CLARKSBURG - Two Harrison County sheriff’s deputies are accused of unlawfully entering a Lost Creek man’s home and falsely arresting him.
William J. Cunningham and Cory M. Heater and are named as co-defendants in a seven-count civil rights suit filed by Saylen D. Houston. In his complaint filed May 6 in U.S. District Court, Houston, 33, alleges the pair lacked probable cause to both enter his home and later arrest him two years ago following an altercation with his ex-girlfriend.
According to the suit, Cunningham and Heater received a call at an unspecified time on May 13, 2011, concerning a disturbance at Houston’s home. A neighbor called to report his ex-girlfriend was beating on his door.
Upon arrival, the suit says Cunningham and Heater encountered April Nicole Fultineer, who initially ignored them. However, she later said "Saylen is inside by himself,” and informed them the front door was locked.
After they knocked on his door, the suit says Houston peered out a large picture window nearby and asked if Cunningham and Heater had a warrant. When they told him they didn’t, Houston denied them entry, he claims.
However, the suit says Cunningham unholstered his pistol and kicked open the door. After entering, Houston alleges Cunningham and Heater “took him to the floor, and beat him about the head, face, neck, back, sides and legs with closed fists and with feet.”
In the suit, Houston avers that Cunningham and Heater lacked probable cause to enter his home as he was never violent with Fultineer, who never was reported or observed to be “‘agitated, hysterical or out of control.” Also, their use of force in subduing him, Houston says, was “objectively unreasonable” as he posed no threat, including making an attempt to evade or resist arrest.
After subduing him, Houston alleges Cunningham and Heater threw Houston down a flight of stairs in the course of taking him to their cruiser. After placing him in the backseat, Cunningham sprayed him with mace, he claims.
According to the Harrison Magistrate Court Clerk’s Office, Houston was charged with one count each of obstructing, assault on a police officer and resisting arrest. In exchange for pleading guilty to the obstructing and no contest to the resisting charges, the Harrison County Prosecutor’s Office on Jan. 7 agreed to dismiss the assault charge.
Magistrate Mark Gorby sentenced Houston to a concurrent term of five days in jail on each charge, but suspended it in lieu of 40 hours community service. Also, he assessed Houston $585.80 in court costs.
In his suit, Houston says Cunningham and Heater’s actions resulted in him incurring, among other things, “bruising, lacerations, internal injuries, facial fractures, orthopedic injuries [and] emotional distress.” In addition to claims against Cunningham and Heater for violating his constitutional rights, Houston makes claims against Sheriff Albert Marano and the Harrison County Commission for negligence in failing to properly train and supervise them.
In West Virginia, sheriffs and county commissions are co-employers of deputy sheriffs.
In his suit, Houston seeks unspecified damages, court costs and attorneys fees. He is represented by Lewisburg attorney Robert J. Frank.
The case is assigned to Judge Irene B. Keeley.
U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia, case number 13-cv-137