increase steeply in the event that any or all of these lawsuits drag on for long periods of time and incur heavy legal fees. Additionally, if the Plaintiffs prevail in any or all of these suits and it results in substantial monetary awards that exceed insurance policy limits, taxpayers could be on the hook for any amount in excess of the coverage.[/private]