Jonese campaign video results in ethics complaint
Marlinton, W.Va. – The Pocahontas County Commission will file a complaint with the West Virginia Ethics Commission concerning apparent jailhouse security video that was posted on the internet. The video was posted to Sheriff David Jonese’s re-election campaign Facebook page. The video shows Pocahontas County Prosecuting Attorney Donna Price making a rude gesture with her hand after Jonese leaves the room.
During Tuesday evening’s commission meeting, Commissioner David Fleming reads a portion of an email he received from Ethics Commission executive director Theresa Kirk.
“The Ethics Act may be implicated if, one, the footage is confidential in nature,” he said.
“Or, two, the footage, even if it is not considered confidential, was copied / exported by a public employee or official or as a favor to a public employee or official, when this same access would not have been afforded to a citizen.
“If you, or any county commissioner or employee has credible information that a public official or employee secured a copy of the footage and posted the same, then you would be welcome to file a formal complaint against that person.”
Commissioner Martin Saffer says the political use of the video aggravates the issue.
“I think, Ms. Kirk, when she mentions these two issues, omits a further issue and that is the use of public property, which was funded by tax dollars, for electioneering purposes and tangential financial gain.”
Fleming agrees that the posting of the video was improper.
“I have questions as to how that footage, under what circumstances that video could be exported for public consumption on a website, when I would consider that footage to be security-related and confidential in nature. I feel that it was improper.”
Saffer says privacy is an even more important issue.
“What also concerns me is a larger issue and that is the invasion of privacy for people coming to conduct business in the courthouse,” he said.
“Children come to this courthouse as subjects in juvenile proceedings in the courtroom. Their rights are strictly protected. Their names are withheld. Their identifications are withheld. The proceedings are strictly closed. Yet, there are cameras upstairs in the hallways where these children access and exit from the courtroom.
“This is intolerable to think that access to this kind of information would be spread out to, literally, the world – on the internet.”
Fleming says the county shouldn’t use security cameras if it can’t trust the custodians of the recordings.
“Mr. Saffer’s right, in that these security cameras, security infrastructure, requires that we are able to trust the process is secure and private,” he said. “And, if we’re not able to guarantee that, then we have no business with a security system.”
Commissioner Jamie Walker says one question is most important.
“I would like to know for a fact – was indeed the footage taken off a county-owned, taxpayer-bought camera?” he said. “To me, that is the most important question that needs to be answered. If it was, I think it’s a problem. I don’t think it should be commended for doing. I think there should be a recourse and I’ve talked to a lot of people that is very unhappy about it, if that is the case.”
Price says it must be security camera video.
“It couldn’t have been anything but security camera,” she said. “I was in there. The other two individuals were facing me, like you three are, and the sheriff was behind me. So, if they were filming that from a cell phone, it’d be getting him from behind coming this way. And they have nothing in their hands.”
A Sheriff’s Department clerk informed the commission that the Sheriff was unavailable, due to an emergency.
The commission voted unanimously to file a formal complaint with the Ethics Commission.