The Top STORIES of 2012: Former Police Officer Still Winning in Court
WHEELING – More than a year after he was arrested on sexual assault allegations and fired from the Wheeling Police Department, Matthew Kotson has yet to be convicted of a crime and a judge has restored him to his pre-termination status with the police force.
A woman arrived at the West Virginia State Police detachment in Wheeling on Thanksgiving Day 2011, alleging Kotson had sexually assaulted her at her home home earlier that day. By the time West Virginia State Police concluded their investigation, four women had told troopers Kotson had committed sex crimes against them.
Kotson was on unpaid administrative leave with the Wheeling Police Department when state troopers arrested him near St. Vincent de Paul grade school days after the investigation began. Police reported that one of his alleged victims worked at the school.
Kotson was fired the following day, with city and police officials citing traffic infractions he allegedly committed, as well as a domestic violence protective order that an accuser filed against him. The traffic case is ongoing, and a judge has since dissolved the DVP order.
Pretrial hearings took place over several months, and on the day Kotson’s first of four trials was to begin in March, Special Prosecutor David F. Cross dropped the single count Kotson was to face in that trial. Cross cited a drastic breakdown in the case due to uncooperative witnesses.
Circuit Judge Arthur Recht criticized the move, prompting Kotson’s attorney, Robert McCoid, to request that the judge be removed from the case. The West Virginia Supreme Court disagreed with McCoid’s perception of Recht’s impartiality and denied the motion.
As the next trial approached, McCoid was outspoken about his doubt that Ohio County could assemble an impartial jury in the case, due to the extensive media coverage it received. The court called dozens of potential jurors, nonetheless, and constructed a jury that satisfied McCoid and Cross.
Kotson finally appeared before jurors in September, and after days of testimony and hours of intense deliberation, he was acquitted of one of two counts. The jury was unable to reach a verdict on the second count and Recht would later dismiss it, ruling that the prosecution failed to meet its burden in proving Kotson’s guilt.
The judge has said he anticipates scheduling Kotson’s two remaining trials in March or April.
In between the criminal proceedings, the city convened a post-termination hearing before the Police Civil Service Commission, which upheld City Manager Robert Herron’s decision to fire Kotson. The former officer and his civil attorney, Joseph John, appealed to Ohio County Circuit Court.
Judge James Mazzone ultimately ruled in October that city officials violated Kotson’s due process rights when they fired him without convening a pre-termination hearing. Mazzone said there was no reason a hearing could not have been convened, especially because of Kotson’s unpaid administrative leave status with the department.
The judge ordered a hearing be convened and Kotson be returned to his pre-termination status. City Solicitor Rosemary Humway-Warmuth appealed to the state Supreme Court, saying Mazzone erred in essentially every step of his decision process, especially in his consideration of exigent circumstances that the city cited to justify Kotson’s immediate firing.
That case is still pending.