WHEELING - Ohio County Circuit Judge James Mazzone on Wednesday heard an appeal of the firing of Matthew Kotson, the former Wheeling police officer accused of sexual assault.
Kotson and his attorney, Joe John, appealed to the circuit court after the city's Police Civil Service Commission in April unanimously upheld City Manager Robert Herron's decision to fire the former police officer in December.
City Solicitor Rosemary Humway-Warmuth continued to cite "exigent circumstances" Wednesday, saying the combination of multiple factors permitted Herron to fire Kotson without granting him a hearing.
She said Kotson could not carry a firearm because domestic violence protective orders were filed against him, nor could he drive because of a license suspension following an off-duty incident. Kotson also provided the police department with a false home address, she continued. His arrest on charges of sexual assault called into question the credibility of the police department, she added, and the public's trust in the city was "hanging in the balance."
John stressed there were no factors that prevented the city from scheduling a hearing before firing Kotson, and that Herron did not even notify the former officer he was entitled to a hearing.
"Nothing they gave you was exigent," he shot back. "Those were circumstances that, if proven, may result in his termination down the road. No one here is telling the city they can't try to terminate officer Kotson ... you just have to do it properly, and they haven't done it properly in this case."
Kotson was on unpaid leave, the protective orders against him were ultimately dismissed and his license suspension is being protested with the Division of Motor Vehicles, John continued.
Kotson has not been convicted of any crime in magistrate or circuit court, he added.
John also called the the city's contention that Kotson's arrest may compromise the public's trust "almost laughable," saying the city violated numerous procedural laws when officials fired Kotson without hesitation. He added that Kotson was "a posterchild of a police officer who was railroaded and denied his constitutional protections and statutory protections as a city employee."
Kotson was placed on unpaid leave Nov. 25, one day after a woman told West Virginia State Police he sexually assaulted her. City officials subsequently suspended him without pay on Nov. 29.
Herron received a recommendation Nov. 28 from former Police Chief Robert Matheny that Kotson's employment be terminated. Kotson was fired Dec. 2.
Mazzone did not rule on the matter Wednesday.
Jury selection for one of Kotson's three remaining trials on sex crimes begins today. Senior Status Judge Arthur Recht in July granted a motion by the prosecution to dismiss one of eight criminal counts against Kotson, canceling the first of his four scheduled trials.
Special Prosecutor David F. Cross made the motion, stating there was insufficient evidence to prove Kotson's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt because "key prosecution witnesses are now making statements inconsistent with what the State originally believed that they would testify to," and that potential witnesses refused to cooperate with investigating officers.