Sheriff Under Investigation
By WTAP NEWS / Denise Alex
Bonnie M. Wells
Parkersburg, West Virginia --
An investigation is underway involving the conduct of Wood County Sheriff Ken Merritt.
Monday afternoon the Wood County Prosecutor's Office announced it is looking into possible criminal activity involving the sheriff and his son Bryan Merritt.
Bryan Merritt was in and out of the courtroom last month concerning various charges, failure to abide by probation rules, and concerns about his safety in jail because of his father's position.
Special prosecutor Earl Wilson Maxwell has been appopointed out of Randolph County to investigate if the sheriff committed a crime.
"I do not like to have to request a special prosecutor but because of the rules of professional responsibility, ethically, I would be conflicted out because individuals in my offices may be witnesses, "says Wood County prosecutor Ginney Conley.
WTAP-TV tried getting a hold of Sheriff Merritt at his office and home on Friday, neither call was returned.
Wood County Sheriff Investigation
The investigation in Wood County Sheriff Ken Merritt continues even though the prosecutor in charge of his case is now off the case.
In November Randolph County prosecutor Earl Maxwell was appointed to oversee the un-named alleged wrongdoings by Merritt.
But Friday was Maxwell's last day on the job because he is starting a new job Monday in Charleston.
Maxwell tells us more than likely his successor Frank Bush will take over the case. He says the ultimate decision lies in the hands of the West Virginia Attorney Institute.
Maxwell adds that any time there is an investigation of a public official it can take around six months to complete considering scheduling conflicts with the state trooper investigating and others.
Saturday, January 28, 2006 —
Maxwell Out As Merritt Investigator
Randolph County Prosecutor Earl Maxwell was appointed last year to be the special prosecutor in an investigation of Wood County Sheriff Ken Merritt and his conduct surrounding the prosecution of his son Bryan.
Maxwell resigned from his office this month and now serves as director of the West Virginia Education and State Employees Grievance Board
The West Virginia Prosecuting Attorneys Institute is looking for another special prosecutor for the investigation.
PARKERSBURG — The investigation of Wood County Sheriff Ken Merritt will be handled by a new special prosecutor after the man originally tapped for the job took a position with the state.
Randolph County Prosecutor Earl Wilson Maxwell was chosen by the West Virginia Prosecuting Attorneys Institute to handle the investigation, which court documents said concerned “conduct of the Wood County sheriff surrounding the prosecution of the sheriff’s son, Bryan Merritt.”
Wood County Prosecutor Ginny Conley asked to be excused from the case because employees of her office could be witnesses.
Earlier this month, Maxwell resigned from his Randolph County post to become director of the West Virginia Education and State Employees Grievance Board, which administers grievances for state employees, county boards of education, higher education institutions and state agencies and offers mediation services.
The Randolph County Commission appointed Frank P. Busch Jr. to serve the remaining year of Maxwell’s term.
The institute is not asking Busch to take Maxwell’s place on the Wood County investigation, said Philip Morrison, executive director of the institute. The probe could get complex and the new prosecutor does not need the added concerns, he said.
“I don’t want to have that situation placed on a brand new prosecutor, so we will be looking for a more experienced prosecutor elsewhere,” Morrison said.
Based on his experience, Morrison said, the absence of a prosecutor likely has not halted the investigation, which is being conducted by a state trooper from outside the area. Most of the special prosecutor’s work will be done toward the end of the probe, he said.
“The process is not being held up,” he said.
Morrison said there is no timeline for the investigation to be completed, so there is no specific date by which the institute needs to select another prosecutor. However, he said he expects the process to take about a week or so.
The decision will be based on the prosecutor’s experience and whether he or she has the time to work on the investigation, Morrison said.
Ken Merritt declined to comment on the investigation Thursday.
His son, Bryan Merritt, 23, was arrested in January 2005 on charges of driving under the influence, possession of less than 15 grams of a controlled substance, carrying a dangerous weapon and obstruction. He pleaded guilty to obstructing as part of a plea agreement and was sentenced to 45 days in jail, which was suspended for six months of probation through the county’s day report center.
Bryan Merritt’s probation was revoked in October after the center filed allegations that he had not fulfilled his probation requirements, including failing a drug screening. He was placed in custody at the North Central Regional Jail in Doddridge County to serve his original sentence.
Bryan Merritt’s attorney, J.C. Powell, told the court his client had been caught in the middle of a conflict between the day report center and the home confinement program, which is overseen by the sheriff’s department.
Powell said his client had done everything he was asked, including performing community service and spending two weeks in a substance abuse treatment program. In October, the defense asked for two drug tests to be preserved, one that came back negative, the other positive. Those samples reportedly were forwarded to a lab for additional testing.
Contact Evan Bevins at email@example.com.