Former Terra Alta police chief sues town, council, mayor

KINGWOOD — Former Terra Alta Police Chief Robert DeLauder is suing the town, town council and Mayor Mark Ball.

The suit, filed in Preston County Circuit Court Friday, alleges that two-term Mayor Ball does not live in town, but uses his auction business address as his home address.

DeLauder was told to lie about his high school friend Ball’s residence if anyone asked, according to the suit, and fired, “under the vague pretext that he was not doing his job,” when he refused to lie.

On Friday, Ball denied the allegations in the suit and said he and the council have expected it.

“There’s two sides to every story,” the mayor said. “It’s going to be a long process.”

As for his residency, Ball said he has more than one house. “And I was approved by the [county] clerk’s office and by the State of West Virginia to run for mayor. I had all my proper paperwork, I was challenged two different times, and all I do is hand in my paperwork … I went through the approval system.”

The suit says that about a year ago, the defendants and their representatives “negligently” ordered DeLauder to commit a felony by returning a firearm to a man who served time for a felony and who had pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm.

The plea agreement reached by the convicted felon, “included an erroneous and unlawful provision that all items seized from his home be returned to him,” including two guns, according to the suit.

An amended order was ultimately obtained, “but not before the defendants rebuked the plaintiff,” the suit says. He contends this constituted, “interfering with a police officer in the lawful discharge of his duties.”

The mayor noted that it was the courts, not the council, that ordered the property returned.

DeLauder is suing for wrongful discharge, violation of the Whistle Blower Act, obstruction of an officer, abuse of process, being discharged in retaliation for refusing to take part in a cover-up, misrepresentation and fraud, and destruction of property.

The suit asks the court to award, “under and up to the policy limits of the state’s liability insurance policy.”

DeLauder had an “exemplary” law enforcement career of 30 years, including 19 years as a U.S. special agent, before being hired by Terra Alta, the suit notes. He has two bachelor’s degrees and a master’s in forensic psychology.

He was hired by his hometown in July 2015 as chief of police and took the job because he loves the town and its people, and needed to be near to his sick mother to care for her. He was overqualified for the job.

Prior to his termination, DeLauder was never issued written warnings or any documentation complaining about his work, the suit says.

Furthermore, the defendants lied under oath before an administrative law judge and WorkForce West Virginia about the reasons for the officer’s termination, when he applied for unemployment, the suit says.

Ball said Friday that two additional written complaints against DeLauder came in about a month ago, and police are currently investigating those.

After DeLauder was fired, the defendants, through an “agent” police officer, destroyed a set of his personal night vision goggle equipment, valued at about $10,000. He asks compensation for that as well.

The suit was filed by attorney David Grunau of Morgantown, who also represents two former Kingwood police officers who are suing that town and mayor over how their employment ended.

Ball recalled that DeLauder sued the Preston County Commission and then-Sheriff Cecil Strawser in 1997 after he was terminated from a deputy’s position. Under the settlement in that case, the county’s insurance agreed to pay him $25,000; gave him his job back for one day, after which he resigned; and he received a good job recommendation and agreed to drop other legal actions against the county.

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