Court to decide if 80-year-old man can sue those who arrested him
CHARLESTON – Chuck Canterbury of Mount Hope, who twice persuaded the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals to throw out criminal charges against him, now wants the Court to let him sue those who arrested him. Canterbury, 80 years old, has appealed a Fayette County court decision dismissing his claim of wrongful arrest against the county commission and the city of Mount Hope. The city of Ansted already has settled with him. So have two police officers he sued as individuals. Canterbury's arrest does not count among the shining moments of West Virginia law enforcement. One day in 2001, a man wearing a body wire entered a pawn shop that Canterbury operated. The man asked to pawn a piece of jewelry. Canterbury said he would not pawn it but he would buy it. Canterbury gave him $15. That brought the full weight of the law crashing down on him. Police arrested him at the shop and removed items as evidence. Prosecutor Paul Blake charged him with breaking a state law that required him to report the sale to the county sheriff within 24 hours. Grand jurors indicted him on 24 felony counts. Canterbury argued that the reporting law did not apply to pawn brokers. The circuit court agreed, but certified the question to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. The Justices affirmed the decision in Canterbury's favor. Canterbury asked for the return of the items police took. Instead, Blake indicted him again. Canterbury asked the Supreme Court of Appeals to prohibit prosecution. In 2003, the Justices again ruled in his favor. They found that Fayette County had never enforced the reporting law against anyone else. The circuit court dismissed the indictment Aug. 11, 2003. Exactly a year later, Canterbury sued the county, Mount Hope, Ansted, police and public officials. He alleged false arrest, conspiracy, malicious prosecution, selective prosecution and negligence. By then, Blake had advanced from prosecutor to circuit judge. Canterbury sought to recuse him, but he changed his mind and let him keep the case. In 2005, Blake held that he found no evidence of malice. He also ruled that a one year statute of limitations had run out on the claim of false arrest. He held that the statute began to run at the time of the arrest, not at the time Canterbury proved the arrest was invalid. His attorney, Jacqueline Hallinan of Charleston, appealed. "It seems unfair, unreasonable and a denial of due process to require that a tort claim for false arrest should always be brought while the underlying criminal case is still pending," she wrote, noting that Canterbury could not have meaningfully brought his complaint for false arrest while his criminal case was still pending. "It is incredible that law enforcement and prosecuting attorneys would have considered themselves to be acting in good faith in conducting a public raid and arresting a 76 year old man ..." The Supreme Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments Tuesday, Sept. 11.