CLARKSBURG – A federal judge denied a former employee’s motion for partial summary judgment against Ritchie County Commission and also granted the commission’s motion for summary judgment in a lawsuit alleging the plaintiff was wrongfully terminated.

James R. Asbury was employed as a deputy sheriff with Ritchie County Sheriff’s Department from May 2011 until May 2015, when he was placed on paid administrative leave. His employment was terminated on Dec. 31, 2015.

The lawsuit was filed against the commission, Sheriff Bryan Backus and former Sheriff Ronald Barniak.

During the course of Asbury’s employment as a deputy, Backus and Barniak noticed that Asbury’s reported monthly :activity levels,” such as criminal investigations, citations and service of process, were substantially lower than his fellow deputies’ reported levels, according to the Jan. 16 memorandum opinion and order.

In an attempt to ascertain why Asbury’s levels were below those of his fellow deputies, Backus and Barniak decided to install a GPS unit on Asbury’s Dodge Durango, which was his police cruiser, in order to monitor its whereabouts while Asbury was on duty. The GPS monitoring took place from October 2013 until May 2014.

On May 22, 2014, Asbury became aware of the GPS device after he was charged in a criminal complaint with felony offense of falsifying accounts, based on what the defendants alleged were discrepancies in the duty logs submitted by Asbury and the data recorded by the GPS unit in his cruiser.

A grand jury indicted Asbury on eight felony counts of falsifying accounts in violation of West Virginia Code and one misdemeanor count of embezzlement.

On May 23, 2016, Asbury initiated his civil action against the defendants in Ritchie Circuit Court, alleging the monitoring violated his Fourth Amendment Rights. The case was removed to federal court on June 22, 2016.

Asbury then filed a motion for summary judgment on his Fourth Amendment claim and the defendants filed a motion for summary judgment on all counts.

Each of Asbury’s claims relate directly or indirectly to the installation and monitoring of the GPS unit in his work vehicle, according to the order.

The court found that Asbury failed to demonstrate that any deliberate action by the commission was the moving force behind the alleged deprivation of his rights, according to the order.

U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia case number: 1:16-cv-00132

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