By Rachel Dove
WILLIAMSON - A lawsuit has been filed in Mingo County Circuit County by the former defendant whose felony drug conviction was dismissed after county officials admitted in federal court to tampering with his case.
George White, of Delbarton, recently filed a lawsuit against the county’s former circuit judge Michael Thornsbury and the state Supreme Court, as his employer; ex-Mingo prosecuting attorney C. Michael Sparks; the Mingo County Commission and former commissioner David L. Baisden; the Mingo County Sheriff’s Department; Bill G. Davis, who is the county’s former flood-plain coordinator; and former Williamson police chief C. David Rockel.
White was arrested in February of 2013 after Eugene Crum, the former sheriff of Mingo County who was shot and killed on April 3, 2013, allegedly sent an undercover investigator to buy pills from White. Federal prosecutors say that Crum had White, who owned a sign-making business in Delbarton, arrested rather than pay him approximately $3,000 he allegedly owed the business owner for campaign signs and other political material he had purchased during the 2012 election.
White’s lawsuit states that Crum arranged for a confidential police informant to frame White. The informant said he purchased three oxycodone tablets from White, “even though no such transaction transpired.” The suit further alleges that Rockel and Crum planted evidence at White’s business which then was used to frame him.
Once White was arrested, he allegedly began talking to federal investigators, with the assistance of his attorney, Charles “Butch” West, about how he supplied Crum with pills. When Crum found out what was happening, federal prosecutors say that he and other Mingo officials, including Sparks and Baisden, hatched a scheme to keep White quiet by enlisting the help of his brother to convince him to fire West and hire another attorney of their choosing, in exchange for a lighter sentence.
White agreed to the alleged stipulations and pleaded guilty to the drug charges brought against him. Shortly after that, Thornsbury, Sparks and Baisden were all charged with various federal offenses. Baisden has since pleaded guilty to an extortion charge that was unrelated to White’s case and will begin to serve a 20-month sentence in June. Thornsbury and Sparks are awaiting sentencings that are scheduled to take place in June on charges of depriving White of his constitutional rights.
White is asking for compensation for his lost profits and business, moving costs, damage to his reputation, emotional distress and substantial attorney’s fees. He also wants punitive damages “for the willful, wanton, reckless and grossly negligent course of separate and respective conduct of the defendants.”
Former Cabell Circuit Judge John Cummings, whom the Supreme Court appointed to take over in Mingo County court after Thornsbury stepped down, dismissed the criminal indictment against White. The day after the indictments were dismissed, Rockel is said to have “produced a box of documents and items relating to White and other defendants which were in his personal possession, not in a proper evidence room with legitimate chain-of-custody documentation,” the lawsuit states.
Federal prosecutors have said they are investigating the handling of that evidence. The lawsuit was filed by the same attorneys who represented White in his criminal case.