CHARLESTON – Kanawha County officials filed a motion July 6 to prevent former Kanawha County Prosecutor Mike Clifford from representing a woman who said her property was damaged by police who were looking for evidence in the 2003 sniper shootings.
County officials have previously said it is a conflict of interest for Clifford, who was the county's prosecuting attorney when the sniper shootings occurred, to represent Sandra Shaffer in her claims against the county and its employees.
Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper said the motion was filed to dismiss Clifford from the Shaffer case because of the conflict of interest, since Clifford was the Kanawha County prosecuting attorney during the 2003 sniper shootings.
"This filing indicates that we believe there is an ethical conflict," Carper said.
The rules of professional conduct for attorneys in West Virginia specify that an attorney cannot represent a private client in a matter that he or she was previously involved in as a county prosecutor or other public officer.
Shaffer claims Charleston police officers dug up her property in Sissonville in April while searching for evidence in the sniper shootings. Clifford filed a lawsuit on her behalf in June against the Kanawha County Commission, the City of Charleston, members of the Kanawha County Sheriff's Department, Charleston police officer James Hunt and Kanawha County employee David Armstrong.
Johnnie E. Brown, an attorney for the Kanawha County Commission, filed a motion June 5 to dismiss the county defendants from the case, claiming that when Armstrong—who was called out to the search when a meth lab was discovered on Shaffer's property—was only acting in the scope of the law, which would mean his is immune from liability.
Carper said Armstrong was not doing anything that he was not supposed to be doing. He also said the Sheriff's department was only helping the Charleston Police Department execute a lawful search warrant, which gives them immunity in the case.
Shaffer claims Armstrong violated her constitutional right involving search and seizure. She claims Armstrong's actions were done in bad faith, were done maliciously and violated clearly established law.
The June 5 motions also claimed that the Kanawha County Sheriff's Department was not liable for the claim because they were also protected by law, since the deputies were acting within the scope of their employment.
The motion also states that if Armstrong and the sheriff's deputies are dismissed, the Kanawha County Commission should be, too.
Carper said Armstrong and the Sheriff's deputies were "following West Virginia law."
Shawn Lester is currently facing charges for first-degree murder for the death of Jeanie Patton, who was one of the three people killed during the 2003 sniper shootings.
The case has been assigned to Circuit Judge James C. Stucky. A hearing has not been scheduled yet.