Former deputy sues Ritchie Co. Commission for installing GPS tracking device

By Kyla Asbury | May 24, 2016

HARRISVILLE – A former deputy is suing the Ritchie County Commission after he claims the sheriff installed a GPS monitoring system on his police cruiser without a warrant.

Bryan Backus and Ronald Barniak were also named as defendants in the suit.

James Asbury was employed as a deputy for the Ritchie County Sheriff’s Office and Backus was the sheriff, according to a complaint filed May 20 in Ritchie Circuit Court.

Asbury claims Barniak, the former sheriff, was the chief administrator of the Ritchie County Sheriff’s Department.

At some point prior to April 1, 2014, Asbury fell into disfavor with the defendants, according to the suit.

Asbury claims in October 2013, the defendants decided to engage in a roundabout way of terminating his employment by placing a GPS tracking device n his take-home police cruiser and then comparing the GPS data with his daily logs and time sheets.

The defendants purposefully kept the installation of the GPS a secret from Asbury and no other deputy or employee of the sheriff’s department was subjected to GPS monitoring, according to the suit.

Asbury claims although the defendants claim that there were personnel issues involving Asbury which necessitated the monitoring, neither the defendants, nor his superior officer, ever counseled him or brought any perceived issues to his attention before resorting to surreptitious monitoring and criminal charges.

The installed GPS unit tracked Asbury from October 2013 until May 2014, according to the suit.

Asbury claims on May 22, 2014, he first became aware of the GPS monitoring when he was charged by criminal complaint with the felony offense of falsifying accounts. The charges were filed pursuant to the direct orders of the defendants.

On Jan. 26, 2015, a special prosecuting attorney presented the matter to a Ritchie County grand jury and Backus testified that he authorized the placement of the GPS and that he “had authority to do so,” according to the suit.

Asbury claims the grand jury returned a nine-count indictment charging him with eight counts of the felony offense of falsifying accounts and one count of the misdemeanor offense of embezzlement.

Circuit Judge Timothy Sweeney dismissed eight felony charges of falsifying accounts and a misdemeanor embezzlement charge against Asbury. The judge ruled that there was no exception to the warrant requirement in dealing with the GPS installed on Asbury’s cruiser.

Asbury claims he was publicly humiliated and is entitled to recover past and future wages.

Asbury is seeking compensatory and punitive damages. He is being represented by John H. Bryan of John H. Bryan Attorneys At Law; and Rodney C. Windom and Scott A Windom of Windom Law Offices.

Ritchie Circuit Court case number: 16-C-31

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