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Press Release

Former Hancock County, West Virginia, Sheriff’s Deputy convicted of using excessive force

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of West Virginia

WHEELING, WEST VIRGINIA – Former 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 United States Attorney William J. Ihlenfeld, II, of the Northern District of West Virginia.

Following a five-day trial, a jury found Cowden guilty 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, used excessive force upon an arrestee in handcuffs in the lobby of the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office in January of 2015. Jurors were shown evidence that Cowden forced the arrestee face-first into a brick wall, slammed the arrestee’s head into the wall, and then punched the arrestee in the back of the head with a closed-fist.  The entire incident was captured by video surveillance.

“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 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 each day with professionalism and integrity.”

The Federal Bureau of Investigation began investigating the matter in March 2016 when the case was referred to it by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.  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.

Cowden faces up to ten years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 as a result of his conviction.  Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, the actual sentence imposed for each charge will be based upon the seriousness of the offenses and the prior criminal history, if any, of the defendant.

Cowden was found not guilty of “Obstruction of Justice - Falsification of Documents.”

Senior U.S. District Judge Frederick P. Stamp, Jr., presided.

Updated October 17, 2016

Civil Rights