by Crissy Clutter
WHEELING, W.Va. — Hancock County Sheriff’s Lt. Mark Cowden was found guilty of “Deprivation of Rights” on Monday in a Federal Courthouse in Wheeling.
Evidence showed Cowden, 51, used excessive force upon an arrestee in handcuffs in the lobby of the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office in January 2015.
Jurors were shown evidence that Cowden forced Ryan Hambrick face-first into a brick wall, slammed the Hambrick’s head into the wall, and then punched him in the back of the head with a closed-fist. The entire incident was captured by video surveillance.
Cowden was found not guilty of falsification. The first conviction could mean a federal prison sentence of up to 10 years.
The jury deliberated for more than 3 hours and came to its decision around 3:30 p.m.
“When law enforcement officials flout the law they take an oath to uphold, their actions erode trust in our public institutions,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Gupta. “Like all communities, the people of Hancock County expect and deserve a justice system anchored in accountability. The Justice Department will continue to prosecute criminal misconduct that offends the core purpose and mission of law enforcement.”
“When Mark Cowden became a deputy sheriff, he promised to serve and protect all citizens,” said United States Attorney William J. Ihlenfeld, II, of the Northern District of West Virginia. “He broke that promise when he physically assaulted a handcuffed man. His actions should not reflect upon the vast majority of officers who bravely perform their jobs each day with professionalism and integrity.”
They defense believed the entire case was to influence the upcoming election between Cowden and Hancock county Sheriff Ralph Fletcher.
However, the government said the case surrounded a longtime police officer with an alleged history of excessive force.
Because the case took place in federal court, no cameras were allowed, but NEWS9 was there for closing arguments Monday morning and both sides presented their case.
Cowden and Hamrick were both in the courtroom.
According to reports, Hamrick engaged in a night of heavy drinking following a fight with his wife on Jan. 27, 2015. He was then pulled over by state police, and there was physical confrontation with a trooper who requested help from local officers, including Cowden.
When Hamrick was taken to the county courthouse, prosecutors say Cowden punched Hamrick and hit him against the wall, allegedly telling him, “This is my house. You’re going to do as you’re told.”
Cowden’s defense called an expert who said there was no excessive force. It was necessary force against an already convicted, combative felon.
As for the upcoming election, West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant issued a statement.
“The deadline to remove a candidate from the ballot was 84 days before the election. If Mr. Cowden were to be elected in this year’s general election, another candidate for that office could contest the election based on his ineligibility,” she said.