West Virginia Division of Natural Resources Director Stephen McDaniel recently offered his resignation to Gov. Jim Justice after being arrested in Florida following a domestic incident with his ex-wife. Justice refused to accept the resignation.
The facts and the sequence of events, while important, are rather eye-opening.
McDaniel was arrested in St. Augustine, Florida, at his ex-wife’s residence after a supposed verbal argument allegedly escalated. McDaniel had allegedly been drinking and was angry that his ex-wife had refused to give him a ride.
The arrest report from that day, which is available online, describes a clearly distraught victim:
“The victim stated the verbal argument escalated when the defendant became physical with her. The victim stated the incident was a blur, but the defendant had the victim on the bed, was on top of her with his knee pressing down on her left forearm. The victim stated her hair was in her face when the defendant placed one hand on her mouth and nose, causing her to have some trouble breathing.”
The report goes on to say the victim “stated the defendant picked up a lamp and was standing next to the bed, and was shaking the lamp. The victim believed the defendant was going to kill her.”
The report also notes that the victim was shaken up, crying and appeared to be terrified. There was a bruise above her left eye, a cut on her upper lip and red marks around her neck.
The report notes statements from McDaniel who first said he went to the bars in downtown St. Augustine and drank, then later said he did not drink. He claimed he never became physical with his ex-wife when he arrived at her house, but that she began throwing things.
Then, contradicting himself again, he stated he put his hand over the victim’s mouth to keep her from screaming. After this, he once again denied a physical altercation. While it is important that we live in a country that believes in innocence until guilt is proven, McDaniel entered into a deferred prosecution agreement, which did not require him to plead either guilty or not guilty.
As part of the agreement, according to McDaniel’s lawyer, Terry Shoemaker, McDaniel will likely not have to face any consequences. “He jumps through a few hoops and he never has to face these charges,” Shoemaker said.
Despite the deferred prosecution agreement, domestic battery charges were erroneously filed against McDaniel anyway and then subsequently wiped from his record.
The charges being dropped is not the result of any new evidence or change of story, as some would have you conclude, but simply the reversal of a clerical error. The facts of the case still remain, and we have a few questions.
Why would Gov. Justice not accept McDaniel’s resignation? The facts surrounding the case are hazy at best.
Nothing McDaniel could do in his current position can excuse violence, domestic or otherwise, and even if Justice does not believe McDaniel is guilty, the appearance of leniency regarding this type of behavior in such a public manner is inexcusable.
Where did the victim’s injuries come from, if nothing occurred besides a verbal altercation, as McDaniel (sort of) claimed?
And, perhaps most importantly, why is McDaniel, who is potentially guilty of domestic battery, being allowed to walk away without even facing charges or any other consequences for his actions?
The entire incident reeks of injustice and legal acrobatics to avoid prosecution, and we are aghast at the cartoonishly poor judgment on display in our state capital.