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Press Release

Former Hancock County, West Virginia, Sheriff’s Deputy sentenced for using excessive force

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

WHEELING, WEST VIRGINIA – Former Hancock County Sheriff’s Deputy Mark A. Cowden, 51, of Weirton, West Virginia, was sentenced today to 18 months in prison for using excessive force against an arrestee, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, and Acting United States Attorney Betsy Steinfeld Jividen made the announcement.

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 on an arrestee in handcuffs in the lobby of the sheriff’s office in January 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.

“The defendant abused his power as a law enforcement official, using excessive force to harm a person in his custody,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Gupta. “Actions like these violate federal law and erode public trust.  This conviction and sentence send a clear message that the Justice Department will aggressively prosecute officer misconduct and protect the integrity of our justice system.”

“Former deputy Cowden’s prosecution and conviction by a jury of his peers, the sentence imposed by the Court, and the fact that he will never serve another day as a police officer, reinforces to the people of West Virginia the seriousness of the law enforcement community’s commitment to police its own and to remain accountable to the public whom they have sworn to serve and protect,” said Acting United States Attorney Steinfeld Jividen. “The unlawful actions of this defendant undermine the character and reputation of the members of our law enforcement community, who follow their training and who strive to promote a culture of fairness, professionalism and respect for the law in their dealings with every individual – regardless of that person’s alleged actions.”

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.

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

Updated January 9, 2017

Civil Rights