The West Virginia Supreme Court has affirmed the firing of a Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation officer who lived in a home where, according to federal prosecutors, her boyfriend ran an active drug distribution operation.
In a 4-1 decision released on Friday, justices upheld a ruling from Kanawha Circuit Judge Joanna Tabit. Justice John Hutchison was the lone dissenter.
Tabit had reversed a ruling by an administrative judge with the West Virginia Public Employees Grievance Board, who had restored former parole officer Simona Southall’s employment after the Division of Corrections terminated her employment in September 2017.
In June 2017, federal agents raided the home Southall shared with her boyfriend at the time, Jonathan Brockman, and their son in Kimberly, Fayette County.
According to FBI Special Agent Jennifer Wilson, agents seized what was described as “a ‘bale’ of marijuana,” a total of $182,166.05, a weapon on a tripod that “possibly” pointed out a window, and other items indicative of a drug distribution operation, according to court records.
In total, authorities seized about 30 pounds of marijuana, 28.1 grams of OxyContin and 11 firearms, among other items.
Wilson testified in Southall’s appeals, saying agents also found a substance used for cutting heroin in a child’s play area in the couple’s home.
Brockman was arrested the day of the raid. Southall wasn’t arrested or ever indicted in relation to the drug distribution operation.
In their ruling, Supreme Court justices noted that Wilson described the home as “‘a textbook location of a drug dealer’ and concluded that no one — particularly someone with law enforcement training — could live in the home unaware of the illegal drug trafficking conducted there.”
Brockman has since pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute heroin, fentanyl, oxycodone and marijuana in federal court. He was sentenced to nine years in prison plus five years of supervised release, and is at the Federal Correction Institution in Morgantown, according to records with the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.
After the FBI raided her home, Southall took two days off from work. She reported the incident to her supervisor when she returned, according to the Supreme Court order.
Southall was suspended for 90 days within a month of the search, and state Parole Services officials fired her on Sept. 26, 2017.
She appealed the suspension and firing to the state grievance board, which reversed her firing saying Parole Services failed to show Southall “participated in, knew of, or should have known of the illegal activities of her live-in boyfriend.”
The board appealed the decision to Kanawha Circuit Court, where Tabit reversed their ruling. She said Southall was discharged for good reason, and it was not an abuse of discretion for Parole Services officials to terminate her employment.