Kotson to resign after no contest plea

WHEELING – On unpaid administrative leave amid sexual assault allegations for more than a year, Matthew Kotson will resign his post as a Wheeling police officer after pleading no contest to harassment charges.

“He wants to put this behind him and get on with his life,” said Joe John, Kotson’s attorney. “There will be a voluntary resignation within the next few days.”

John said Kotson has not actually worked as a police officer in Wheeling since being placed on unpaid leave on Dec. 1, 2011.

Tuesday, Special Prosecutor David F. Cross said Kotson pleaded no contest to two counts of misdemeanor harassment. His sentence of one year in prison was suspended, but he will be placed on probation for one year.

Two felony counts of sexual assault against Kotson have been dismissed, according to Cross, who also said Senior Status Circuit Court Judge Arthur Recht signed off on the plea agreement.

“If he would violate his probation, he would go to jail for one year,” Cross said of Kotson.

John also said Kotson has agreed to drop his wrongful firing claim against the city of Wheeling for an undisclosed settlement. John would not discuss if – or how much – the city agreed to pay Kotson, directing the question to city officials.

Police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger referred questions regarding Kotson’s employment to City Solicitor Rosemary Humway-Warmuth. She declined to discuss the matter Tuesday.

The saga began on Thanksgiving Day 2011, when a woman arrived at the West Virginia State Police detachment in Wheeling claiming Kotson had sexually assaulted her at her home earlier that day. By the time State Police concluded their investigation, four women allegedly told troopers Kotson had committed sex crimes against them.

State troopers arrested Kotson near St. Vincent de Paul Grade School days after the investigation began. Police reported that one of his alleged victims worked at the school.

Kotson was fired the following day, with city and police officials citing traffic infractions he allegedly committed, as well as a domestic violence protective order that an accuser filed against him.

On the day the first of Kotson’s four trials was to begin in March, Cross dropped the single count Kotson was to face, citing a significant breakdown in the case due to uncooperative witnesses.

Kotson finally appeared before jurors in September, ultimately being acquitted on one of two counts heard during that trial. The jury was unable to reach a verdict on the second count, and Recht later dismissed it, ruling that the prosecution failed to meet its burden in proving Kotson’s guilt.

In between the criminal proceedings, the city held a post-termination hearing before the Police Civil Service Commission, which upheld City Manager Robert Herron’s decision to fire Kotson. John appealed this decision to Ohio County Circuit Court.

Judge James Mazzone ultimately ruled in October that city officials violated Kotson’s due process rights when they fired him without convening a pre-termination hearing. Mazzone said there was no reason a hearing could not have been convened, especially because of Kotson’s unpaid administrative leave status with the department.

Humway-Warmuth appealed this decision to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, saying Mazzone erred in essentially every step of his decision process, especially in his consideration of exigent circumstances that the city cited to justify Kotson’s immediate firing.

(Tyler Reynard also contributed to this story.)