Jail Authority hid sex-abuse documentation, lawyer alleges

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Officials with the state Regional Jail Authority buried documents that would have shed light on a correctional officer's history of sexual-abuse allegations, according to a lawyer whose client settled a lawsuit against the officer last year.Mike Woelfel, an attorney who represents regional jail inmates in dozens of sexual-assault lawsuits against the state, said during a hearing in Kanawha Circuit Court last week that jail officials concealed hundreds of pages of documents that would have detailed William Roy Wilson's employment history at Western Regional Jail, in Barboursville.Melissa Lusk sued Wilson, alleging that he sexually abused her when she was an inmate there. She settled the case for more than $9,000, before learning that the jail had a 300-page file on Wilson that contained dozens of misconduct allegations, Woelfel said.Weeks after the settlement, the Jail Authority turned over the file after State Police arrested Wilson in September and charged him with four counts of imposition of sexual acts of persons under supervision. The charges indicate that Wilson gave inmates cigarettes in exchange for sex, according to Associated Press reports.On Thursday, Woelfel asked Kanawha Circuit Judge Paul Zakaib Jr. to set aside the settlement and reopen the case."I could have said to my client, a jury can hear that this happened before -- that there's a common thread here between you two ladies and this other person," Woelfel told the judge. "It's like I was deprived of the right to do that."Lusk sued Wilson in 2011, and asked the jail to hand over the officer's employment records in November of that year. Jail officials did not produce the file until August 2012, according to Woelfel.During a deposition that same month, Woelfel asked Wilson if he had ever been the subject of previous sexual-assault allegations. Wilson "flatly denied" it, according to court files.
"He lied, and I relied on this," Woelfel told the judge Thursday. "It's fraud by the Jail Authority, it's fraud by Wilson; it would have been relevant at trial. It's outrageous, judge, that people would lie under oath and we would rely on this."The parties agreed to settle the case through a mediator for $9,250.Wilson's lawyer, Joanna Tabit, balked at claims that the information in the recently produced file was a "shock" to Woelfel. She pointed out that Woelfel has represented clients in about eight cases against Wilson."Basically this is a situation where we believe the plaintiffs entered into a settlement, obviously newspaper articles and reports regarding what happened with [Correctional Officer] Wilson arose about two weeks later, and now they've got settlement remorse," Tabit told Zakaib at Thursday's hearing. "The plaintiffs want another bite of the apple, frankly."Bill Murray, a lawyer for the Regional Jail Authority, said there's no evidence that jail officials willfully intended to commit fraud. Murray also said the information in the new files probably wouldn't have made an impact on Lusk's decision to settle the case against Wilson.Wilson, for instance, was cleared to return to work after an initial psychological evaluation found him unfit for work at the jail, Murray said. Also, at least one more of Woelfel's clients gave a statement during another investigation into Wilson, indicating that Woelfel had knowledge of the correctional officer's misdeeds outside of the 374-page file."He was obviously aware of the other allegations against Mr. Wilson," Murray said. "There were other things out there that he needed. Notwithstanding all that, his clients came to the mediation and his clients, not Mr. Woelfel, agreed to the settlement."
Reach Zac Taylor at 304-348-5189 or zachary.taylor@wvgazette.com.
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