State Water Development Authority Director Chris Jarrett had his nephew, a West Virginia State Police officer, send troopers to conduct a search of an Elkview home as part of a custody battle over Jarrett’s 16-year-old granddaughter, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court.
Jarrett’s granddaughter lives at the Elkview home with her mother and a registered sex offender.
Robert and Sara Carpenter allege that troopers, under orders from Jarrett’s nephew, came to their home in 2014 and pretended to need to verify Robert Carpenter’s sex offender registration, but instead conducted an illegal search without a warrant.
The lawsuit asserts that Jarrett’s nephew, Sgt. J.D. Perry, used the sex offender verification requirements as a “‘Trojan horse’ to get into the [Carpenters’] residence in order to search for evidence sought by Jarrett.”
Amid the investigation, Jarrett allowed a trooper to question his granddaughter at the state water agency’s headquarters building in Charleston, said John Bryan, the Carpenters’ lawyer. The officer searched the girl’s cell phone for pictures of her parents using drugs, according to a water agency employee who witnessed the search.
Jarrett later used his relationship with Perry to spur Child Protective Services to investigate the Carpenters, the lawsuit alleges.
Jarrett said last week that his attorney advised him not to comment on the lawsuit’s allegations.
“I’m very protective of my granddaughter,” Jarrett said. “That’s family, personal stuff here. It’s been in turmoil for a very long time.”
The Carpenters’ lawsuit does not name Jarrett as a defendant. The Carpenters are suing Perry and fellow Troopers K.S. Minor, J.R. Powers, L.G. O’Bryan and S.W. Perdue.
State Police spokesman Lt. Michael Baylous said in an email the agency “is not at liberty to discuss pending litigation.”
Perry also declined to comment on the lawsuit’s allegations.
Jarrett pointed State Police at granddaughter’s parents
In May 2014, Sara Carpenter contacted the State Police about her 16-year-old daughter running away. Troopers found the girl at the home of Jarrett, her paternal grandfather, according to the lawsuit.
There, Jarrett told officers the Carpenters were unfit parents and drug dealers, the lawsuit states. He asked troopers to allow him to keep his granddaughter. The officer at the scene, who is identified as “Trooper Stepp” in the complaint, found no reason not to return the girl to the Carpenters’ home, according to the lawsuit.
The next day, Jarrett obtained a temporary domestic violence protective order against Sara Carpenter. He later picked up his granddaughter at school.
The Carpenters’ lawsuit alleges that Jarrett, with the assistance of his nephew who was stationed at the State Police’s Quincy detachment in 2014, sent troopers to the Carpenters’ home to gather information to use against them in Kanawha County Family Court.
The night before a hearing was scheduled over the protective order, Troopers K.S. Minor and J.R. Powers, who said they were with the Quincy detachment, went to the Carpenters’ home, according to the lawsuit. With them were two men who identified themselves as “plain-clothed police detectives.”
The State Police’s South Charleston detachment — not the Quincy office — typically covers the Elkview area where the Carpenters live on Jarrett Heights Road, according to the lawsuit.
In his report, Perry wrote he “received information from Chris Jarrett concerning a possible child neglect and endangerment due to the drug usage and trafficking at the residence of Sara Carpenter and Robert Carpenter.” Perry did not mention in the report that Jarrett is his uncle, according to the lawsuit.
Also in his report, Perry allegedly wrote that he learned Robert Carpenter is a registered sex offender, and was told that Carpenter had not yet been verified by the South Charleston detachment.
The Carpenters’ lawsuit claims that Robert Carpenter re-registered with the detachment every year, as required by law, and had not moved since his initial registration.
In 2008, Carpenter was convicted of three counts of third-degree sexual assault in 2008 and sentenced to spend nearly two years on home confinement, according to the State Police website. The lawsuit states that Robert Carpenter had previously been convicted “years earlier [of] what is commonly referred to as statutory rape.”
Perry wrote he contacted troopers Minor and Powers “to conduct a verification of the residence and [sex] offender registration to determine the validity of his registration information and any immediate danger to the four-year-old child who remained in the residence,” the lawsuit states.
Perry also directed Minor and Powers “to only do a sex offender verification and if anything further was located in the residence to secure the occupants and obtain a search warrant,” according to the lawsuit.
That evening, Sara Carpenter’s stepson opened the door for the troopers. One officer “grabbed him by the neck and led him forcefully” into the kitchen, where Sara Carpenter was with her nephew, the complaint states. The troopers identified themselves, along with the plainclothes detectives.
They said they were there to verify Robert Carpenter’s sex offender status, according to the complaint.
The troopers searched the house. They left without finding any incriminating evidence, according to the lawsuit. A judge dismissed Jarrett’s petition the next day.
Later that month, Minor and Perdue secured a search warrant to look for drugs at the Carpenters’ home, according to the lawsuit. The troopers were also issued a warrant to arrest the couple. They arrested Sara Carpenter at the house before starting the search.
A Child Protective Services worker accompanied officers that night, according to the Carpenters’ lawsuit.
“They found no evidence to support Chris Jarrett’s accusations that plaintiffs were drug dealers,” the lawsuit says. “They found no evidence to substantiate the felony charges against the plaintiffs.”
After searching the Carpenters’ home at 172 Jarrett Heights Road, the troopers allegedly went to 174 Jarrett Heights Road, the former home of Robert Carpenter’s deceased mother. The warrant did not give officers permission to search the property, according to the lawsuit.
“After being denied consent, the officers nevertheless kicked down the door to the 174 Jarrett Heights Road residence and proceeded to perform a search of that residence,” the lawsuit alleges.
Sara Carpenter spent six hours in jail before being released. The charges against her were dismissed.
Although officers didn’t find any incriminating evidence at the Carpenters’ home, Jarrett asked Child Protective Services to investigate and file an abuse and neglect petition against the Carpenters, according to the lawsuit.
A judge dismissed the petition in June 2014, the lawsuit states.
Jarrett also filed a petition for an “appointment of guardian” in Kanawha family court.
After an investigation, an attorney assigned to the case concluded Jarrett’s granddaughter should be returned to her mother.
A ‘pattern’ of illegal searches
The Carpenters’ lawyer said the lawsuit is the first of its kind in West Virginia to address allegations of troopers using the sex offender verification process to conduct an illegal search.
“I think it’s a pattern or practice that they’ve probably been engaging in for a while and nobody’s called them out on it,” said Bryan, who works from an office in Monroe County.
Bryan said prosecutors across the state have previously told him about troopers using the sex offender registration verification process to conduct warrantless searches.
“Then when I heard about it in this case I looked into it and, when I looked up the actual police reports where these state troopers wrote what their conduct was, I was surprised to see it in black and white,” Bryan said.
Bryan said the Carpenters’ case is similar to a lawsuit he filed that prompted troopers to be re-trained on “no-knock” search warrants.
In that case, a 72-year-old Doddridge County man ended up dying after a State Police SWAT team conducted a no-knock entry into his home. In December, the State Police’s insurance company agreed to pay $85,000 and retrain troopers about no-knock search warrants. A search warrant must be obtained before police are allowed to enter without first identifying themselves.
Jarrett faced separate ethics complaint
In April, Jarrett ordered a wiretapping sweep of the state water agency’s office amid allegations over ethics violations and secret recordings. Charleston police conducted the search for hidden listening devices but found none.
The water authority’s GIS coordinator, Mike Duminiak, filed a complaint against Jarrett with the state Ethics Commission earlier this year. The complaint alleges Jarrett stored personal office furniture at the water agency building, while charging another state agency, the West Virginia Infrastructure and Jobs Development Council, to lease the same space. Jarrett had the furniture removed after the Gazette-Mail reported on the ethics complaint.
Duminiak filed a second ethics complaint against Jarrett’s executive assistant, Carol Cummings. The complaint alleges that the water agency dismissed a janitorial service company and hired Cummings’ two daughters to clean the office. Cummings has said she doesn’t supervise her daughters or play any role in paying them. Duminiak also alleges that Cummings secretly records conversations on her smartphone.
The state Water Development Authority issues bonds that fund water and sewer projects across West Virginia.
In 2007, then-Gov. Joe Manchin, now a U.S. senator, appointed Jarrett as the water agency’s executive director. Manchin and Jarrett were former part owners of a yacht called the “Black Tie.” For years, Jarrett was president of West Virginia American Water Co.
The Carpenters also are suing the CPS worker and five unidentified troopers who took part in the search of the Elkview home.
Jarrett’s nephew now works at State Police headquarters in South Charleston. Jarrett confirmed last week the two are related “by marriage.”
Jarrett’s granddaughter, who’s now 18, still lives with the Carpenters, Bryan said.