Former Hancock Count Deputy Mark Cowden Sentenced to 18 Months in Federal Case

WHEELING — Former Hancock County Sheriff Lt. Mark Cowden was sentenced Monday in federal court to 18 months in prison and three years of supervised release for using excessive force against an arrestee.

Senior U.S. District Court Judge Frederick P. Stamp found Cowden financially unable to pay fines, so Cowden must pay $3,044 restitution to the victim, Ryan Hamrick.

Hamrick is the drunken driving suspect whom Cowden injured Jan. 27, 2015, while escorting him through the lobby of the Hancock County Courthouse, and up the elevator to the sheriff’s office.

Stamp said he will recommend that Cowden spend his prison time as close to Weirton and Hancock County as possible, as requested by defense attorney Michael Nogay.

After granting a three-level sentencing variance in the case, Stamp could have sentenced Cowden to 18-24 months in prison. However, Stamp said that, in determining his sentence, he considered Cowden’s low risk of recidivism, his absence of a criminal record and an impressive history of community service.

Cowden will self-report to custody by noon Feb. 8, Stamp said.

However, Cowden may spend more time in court because the victim has filed a civil case, Stamp said, adding he will preside over that case as well.

Attorney Robert McCoid said he and co-counsel Paul Harris, who were both at the sentencing, are representing Hamrick in the civil case against Cowden and the Hancock County Commission. They filed the complaint Jan. 5 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia, demanding a trial by jury.

During the sentencing Monday, Nogay said “This is a big fall from grace for (Cowden’s) family. … He is not someone we should be afraid of.”

After a five-day trial, on Oct. 17 a jury convicted Cowden of depriving of rights under color of the law, a felony offense that the jury found resulted in bodily injury to Hamrick. It found Cowden not guilty of the second count of his June indictment: falsifying a record.

Video surveillance from the incident inside the lobby appears to show Cowden push Hamrick, 37, face-first into the wall, punch the back of Hamrick’s head while escorting him while handcuffed through the lobby of the Hancock County Courthouse.

While testifying, Cowden admitted to pushing Hamrick against the wall, but said he did it to prevent Hamrick from headbutting him. Nogay maintained Monday that Cowden caused no new injuries to Hamrick, but that injuries were caused by the state trooper who fought with Hamrick and arrested him earlier that night.

An expert in use-of-force testified during the trial that Cowden used appropriate force, but not excessive force.

Before Stamp announced Cowden’s sentence, Cowden said he was remorseful.

“I am very sorry I caused so much devastation and destruction to my family,” and to all affected, he said. He also said he respects the court, the jury and their work and decisions regarding the case.

“I am a man of responsibility and I accept that,” he said.

He said he considers his more than 26 years spent in law enforcement as “sacred.” Going forward, he will be focusing on serving God.

“That’s my only goal,” he said. “Whether I’m in the community, or incarcerated, I will do the work God has given me.”

Also before the sentence was handed down, Hamrick  gave an account of how the incident has affected him.

“The bruises are gone, cuts are healed,” he said, but the anxiety, nervousness and fear “never go away.”

He says he now fears conflict and confrontation, and has experienced “deep depression.”

“I lost part of myself that night,” he said. “My wife lost part of her husband, my children part of their father.”

The civil complaint cites “costs and expenses in the form of medical bills associated with treating the injuries inflicted on him by defendant Cowden.”

It asserts that “Cowden was without lawful justification, authority or excuse to batter and strike and otherwise employ excessive force on the person of Mr. Hamrick,” and alleges that the commission was negligent in retaining and hiring Cowden, given alleged prior “violent acts, excessive force, abusiveness and intemperance to persons in the city of Weirton,” the civil complaint states.

It seeks damages for Hamrick’s suffering of mind and body, including, but not limited to, pecuniary losses and attorney fees.