A training class that Kanawha County’s prosecuting attorney and his top assistant paid thousands of dollars in public money to attend in Florida in 2012 was also held twice that year by the Kanawha County Sheriff’s Office.
Prosecuting Attorney Mark Plants; his top aide at the time, Dan Holstein; and Charleston Police Detective Andrew Foster spent nearly $7,000 going to a seminar on the Reid interrogation technique in Orlando, Florida, in June 2012. The Kanawha sheriff’s office held the same training in April and July of that year, and invited prosecutors from Plants’ office, Kanawha County Sheriff Johnny Rutherford said.
“I can’t say Mark Plants knew [about the classes in Kanawha], but we had invited his office,” Rutherford told the Gazette last week.
Plants said, though, that he was never made aware of the training, but added that, even if he had been, he might not have known then what the Reid technique is.
At the time he signed up for the conference, Plants said, his office had just lost a double homicide trial, partly because of an interview conducted by Charleston police officers. The prosecutor said that loss caused him to research interrogation techniques, and that’s when he learned about the Reid technique.
“It wasn’t until I got back and was so excited about what I had learned that I talked to the sheriff, who said, ‘yeah, we’ve been using them for years,’” Plants said.
Joseph Buckley, president of John E. Reid and Associates, previously told the Gazette that prosecutors are usually invited at no cost when law enforcement agencies bring the conference to their area. Rutherford said someone from his office sent emails about the conferences. The one held in April was coordinated in January, he said.
The sheriff’s office also held the conference in May of 2013. Plants said he encouraged assistant prosecutors in his office to attend, but the class was full.
The Gazette reported last month that on records Plants said the trip was for continuing legal education credits necessary for every lawyer. But Plants never applied to receive those credits from the conference, even though attorneys in West Virginia are required to obtain 24 CLE credits every two years. Plants has said he had the credits he needed and was more worried about benefiting from the training.
County money covers the cost for prosecutors to obtain CLE hours. So the county will still have to cover the cost for them to pick up hours later.
Foster received continuing education credits for attending the conferences that are required for law enforcement.
Rutherford said when the sheriff’s office brings the conference to Charleston, it invites not only prosecutors but local police departments.
“A lot of the smaller agencies can’t afford to pay travel expenses to send officers to the training,” he said.
Police from South Charleston, St. Albans, Nitro, Oceana, Beckley, the Charleston department, State Police, Greenbrier County, Yeager airport, Jackson County and officers from the state Department of Environmental Protection have attended the conferences hosted by Kanawha’s sheriff’s office, among others.
The sheriff’s office pays about $11,000 to host a Reid conference.
According to documents obtained by the Gazette through a Freedom of Information Act request, the account paid the $670 conference attendance fee for each of the three men, their room expenses, meals and for gasoline. In all, the trip cost almost $6,740, county records show.
Foster couldn’t be reached for comment. He took his then-wife, Sarah Foster, to the conference. Sarah Foster was working as Plants’ secretary at the time. She is now married to Plants.
Both Plants and the Fosters took their children along to Florida, but Plants said public money was not used to pay expenses for Sarah Foster or any of the children on the trip. Payroll records obtained by the Gazette show that Sarah Foster took vacation time during the Orlando trip. Holstein took the week off following the conference and took his family on vacation. That’s why he drove separately, Plants said.
The trip was paid for with money seized from drug forfeitures in Kanawha County. The prosecutor gets a percentage of money from drug seizures, which he’s able to put into his budget and use at his discretion.
Kanawha County commissioners are using money from the drug forfeiture account from Plants’ office to pay the special prosecutors who were appointed after Plants was charged with two domestic violence related misdemeanors. Sid Bell, the special prosecutor appointed to prosecute Plants, filed Freedom of Information Act requests with County Clerk Vera McCormick’s office in May, asking for records of Plants’ expenditures. The requests ask for information about how drug forfeiture money has been spent between 2009 and 2013. It also asks for information about pay and vacation time, among other things, for employees in Plants’ office to be turned over to State Police.
Reach Kate White at firstname.lastname@example.org, 304-348-1723 or follow @KateLWhite on Twitter.