Wheeling officer named in civil rights suit accused of sexual assault


WHEELING –A Wheeling police officer accused of improperly detaining a man last year for lawfully carrying a firearm now stands accused of sexually assaulting two women.

According to The Wheeling News-Register, Matthew Kotson was arrested Dec. 1 outside St. Paul Vincent de Paul Parish School on warrants issued for his arrest earlier that day on four charges of sexual assault in the second degree. The News-Register reported that Kotson was peering into a classroom at the Elm Grove school where a teacher who is an apparent witness in one of the cases works.

The arrest came almost a year to the day when Kotson, while on duty as for the Wheeling Police Department, detained Keith Owen Campbell while he was openly carrying a .45 pistol in a fast food restaurant. The actions of Kotson, and two other WPD officers led Keith, and his father, Larry, to file a civil rights suit against them, WPD Chief Robert G. Matheny and the city for, among other things, violation of their Second and Fourth Amendment rights.

One victim leads to others

According to the criminal complaint filed against him in Ohio Magistrate Court by Cpl. J.E. Dean of the West Virginia State Police, Kotson, 31, went to the home of Stephanie L. Russell on Thanksgiving morning. Shortly after he arrived, Kotson reached his hands into her shirt and began fondling her breasts.

After telling him "no," and going into her bathroom, Russell alleges Kotson persisted. While in the bathroom, she maintains he reached his hands both up her dress, and down into her pants fondling her breasts and vagina.

According to the complaint, Dean interview Kotson the next day. During the interview he admitted to touching Russell "on her body in a sexual manner."

As a result of Russell's alleges, both Dean Sgt. M.S. Adams began interviewing several other females who alleged Kotson made "persistent and aggressive sexual advances [on them] on several occasions.

One of those women was Shalynn Crocker. According to the complaint, she alleged Kotson held her down and forced her to have sex with him on three occasions, including on where her daughter was present.

Records show following his arraignment before Magistrate Joseph Roxby, Kotson was released on $40,000 bond. A few days later, Ohio County Prosecutor Scott Smith filed notice his office was recusing itself from the case.

Different aggressive behavior

In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in May, Campbell accused Kotson of being aggressive toward him, but in a different way. On Dec. 4 while having lunch with Larry at the Kentucky Fried Chicken on Zane St., Campbell alleges he was approached by Kotson who asked him why he was carrying a firearm.

When Campbell told him it was his right, Kotson asked to see identification. Under protest, Campbell provided it.

According to the suit, Campbell asked on what grounds was Kotson detaining him. Though he acknowledged the open-carry of a firearm is lawful in West Virginia, Kotson said carrying one in a restaurant was "suspicious and sufficient grounds for detention."

After also providing his concealing carry permit under protest, Campbell inquired if he was free to leave. Though Kotson replied "yes", Campbell alleges, he obstructed his ability to leave, and told him his supervisor wanted to speak with him.

According to the suit, Sgt. Rusty Jewell questioned Campbell, removed the pistol from the holster and caused it to jam when he attempted to chamber a round. After he received a response back from dispatch that Campbell was "clear," Jewell returned Campbell's pistol into the holster after clearing the jam, but with the safety off.

Two days later, the Campbells questioned Matheny about their encounter with Kotson and Jewell. They allege he said "'until a court directs me otherwise, [it] will be the policy of the Wheeling Police Department' to stop, detain, disarm and question any individual who openly carries a handgun."

Records show the city, Matheny, Kotson and Jewell filed their answer to the suit on July 12. Through their attorney Heather Noel, with Morgantown office of MacCorkle, Lavender and Sweeney, they denied the allegations they violated the Campbell's rights and asserted, among others, a defense that all "acted reasonably in good faith under the circumstances and are therefore immune from suits."

The West Virginia Record attempted to get a comment from Noel concerning Kotson's arrest. However, she did not return repeated phone calls by presstime.

The case, which is before Judge Frederick M. Stamp, is scheduled for trial on Sept. 11.

Suspension, then termination

According to The News-Register, City Manager Robert Herron fired Kotson the day following his arrest. After Russell filed a domestic violence protective order against him while filing her complaint with State Police, Herron said Kotson, an eight-year veteran, was first placed on paid leave on Nov. 25, and suspended without pay four days later.

Also, Herron said the decision to fire Kotson was also based on him driving a cruiser despite the suspension of his license. According to court records, Kotson was cited by WVSP Sgt. J.A. Laing on Sept. 3 for not having proof of insurance, and a valid motorcycle endorsement after he crashed his motorcycle while travelling into Ohio County from Ohio on the Interstate 470 Bridge.

In West Virginia, failure to provide proof of insurance carries a mandatory 30-day license suspension.

Though as of presstime, a special prosecutor had not been appointed in his case, a preliminary hearing for Kotson has been scheduled for Dec. 20. According to the Magistrate Clerk's Office, Kotson has applied for a court-appointed attorney.

Ohio Magistrate Court case numbers 11-F-509-512; U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia case number, 11-cv-69

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