Bell to resign following allegations of sexual abuse
Jefferson County Commissioner Eric Bell has announced his resignation from his position on the Commission in the wake of charges of an inappropriate relationship with a teenage boy.
“After much consideration, I will be resigning from my position as Jefferson County Commissioner,” Bell said in a statement released Tuesday afternoon by attorney Matthew Harvey, whose office of Taylor & Harvey is representing him in the case.
“Addressing these allegations in court will be my primary focus and any distractions to the Commission will frustrate their purpose to serve the citizens of Jefferson County. I will not be making any further comments at this time.”
Bell is scheduled to appear in Jefferson County Magistrate Court on Thursday, June 30, at 9:45 a.m. in front of Magistrate Mary Paul Rissler, according to the court.
Bell, a veteran of the U.S. Navy, was elected to represent the Harpers Ferry district on the Jefferson County Commission in November 2014.
Bell was charged last week with sexual abuse by a person in a position of trust, possession of child pornography, and distribution and display of obscene material to a minor. Sgt. W.R. Garrett of the West Virginia State Police’s Crimes Against Children Unit said the alleged victim in the case is a 16-year-old boy for whom his parents trusted Bell as a “mentor.”
“They didn’t think anything of it,” Garrett said regarding Bell’s friendship with the boy. “They were quite shocked when I told them we had received a complaint.”
Garrett said he received a complaint from the Department of Health and Human Resources on June 8 alleging a sexual relationship between the boy and a man later identified as Bell. According to a criminal complaint, the officer met with the boy’s parents that afternoon. He was told the 16-year-old had recently told his parents he is gay, and they contacted Bell to act as a mentor to him.
According to his public Facebook profile, the 37-year-old Bell married his partner, William Lukenbill, on April 2.
The criminal complaint indicates the boy’s parents found Bell to be a good role model for their son, including taking him for a kayak trip on the Shenandoah River. The parents acknowledged a connection between Bell and their son via social media and their cellphones; however, they maintained they were unaware of any inappropriate behavior.
The boy’s parents, who Garrett said are not suspected of any wrongdoing, provided the boy’s laptop and cellphone for examination. According to the criminal complaint, incriminating information was found on the cellphone. A forensic exam of Bell’s cellphone also produced such results, Garrett said.
“We were actually able to recover some corroborating evidence through Snapchat, even though that’s typically not (available),” Garrett said. Snapchat is a social media app through which messages disappear after a short period of time. “What people don’t take into account is that phones tend to store and record data in other ways, so even though we may not be able to find things specifically through Snapchat, we can find (sometimes) other means through the phone (to access the information).”
According to the criminal complaint, nude photos and videos of both Bell and the boy were found on the phones. In an interview conducted by Garrett on June 13, Bell allegedly “admitted to taking and sending pictures” to the boy, as well as receiving pictures and videos from the boy. In addition, Bell allegedly said he never entered into a physical relationship with the boy and he “realized he made a mistake” regarding the pictures and videos.
Garrett said while the warrant for Bell’s arrest was filed in Jefferson County, he was asked to turn himself in to a Berkeley County magistrate.
“Since he’s a Jefferson County commissioner, that negated any kind of conflict there might be with the prosecutor’s office as well as the magistrate’s office,” Garrett said, adding that a prosecutor may need to be appointed by the state to handle the case.
Bell was released from custody on his own recognizance. He will be given the option for a preliminary hearing in the case at a later date, Garrett said.
The commission next meets Thursday, June 30.