Bobby Shirley, the former sheriff entered the guilty plea during a change of plea hearing Monday afternoon in Martinsburg's U.S. District Court before Federal Magistrate David J. Joel.
"It's unfortunate when a member of the law enforcement community exceeds the scope of his authority and inflicts injuries upon a helpless person," U.S. Attorney William J. Ihlenfeld II said Monday. "The best way to deal with bank robbers like Mark Haines is through the criminal justice system, and not by the use of unnecessary violence."
As a result of his felony conviction, Shirley faces up to 10 years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000 and three years of supervised release. His sentence may be impacted by his conduct while on pre-trial release, during which it is alleged that the former sheriff attempted to influence the testimony of one of the government's witnesses; however, Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul T. Camilletti, who prosecuted the case, said Monday that the government will make a non-binding recommendation that Shirley be sentenced to the lower end of the applicable federal sentencing guideline range based on his "timely acceptance of responsibility."
"In light of the evidence that was disclosed last week, Mr. Shirley made the decision to resign and move forward with his life," Shirley's attorney, Kevin D. Mills, said in brief statement Monday.
A sentencing date in the case will not be scheduled until a pre-sentence report is completed. By pleading guilty to a felony offense, Shirley could lose the right to vote and the right to hold an elected office, as well the right to own or possess a firearm.
Shirley was originally named in a two-count indictment issued by a federal grand jury in June. The second count of the indictment charged Shirley with destruction, alteration or falsification of a record in a federal investigation. That count was dismissed as part of the plea agreement. That count alleged that Shirley had falsified an entry in his Jefferson County Sheriff's Department use of force report with the intent to obstruct the federal investigation into the assault of Haines.
The injuries were inflicted at the conclusion of a high-speed police pursuit of Haines, who had attempted to rob City National Bank in Ranson, through Jefferson and Berkeley counties.
By pleading guilty, Shirley agreed that, while acting under the color of law, he deprived Haines of his right to be free from the use of unreasonable force by a law enforcement officer. At one point during Monday's hearing, the former sheriff hesitated for a few seconds before answering "yes" to a question from Joel asking if he was guilty of the crime he was pleading guilty to.
Shirley was required to tender his resignation as part of the plea agreement. Camilletti said the government has agreed not to pursue further charges against Shirley as a result of his conduct while on pre-trial release and prosecutors have agreed they will not seek any superseding indictments against Shirley.
Shirley will be required to provide grand jury testimony and trial testimony if required to do so; however, as of Monday, no one else had been indicted in connection with the incident involving Haines. Shirley has also agreed to pay any restitution that might be ordered by the court and was ordered to pay a $100 special assessment fee.
"It is the finding of this court that the defendant, Robert E. Shirley, understands and agrees with the terms contained in the plea (agreement)," Joel said.
The assault of Haines was captured on video by cameras mounted on police cruisers that were involved in the pursuit. FBI Special Agent Dave Rauser, who was assigned to Martinsburg to investigate civil rights violations, testified at Monday's hearing that the video shows Shirley climbing into the back of a white pickup truck and kicking Haines four to five times. He said that after Haines fell to Shirley's feet, the former sheriff administered one or two stomps to Haines while he was in custody.
He also said the video shows that Shirley had moved another officer aside to administer the blows to the bank robbery suspect's head.
"My understanding is that a significant amount of the injuries received by Mr. Haines were due to those actions taken by the defendant," Rauser testified.
While Joel accepted Shirley's guilty plea Monday, he deferred accepting the terms of the plea agreement until a pre-sentence report is completed and a sentencing hearing is held.
Haines has since pleaded guilty in federal court to robbing a BB&T bank branch in Martinsburg and was previously sentenced to 18 years and nine months in prison on that charge. He still faces a federal charge for attempting to escape from the Eastern Regional Jail. He faces up to 10 years in prison on that charge.
Shirley will remain free on bond pending sentencing, but he was placed on monitored home confinement and was required to turn over all of his firearms Friday. He had been scheduled to go to trial in federal court Jan. 22, but Mills filed a motion for a continuance Jan. 7 to explore a change of venue study after the government filed a notice of intent to use evidence from an unrelated 2004 sentencing hearing. During the hearing Shirley, who was testifying on behalf of prosecutors, admitted to firing a gun while on duty at a man he caught having sex with his now-former wife. A criminal complaint was never filed and Shirley was never charged. The continuance was granted a day later.
The former sheriff is also a defendant in a civil case filed in federal court by Haines against Shirley and several police officers who were involved in his arrest. That trial is currently scheduled to take place in November in Martinsburg's U.S. District Court.