West Virginia Record

Friday, July 19, 2019

Abuse, false prosecution case against county attorney's offices and individuals continues in Mineral County

Lawsuits

By Kyla Asbury | Jul 10, 2019


KEYSER — A defendant in a case against the Hampshire County Prosecuting Attorney's Office has filed a reply in support of a motion to dismiss.

Cpl. Scott Nazelrod argued that four counts against him should be dismissed in light of arguments previously made in his motion to dismiss and additional arguments, according to the June 17 reply.

The plaintiff, Norman Launi II, references West Virginia liberal pleading standard in his complaint, but he takes the liberal pleading standard to the extreme, Nazelrod argues.

"When considering a motion to dismiss, the court must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and consider all allegations contained therein as true," the motion states. "This standard does not, however, require allegations to be assumed or inserted into the complaint where they are otherwise not pleaded."

Nazelrod claims there are no facts pleaded in the complaint alleging that he "actively assisted in plaintiff's prosecution notwithstanding his knowledge of innocence" or "that he exerted a measure of control over said prosecution."

Last month, six court filings occurred in the case on June 4 – three responses in opposition of a motion to dismiss and three orders.

In the responses, the plaintiff argues that the motion to dismiss shouldn't be granted.

"Due to the myriad motions to dismiss which have been filed in this matter, and the responses now submitted by plaintiffs, which have included lengthy recitation of the facts in this case, plaintiff believes the facts to have been adequately stated in previous filings before this court relating to the pending motions to dismiss filed by other defendants," one of the responses states.

In the June 4 orders, the circuit judge denied the county and prosecuting attorney's office's motion by special appearance, Nazelrod's motion to dismiss and another motion to dismiss.

"While there is a general understanding at common law that prosecutors are entitled to absolute immunity for those actions closely associated with the judicial process and their role as advocates, prosecutorial immunity is not universal in its application to actions undertaken by prosecutors," the circuit judge wrote.

The lawsuit was initially filed in March 2018 in Morgan Circuit Court before being moved to Mineral Circuit Court against the Hampshire County Prosecuting Attorney's Office; Hampshire County; the Morgan County Prosecuting Attorney's Office; Morgan County; the Mineral County Prosecuting Attorney's Office; Mineral County; Dan James Jr., the prosecuting attorney for Hampshire and Morgan Counties; John Ours, the special prosecutor for Mineral County; and Nazelrod, a West Virginia State trooper.

Launi is a sergeant employed by the Hampshire County Sheriff's Department, where he's been for more than 16 years.

Launi claims in 2013, there was a gathering of the Hampshire County law enforcement community in which alcohol was consumed. The gathering was held on a property leased by members of the law enforcement community, including James.

Prior to James' departure from the party, several individuals decided to play a joke on him by placing a bear carcass in the back of his truck. When he got home, he was extremely upset about the bear carcass and it negatively affected his relationship with Launi and other members of the sheriff's department after the incident, according to the complaint.

The plaintiff claims in August 2016, he was one of several testifying officers for the state in an abuse and neglect adjudication in Hampshire County and after he testified, Ours falsely accused him of lying on the stand.

Launi claims after the allegation, he and Ours became involved in a heated argument outside of the circuit court regarding the treatment of Launi and the "insulting nature" of the accusations.

After the incident, Launi and Ours' relationship "soured permanently," according to the suit.

Launi claims when his work partner, John Eckerson, died on Aug. 16, 2016, while Launi was on vacation, James accused Launi of murdering or playing a role in Eckerson's death. Launi claims because he was on vacation there was no way he could have played a part in his partner's death.

James contacted Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Camiletti of the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the Drug Enforcement Administration requesting they investigate the circumstances surrounding Eckerson's death, but neither agency agreed to investigate the incident, according to the suit.

Launi claims James then contacted the West Virginia State Police and Nazelrod was assigned the case.

In October 2016, several packages were stolen from the Postal Center in Charleston that were alleged to contain narcotics being sent to the state police crime lab from the Hampshire County Sheriff's Department and despite USPS's findings, James accused Launi and other sheriff's office deputies of theft without any evidence whatsoever.

A woman Launi used to have a relationship with also began harassing Launi and went to the police alleging she had video evidence of him committing domestic violence against her.

Nazelrod questioned Launi about several incidents involving his relationship with Penny Hartman, and eventually, a case was built against Launi. In October 2017, plea negotiations for a pre-trial diversion agreement were ongoing and it appeared that an agreement had been reached, according to the suit.

"In exchange for a dismissal, the plaintiff would agree to a probationary period that would last one year and he would relinquish all firearms for that period, effectively ending his career," the complaint states. 

Despite reaching an agreement, Nazelrod sought a two-year probationary period instead of one year. Launi rejected the new terms and proceeded to trial.

Launi was acquitted on Oct. 27, 2017, on all counts during his trial.

"As a direct result of the unfounded prosecution against plaintiff, plaintiff was ineligible for promotion and lost wages and retirement contributions valued at approximately $160,000," the complaint states.

Launi is seeking damages for $168,500 in economic damages; pain and suffering in the amount of $500,000; and punitive damages. He is represented by Christian J. Riddell and Dylan Batten of the Law Offices of Stedman and Riddell.

Mineral Circuit Court case number 19-C-15

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