Editor’s Note: Since the time Prosecutor Jeffries spoke at the Calhoun County Commission Meeting on Tuesday, April 18, WOWK 13 News has reached out to Sheriff Basnett who spoke with us over the phone. This article has been updated to include comments from Sheriff Basnett.
CALHOUN COUNTY, WV (WOWK) – Calhoun County Prosecuting Attorney Nigel Jeffries is calling for the removal of the county sheriff.
Jeffries spoke at a Calhoun County Commission meeting on Tuesday, April 18, 2023, accusing Sheriff J. Warren Basnett of a long list of grievances, calling the issues “very concerning.”
Jeffries says under the West Virginia State Code §6-6-7, he will be filing a petition for the removal of Basnett by the end of the week.
The initial issue that caused Jeffries to look into the sheriff’s office stems from a March 31, 2023, incident at Calhoun County Middle/High School, in which Basnett allegedly took a display table of several firearms and drug paraphernalia to a classroom for an event. Pictures from the event allegedly show the firearms within arms reach of the children, and children picking up the firearms and allegedly even pointing them toward one another, Jeffries says. He says this also includes a video of a student allegedly carelessly handling one of the firearms.
Jeffries says he also spoke to a witness who allegedly heard Basnett tell the students not to touch the drug paraphernalia because it contained residue. Jeffries says it is not clear if these items were tied to an ongoing case, or why they were not cleaned out if they are not for an active case.
According to the prosecutor, during the school event, a student allegedly asked the sheriff to use the taser on them, at which point the sheriff allegedly attempted to get permission by letter from the child’s parents for the purpose of demonstration. However, Jeffries says this would be considered abuse of the Taser, which is “only to be used when necessary.” He says this would also have been very painful to the student. Jeffries says school administration stepped in against the alleged incident.
Basnett tells WOWK 13 News that he stands by his decision to take firearms and drug paraphernalia to a school. He says that the firing pins had been removed from the guns, and they were there as a way to teach about gun safety. The sheriff also adds that he remembers a DNR officer bringing guns to his school when he was a student, and allowed students to actually handle them.
As for the drug paraphernalia, he says that the children did not touch the items, which were only there as a way teach children.
The prosecutor says while looking into the incident at the school, he found what he called “substantially more facts” about several alleged issues with the sheriff’s department.
“The sheriff’s action at the school kind of sets a tenor for what is how the office is ran,” Jeffries said. “and unfortunately, that has just been a lack of judgment.”
The prosecutor described some of the additional grievances during the commission meeting. However, when Basnett spoke with WOWK 13 News over the phone Tuesday after the meeting, he said while the prosecutor and commission are doing what they feel is necessary, he went on to say, “I don’t see it.”
According to Jeffries, when he and Basnett both took office on Jan. 1, 2021, the county had three certified law enforcement deputies who have all since left the Calhoun County Sheriff’s office, leaving the county without certified deputies on staff.
Jeffries says because of the lack of certified deputies, the CCSO is relying on home confinement officers and reserve deputies to take on greater responsibilities to fill the gaps. He says this is also running the county’s five state troopers thin by having to respond to calls that the deputies would generally investigate.
Basnett tells WOWK that he is currently the only officer in his department working 10 to 18 hour days. He does have a home confinement officer and a processor on staff, he says. However, he adds one of those department members has also had to recently take time off.
Jeffries also accuses Basnett of allegedly failing to properly supervise and administer the county’s home confinement program, including alleged issues with improper timesheets. He says these issues have lowered the courts’ confidence in the program to a point where home confinement has been removed as an alternative to sentencing and pretrial bail.
He also accused Basnett of not providing consistent and reliable court security.
The allegations Jeffries claims against Basnett also include an accusation of not ensuring civil process being performed accurately. Jeffries says there are several instances of people claiming not to be served accurately and timely, as well as allegations of the wrong individuals being served. This also includes allegations that the sheriff’s office is not properly serving the courts’ writs of execution.
The prosecutor says another grievance against Basnett is that between Dec. 8 and Dec. 16, 2022, the sheriff put a notice in the Calhoun Chronicle for the silent auction sale of five county cruisers to the public. Jeffries alleges that Basnett did not consult with the county commission for proper approval to do so. He says the successful bidder allegedly received the cruisers for $100 each and allegedly put the vehicles on social media for resale with “what appeared to be” the sheriff’s office’s graphics still attached to the photos.
Basnett, the county’s first Republican sheriff, says despite the grievances listed against him, he is receiving a good deal of support from the community. He says since his term started in January 2021, he has been working to bring the office up-to-date but has found many delays along the way that he says he has little control over.