Barbour Co. Commission moves to dismiss claims in sexual assault suit

By John O'Brien | Aug 15, 2013

ELKINS – The Barbour County Commission has filed a motion to dismiss the claims against it made by a woman who claims Barbour County Sheriff John Hawkins raped her during an interview.

In a motion filed Aug. 9, the commission asked U.S. District Judge John Preston Bailey, of the Northern District of West Virginia, to dismiss it from the lawsuit filed by Brittany Mae Keene on July 18.

Keene claims Hawkins sexually assaulted her during a job interview. Hawkins denies the allegations.

The commission is moving to dismiss the 12 claims made in the lawsuit that are directed towards it.

“In order for the Defendant County Commission to be held liable under Plaintiff’s (civil rights) claims, the Plaintiff must make a showing this Defendant exhibited ‘deliberate indifference’ to the Constitutional protections of the Plaintiff,” a memorandum in support of the motion to dismiss says.

“Importantly, a County Defendant cannot be held liable under (federal civil rights law) on a basis of respondeat superior, but rather the liability must stem directly from acts of the County Defendant, and not that of an employee or agent of the entity.”

The memorandum also says some allegations against the commission do not meet the required pleading standards.

“The factual allegations preceding Plaintiff’s enumerated Counts state simply that Defendant Hawkins acted in a manner that was ‘officially adopted or promulgated by the County Defendant, or engaged in such action pursuant to a formal or informal governmental custom or was otherwise permitted to act in such an unlawful manner by the County Defendant,” the memorandum says.

“The factual allegations of the Complaint fail to offer any support for these allegations and the contests of Counts 1, 2, 3 and 10 similarly fail to offer any factual support. Rather, the allegations asserted in these various counts are simply conclusory statements void of any factual support.”

Keene says the assault took place in 2011 at a job interview in a camper owned by the county that was located at the Barbour County Fairgrounds. She was 17 years old at the time of the alleged assault.

“Defendant Hawkins proceeded to ‘interview’ Plaintiff and then abruptly declared that if Plaintiff wanted the job, she would have to sleep with him,” says the complaint, filed July 18 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia.

“Plaintiff refused and attempted to exit the camper. Defendant Hawkins then slammed Plaintiff face-forward against the wall of the camper and handcuffed her hands behind her back.”

In order to silence her, Hawkins stuffed either a bandana or handkerchief in her mouth, the suit says. It also claims he inserted a cucumber in her rectum.

“First and foremost, I deny the allegations in the complaint,” Hawkins said in response.

“Unfortunately in today’s society issues like these are tried more in the ‘Court of Public Opinion’ than in our judicial system, where they belong.

“Over the next few months, this lawsuit will proceed. Both sides have attorneys who will exchange information and negotiate. The outcome, the plaintiff seeks money for damages caused by her allegations.

“Either they will get money or they won’t. That will be up to a jury to decide. The jury will be picked from the same citizens who will have been blitzed by the media coverage of this.”

Keene claims Hawkins told her he would kill her if she said anything to her.

The complaint says five other females have been sexually assaulted by Hawkins and that the plaintiff will disclose their names upon agreement with the defendants regarding the use of their names.

Those assaults allegedly took place in at the Barbour County Courthouse, in Hawkins’ police cruiser, in the evidence room and at a shooting range.

The lawsuit lists 15 counts, including unlawful arrest, excessive force, civil conspiracy, tort of outrage, assault, battery, negligent retention and hiring and false imprisonment.

After the alleged assault, Keene filed a domestic violence protection order petition against him. In May 2012, she was arrested on a felony charge of receiving stolen property and a misdemeanor charge of transferring stolen property.

WBOY reported that she was alleged to have stolen two guitars from a church. The indictment was dismissed.

Keene claims the indictment was filed in retaliation for her claims against Hawkins. She is represented by Paul J. Harris and Shawn L. Flaherty of Wheeling.

Despite the issue gaining some media attention last summer, Hawkins, a Democrat, won re-election in November.

The commission also moved to dismiss Keene’s negligent retention, hiring, training and supervision claims.

“There appears to be no case law or statutory support that a County Commission ‘retains’ and/or ‘hires’ constitutionally elected officials,” the memorandum says.

“Further, there is no case law or statutory support that a County Commission is responsible for the ‘supervision’ or ‘training’ of a constitutionally elected official in the State of West Virginia.”

The commission is represented by Keith C. Gamble of Pullin, Fowler, Flanagan, Brown & Poe in Morgantown.

Hawkins submitted an answer to the complaint on Aug. 7 that denies Keene’s allegations. He is represented by Harry A. Smith III of McNeer, Highland, McMunn and Varner in Elkins.

From the West Virginia Record: Reach John O’Brien at

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