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As feds investigate state-run facilities, advocate tells lawmakers of ‘vicious cycle of institutionalization’

A federal agency is investigating how West Virginia treats its intellectually disabled population, the state’s secretary of Health and Human Resources says the agency is cooperating, and lawmakers today heard concerns about the state’s institutionalization practices.

West Virginia’s DHHR secretary this week confirmed the agency is cooperating with a federal investigation of discrimination allegations at state-run facilities for disabled people.

Bill Crouch

“We don’t want anyone discriminated against, and we will not tolerate that,” DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch said during a Monday briefing about a variety of state topics.

Lawmakers heard about conditions at state-run facilities today during an interim meeting of the Joint Committee on Health, with the main presenter describing “a vicious cycle of institutionalization.”

“I know the temperature’s high with DHHR, and I want to make it clear right now we’re not here as an adversary of DHHR,” Mike Folio, legal director of Disability Rights West Virginia. “We’re here as an ally of disabled people who have no voice, whose voice has been silenced, who are locked up in institutions.”

He went on to describe unnecessary institutionalization, abuse, fear of retaliation among those who speak out, lack of transparency and enormous costs at state-run facilities. There was so much of concern that Health Committee Chairman Matthew Rohrbach said lawmakers would likely need to revisit the issue.

The civil rights office for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services notified the state of the investigation in mid-November, responding to a complaint that the state agency is “engaging in unlawful discrimination based on disability.”

The original complaint was filed by Disability Rights of West Virginia, which contends that DHHR fails to administer services, programs, and activities in the most integrated setting appropriate to meet the needs of qualified individuals with disabilities.

As a result, Disability Rights of West Virginia alleges that some people who are eligible for services under the Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Waiver did not receive services needed to avoid the risk of institutionalization and are now needlessly segregated in state-operated hospitals.

“The state has broken its promise with IDD patients,” Folio told lawmakers today.

The condition of residents at state-run facilities, particularly William R. Sharpe Jr. Hospital in Weston, has been a longstanding area of concern for legislators.

Craig Blair

Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, signed an Oct. 14 letter to Gov. Jim Justice highlighting reports of illegal physical abuse, neglect and verbal abuse of patients. Blair also expressed concern about a lack of court-ordered transparency at the facility.

“These troubling allegations are part of a long list of problems in the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources management at Sharpe, adding to a trend of abuse suffered by vulnerable West Virginians with traumatic brain injuries and intellectual and/or developmental disabilities,” Blair wrote in the letter.

During interim legislative meetings last month, Crouch responded to questions by lawmakers by saying “if they have any specific information, anything, any evidence that Sharpe or Bateman or DHHR has done something wrong, is inconsistent with state or federal statute, go straight to CMS and do it now.”

So that’s what happened a day later.

During a briefing with the governor on Monday, Crouch addressed the federal investigation in response to a question by Amelia Knisely of West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

“We’ve already said we’re open to the investigation. We’ll provide any information requested with regard to this investigation,” Crouch said.

He added, “I’ve talked for several years now about trying to make sure we have adequate placements for individuals in our psychiatric hospitals. And I’ve said numerous times on this call and in front of the Legislature that no one should live in a psychiatric hospital that doesn’t have to.

“So we’re looking at making sure we can move folks to an appropriate level of care. We do not want folks moved to a psychiatric facility that shouldn’t be there.”

During today’s presentation to legislators, Folio said not wanting people to live in psychiatric hospitals is a laudable goal. But he questioned what’s being done to prevent that.

“I’ve not seen the plan,” Folio said. “I don’t think the plan’s ever been disclosed. It’s never been revealed. I think because there isn’t a plan, and that’s just where we’re at. This is why this vicious cycle of institutionalization just continues to occur.”

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Shepherd heads to Colorado in second consecutive NCAA semifinal appearance

(Story by Luke Wiggs)

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. — For the second time in as many years, the Shepherd Rams advanced to the Division II semifinals with a 48-13 win over Indiana University of Pennsylvania on Saturday.

It was a rematch of the PSAC Championship game where IUP held Shepherd to 53 yards rushing and handed the Rams their only loss of the season. The sequel proved much more successful with Shepherd rushing for 141 yards and scoring more points on the Crimson Hawks than any team had all season.

“It was a great win for our program.” Shepherd head coach Ernie McCook said. “To come back to a place three weeks later and beat the No. 1 ranked team in the region that put a really good game plan against us in the PSAC championship game, and to be able to win this football game in the fashion that we did was a real credit to our coaches and players.”

Ronnie Brown had 137 yards rushing in the contest giving him 570 yards on the ground through three playoff games, with five scores, and another 95 yards and two touchdowns through the air.

“They’re scared of Tyson (Bagent) in the pass game, and that opens me up.” Brown said. “And the O-line is blocking tremendously.”

Tyson Bagent, a Harlon Hill Award finalist and Martinsburg High School graduate, threw for four scores in the passing attack, the third of which had extra significance. 

Bagent broke Monmonth’s Alex Tanney’s record of 157 touchdown passes thrown by a college quarterback.

The pass was completed to tight end Brian Walker, who was on the receiving end of pass No. 149 which broke the Division II touchdown record set by Jimmy Terwilliger.

“He’s my best friend in the world,” Bagent said about Walker. “It’s kind of fitting for both records to go to him.”

“One touchdown doesn’t mean more to me than the next,” Walker said. “But to have the opportunity to get that record for Tyson, and give him the recognition he deserves is awesome.”

Now in the semifinals, Shepherd must travel over 1,600 miles and over 5,200 feet in elevation to take on the Colorado School of Mines.

The Orediggers also were participants in last year’s semifinals but began the season in poor form dropping their first two games. They since have won 12 straight including a quarterfinal win over No. 2 Angelo State.

Their quarterback, John Matocha, is having his own “Tyson Bagent-like” season throwing for 4,200 yards and 45 scores this season compared to Bagents 4,415 and 41.

The Orediggers are paced on the outside by Max McLeod and Josh Johnston, a pair of 1,000-yard receivers.

On defense, the Colorado School of Mines leads the nation with 61 sacks and are second with 124 tackles for loss. 

Saturday’s game will kick off at 3:30 EST and can be heard on 95.9 “The Big Dawg” with Jordan Nicewarner, Luke Wiggs, and Parker Stone on the call in Golden, Colorado.

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Student struck while crossing road to board school bus in Berkeley County

INWOOD, W.Va. — A student was struck this morning on Middleway Pike/Rt. 51 just outside Inwood. The incident happened around 7:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Berkeley County Schools Superintendent Ron Stephens  issued the following statement:

“BCS Community: I want to let you know that a high school student was struck by a vehicle this morning as they crossed the road to board school bus #268. This occurred just outside Inwood on Rt. 51 East. The student was conscious, accompanied by parents, and was transported by ambulance to the hospital for additional evaluation and examination.
The crisis team, and school counselors, has been alerted for students at Musselman High and Middle Schools. Please keep all those involved in this accident in your thoughts and prayers.”

No word on any charges against the driver of the vehicle.

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MetroNews This Morning 12-6-22

Today on MetroNews This Morning:

–Wren Baker is introduced in Morgantown as the new WVU A-D

–A high profile quadruple murder trial will continue today in Charleston

–FEMA rejects funding for four more WV counties which incurred damage from summer floods

–In Sports: the final MetroNews Power Poll is out

Listen to “MetroNews This Morning 12-6-22” on Spreaker.

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Fire damages Pilgrim’s Pride plant in Moorefield

MOOREFIELD, W.Va. — An early morning fire damaged the boiler room at the Pilgrim’s Pride chicken processing plant in Moorefield Tuesday.

The blaze was reported to Hardy County 911 at 1:35 a.m. at the plant on South Main Street. Flames were showing when fire crews from Moorefield and surrounding areas arrived on the scene.

The fire crews cleared the scene at 4:15 a.m. There’s no early word on what started the blaze or how much damage it caused. There were no injuries.

The plant employs more than 1,000 workers.

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Hanshaw Has His Hands Full

House of Delegates Speaker Roger Hanshaw (R, Clay) has won re-election by his caucus to a third two-year term. The vote came during a Sunday closed-door meeting, with Hanshaw getting 53 votes to 30 for Delegate Brandon Steele (R, Raleigh).

Steele made an all-out effort to unseat Hanshaw, complaining that Hanshaw stood in the way of legislation pushed by more conservative members of the House. Steele said on “Radio Roundtable” on WJLS AM last week that new members are impatient for change.

“In the House we have 30 members coming in as brand new, and that is astonishing. I think there’s an appetite on the part of those new members to see some legislation progress that maybe we’ve not had an opportunity (to move) before,” Steele said.

“It’s not just different views,” Steele went on to say. “It’s different personalities and different leadership styles that are clashing at the moment. The last thing you want to see is your own caucus divided.”

Ironically, as Republicans gain even larger majorities in the House, the Speaker’s job becomes more difficult, not easier. With 88 members, the views among Republican delegates will vary widely on legislation, creating tension and discord.

Meanwhile, Hanshaw is going to make changes within his team. “Suffice to say we will have some significant reorganization of our leadership,” he said on Talkline Monday. “We did put off making final decisions on who all the committee chairs and leadership will be, who the membership of committees will be, who the senior officers of the House will be until after we got past our internal caucus,” he said.

House Speaker Roger Hanshaw

It is widely believed Amy Summers (R, Taylor) will leave the number two position of majority leader. Summers is expected to take the lead on reforms to the Department of Health and Human Resources.

MetroNews’ Brad McElhinny reports, “Possibilities for a new majority leader, according to delegates, include current Finance Chair Eric Householder (R, Berkeley) and current Health Committee Chairman Matthew Rohrbach (R, Cabell).”

It will also be interesting to see what happens to Delegate Steele.  He is currently chair of the Government Organization Committee. It is hard to imagine Hanshaw keeping Steele in that leadership position after his failed attempt to unseat the Speaker.

The larger issue, however, is how those 30 Republicans who did not vote for Hanshaw will respond. Will they coalesce around leadership’s agenda, or will they put up barriers? The same question applies to the Senate, where Republicans have 31 of the 34 seats, but again, widely different points of view.

The Republican super majorities in the House and Senate mean each chamber can pass whatever it wants, regardless of what the few remaining Democrats want. The real struggles during the two-month regular session—which starts next month—will be among the Republicans themselves.



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Testimony underway in Kanawha County quadruple murder trial

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Kanawha County prosecutors say Gavin Smith shot and killed his four-member family execution-style–two years ago this month in their Cemetery Road home near Elkview.

Gavin Smith (WVRJA)

Smith, then 16, now 18, is on trial for four counts of first-degree murder. A 12-member Kanawha County jury was chosen and began hearing testimony Monday in Charleston.

Kanawha County Assistant Prosecutor JC MacCallum told the jury Smith killed his family because he was a frustrated teen and he wasn’t allowed to spend time with his girlfriend Rebecca Walker.

Defense attorney John Sullivan told jury members during his opening statement that they’ll hear evidence that indicates Smith felt trapped in his own home–and was abused. Sullivan said Smith killed his parents and two younger brothers but it wasn’t first-degree murder. He said there was no malice.

Police found the bodies of Daniel Dale Long, 37, Smith’s stepfather, and Risa Mae Saunders, 39, his mother, in their bed on Dec. 13, 2020. They had both been shot in the head. His brother Gage Ripley, 12, was found dead in his parents’ bedroom while his brother, Jameson Long, 3, was found underneath his bed.

MacCallum said killed his family, hid in the woods for a time and then hid in Walker’s home. She was convicted earlier on a post-murder charge and is serving a 10-year prison term.

Sullivan said there’s evidence that Smith was held inside the home, showing photos of a padlock on a door inside the house and a photo of a padlock on the refrigerator.

The prosecution called several witnesses to the stand Monday afternoon including Smith’s grandfather.

Testimony is scheduled to resume Tuesday morning before Kanawha County Circuit Judge Kenneth Ballard.

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Monongalia County prosecutor calls for lawmakers to look at marital exemption language

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A county prosecutor is urging state lawmakers to take a look at removing marital exemption language when it comes to sexual assault allegations.

Monongalia County Prosecutor Perri Jo DeChristopher addressed the Joint Standing Committee on the Judiciary during Monday’s legislative interim committee meetings.

Perri Jo DeChristopher

DeChristopher told lawmakers 24 states and the District of Columbia have removed marital immunity provisions while 26 states, including West Virginia retain them.

“The existence of forcible compulsion would be a crime for which someone could receive a penitentiary sentence, but it is absolutely excused if it is a spouse committing that crime against another spouse,” DeChristopher said.

West Virginia law does state any type of forcible sexual intercourse is against the law, regardless of marital status.

Senator Robert Karnes, R-Randolph, said a legislative change like could result in additional litigation and really is not needed within the contract of marriage.

“You want to make it a crime to do inside of a marriage what would be a crime outside of a marriage,” Karnes said. “Even though married partners assume because it’s part of the implied contract of marriage that those things are going to be ok.”

Robert Karnes

If the marital exception is lifted, Karnes said spouses in a divorce could claim unwanted touching or sexual assault and add criminal charges, some years after the allegation while a divorce is being litigated.

“That just needs to be viewed like any other criminal investigation,” DeChristopher said. ” Part of the investigation and a decision of law enforcement or prosecutors to be made within the totality of the circumstances in each and every case.”

Delegate Joey Garcia, D-Marion, said married or not, each sexual assault case contains the same components. Technically, the accused can completely admit to the assault and be granted immunity from prosecution because of the exception.

Joey Garcia

“Under the marriage exception here they can admit to all of the elements of having sexually abused or sexually assaulted a victim, but they can say we’re married,” Garcia said. “And that means they cannot be prosecuted.”

DeChristopher said part of the concern with the exemption is marriage laws in the state that allow children younger than 16 to marry, but only upon order of a circuit judge. When questioned about that issue DeChristopher acknowledged that speaking for Monongalia County it was not a concern.

A 2021 bill, Senate Bill 498, was proposed to change the definition of sexual contact to address the issue but was not passed.

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FEMA denies 4 more counties for federal disaster assistance from summer flooding

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state continues to strike out when it comes to federal disaster assistance from summer floods.

GE McCabe

State Emergency Management Division Director GE McCabe said the state learned Monday that requests for Doddridge, Jackson, Mingo and Wyoming counties have been turned down. The state made the requests after flooding from mid-July to mid-August.

McCabe said the state and FEMA disagree on how the damage from the storms should be calculated. The state believes there were four storms that should be counted as one but the federal government says the storms were separate.

“The grounds continued to be saturated and the runoff from these storms created these flooding events but FEMA and the National Weather Service have classified these storms as four separate events which plays into their (rejection) decision,” McCabe said.“ Breaking the series of storms that swept across the state from late July to mid-August into separate events makes it difficult, if not impossible, to meet FEMA’s thresholds to qualify for assistance.”

The state plans an appeal. Gov. Jim Justice said he supports that.

Jim Justice

“I mean for crying out loud, if it rains and the ground gets saturated and then we have no real relief,” Justice said.

Justice seemed to blame the rejections in part on Washington politics.

“We’re pushing. We’re pushing as hard as we can but Washington can be Washington guys and so we’re going to keep at it,” Justice said.

Kanawha County was turned down last week for funding from an Aug. 15 flood.

Only McDowell and Fayette counties were approved for federal disaster assistance from the summer flooding, each county has received a declaration for public assistance.

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Williams murder case headed to the grand jury, new details released

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — A Monongalia County murder case is going to a grand jury for consideration following a preliminary hearing Monday in Monongalia County Magistrate Court.

Chance Williams (WVRJA)

Police have charged Chance Williams, 23, of Morgantown, with first-degree murder in the Nov. 15 stabbing death of Jamey Corbin, 47, of Fairmont.

Testimony Monday said Williams and Corbin had a “tumultuous” relationship that ended with Williams stabbing Corbin five times.

Monongalia County Sheriff’s Department Detective Jonathan Friend said uniformed deputies responded to what was reported as a crash scene at Greenbag Road and Luckey Lane. Deputies called detectives when evidence at the scene was not consistent with a traffic accident.

Friend said the car was found in a roadside ditch. Friend said Corbin was dead in the car with large volume of blood throughout. Detectives observed a “void pattern” in the blood evidence in passenger side seat of the vehicle. A “void pattern” shows where a person may have been at the time of the incident, Friend said.

Authorities then obtained a first-degree warrant and continued their search for Williams.

According to testimony, the morning of the crime, Williams’ mother told them that he admitted to stabbing Corbin and told her his hands were hurting. While questioning his mother police said they found a knife they believe been had used in the crime. The knife had been cleaned, but detectives said there were drops of blood in the screws on the handle. Police also recovered bloody clothes believed to have been worn by Williams during the murder.

The blood evidence is still being tested at the lab. No results have been confirmed.

Williams was arrested by US Marshals on Nov. 25 in Morgantown.

Williams told investigators he spent the first three days on the run in the woods, but would not elaborate further for fear he could incriminate someone else.

Prosecutors told Magistrate Jim Nabors Williams acknowledged guilt by fleeing from the scene and remaining on the run for the next 10 days.

Nabors rules there was enough evidence to forward the case to the grand jury.

The next grand jury in Monongalia County convenes in early January.

Williams remains in the North Central Regional Jail without bail.

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