WSAZ Investigates: Kanawha Co. Prosecutor Accused of Favoritism

CHARLESTON, W. Va. (WSAZ) -- Tensions are brewing between the Charleston Police Department, Mayor Danny Jones and the Kanawha County Prosecutor's Office.

Now, the mayor said this has strained an important relationship.

This all centers around a former employee of the prosecutor's office, who is now married to the prosecutor.

Court records showed Sarah Foster has been pulled over a half-dozen times and only paid the price once.

Now, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel has launched an investigation.

But throughout it all, Mark Plants is adamant his office has done nothing wrong.

Plants' former secretary and current wife, Sarah Foster, has walked away from nearly a half-dozen traffic tickets without paying a dime.

"I had no personal knowledge that any citations at any time existed, so I didn't personally handle any of those," Plants said. "So, I had no knowledge of the dismissals.

But court records show his co-chief of staff and other employees were well aware of the tickets and dismissals.

Since 2009, the year Foster was hired, she has been cited six different times.

Foster was stopped repeatedly for expired inspection stickers, no proof of insurance and registration violations.

All but one of those citations were dismissed.

Plants told us that's standard procedure.

"Anytime in Kanawha County, anyone has a bad sticker, or their inspection sticker is out, or they have no proof of insurance, those are called fix-it tickets," Plants said. "That means you come in and they are dismissed."

We took a closer look at the first ticket from September 2009.

That's when Foster was pulled over for an expired inspection sticker and no proof of insurance.

Ben Freeman, the co-chief of staff in Plants' office, dismissed that ticket, stating Foster obtained the valid documents.

But about seven months later, court records show Foster was pulled over yet again -- for the same expired inspection sticker that was dismissed by Freeman.

That ticket didn't stick this time either.

"She said she was going to get it fixed and she didn't, which is probably really what happened," Plants said.

So we asked if it was OK for Freeman to sign off on the dismissal.

"Prosecutors have wide discretion when dealing with all cases, from murder all the way down to inspection stickers," Plants said.

But it's not OK with Charleston Police Lt. Shawn Williams.

He said this situation raises a red flag because state code requires proof.

"Obviously that person doesn't care to get their vehicle inspected or flaunts their nose at the state codes of West Virginia," Williams said.

"It's not uncommon for us to take a citizen's word that they're going to get this fixed, if it's just an inspection sticker," Plants said.

So we went to Magistrate Court to see for ourselves and found a different story.

One man with a similar ticket was asked to show proof.

According to one Kanawha County Magistrate, a dismissal filed in court would include proof the driver fixed the problem.

But in Foster's case, a closer look at court records show Foster's first dismissal doesn't include copies of anything.

Mayor Jones said this discrepancy raises questions.

"It doesn't look right. It's the perception, and it just doesn't look right," Jones said.

He also points to Plants' personal relationship with Foster.

He said she was married to a Charleston officer, divorced him and married Plants.

"What has happened over the course of the last couple of years, it seems like there has been somewhat of a breach of trust between the Charleston Police Department and the Prosecutor's office," Jones said.

The mayor said the lack of trust has impacted the ability of the two offices to work together as an investigative team.

"It's not the same as it was a few years ago, and it certainly isn't as it should be," Jones said.

We also asked Jones if he thought there had been favoritism in the office.

"It doesn't look good," Jones said.

Still, Plants denies Foster received any favoritism.

He said dismissals happen every day, regardless of who it is.

"During all this time period you're discussing she wasn't my wife, she was married to a Charleston Police officer detective," Plants said. " I do think that would be important to point out. Was she an employee of this office? Yes."

When asked if it affected the process, Plants said, "Certainly not, certainly not."

The same day we interviewed Plants, his wife Sarah Foster paid a city ticket from December for the same offenses.

Plants told us he asked her to pay it.

As for the complaints filed in the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, Plants confirmed they involved him, Freeman and employee Adam Campbell.

The Office of Disciplinary Counsel tells WSAZ those complaints are still under investigation.


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