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Press Release

Former Hancock County, West Virginia, Sheriff’s Deputy Convicted of Using Excessive Force

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

Former Hancock County, West Virginia, Sheriff’s Deputy Mark A. Cowden, 51, of Weirton, West Virginia, was convicted by jury today of using excessive force against an arrestee, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, and U.S. Attorney William J. Ihlenfeld II of the Northern District of West Virginia.

Following a five-day trial, a jury found Cowden guilty of one count of deprivation of rights.  Evidence presented at trial established that Cowden, who was then serving as a lieutenant with the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office, escorted a handcuffed arrestee into a Hancock County building in order to process his arrest.  Once Cowden and five other officers entered the building with the arrestee, Cowden slammed the handcuffed arrestee face-first into a brick wall and punched him in the head.     

“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 first became a deputy sheriff, he promised to serve and protect all citizens,” said U.S. Attorney Ihlenfeld.  “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 everyday with professionalism and integrity.”

Cowden faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

The case was investigated by the FBI.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Jarod J. Douglas of the Northern District of West Virginia and Trial Attorney Nicholas Murphy from the Civil Rights Division’s Criminal Section prosecuted the case.

Updated October 17, 2016

Civil Rights
Press Release Number: 16-1212