Cumberland Times-News

January 10, 2013

Piedmont officials hiring lawyer to seek return of hard drive

Elaine Blaisdell
Cumberland Times-News

— PIEDMONT, W.Va. — The Piedmont Council voted at Wednesday’s meeting to hire a criminal lawyer upon the suggestion of James Carskadon, city attorney, in regard to a missing hard drive from a police computer.

“He (Carskadon) said he is not a criminal lawyer. This trouble we are having is not his field,” said Finance Commissioner Freda Fisher, who was filling in as acting mayor.

The computer hard drive, which has at least seven years’ worth of arrest records, is in the hands of Councilman Ray Hall, who is currently incarcerated at Potomac Highlands Regional Jail for attempted extortion, not related to the city, according to Fisher.  

“We hate for it to be in the wrong hands,” said Fisher. “What he is in jail for is not compatible with having our computer. We will more or less have to start over and try to get it,” said Fisher.

The investigation into the police computer is over and anything else should be taken to the prosecuting attorney, said Fisher.   

“That hard drive probably has people that was pulled over, Social Security numbers, driver’s licenses, birthdays and you got somebody that is in jail for (attempted) extortion but he had got your hard drive with all these people who were pulled over. So, who knows what will happen next?” said resident Susie Clark.

Fisher said she was unhappy with the way Sgt. J.M. Droppleman of the Keyser detachment of the West Virginia State Police handled the investigation.

“His reply was very rude, indignant, it was unjustified and I called his superior (1st Lt. Kevin Smouse) and he came up and talked to me today,” said Fisher. “They are assuming that the matter is put to rest. We do not have the hard drive and I don’t know how we are going to get it. Nobody wants to do anything for us so you keep going higher.”

The council had reported the computer missing. Ralph Rice, former police chief, reported that the computer crashed in July and that he sent the computer to Hall, who used to do information technology work for Potomac State College, according to Droppleman. Rice gave Hall the computer to fix to save the city money. Rice emailed Mayor Skip Clifford in August to notify him that the computer tower was given to Hall to work on, according to Droppleman.

“The investigation is closed because the computer was never stolen,” said Droppleman in an interview with the Times-News. The trooper said that he saw no criminal intent in the missing computer.

Droppleman said that he isn’t sure who is in possession of the hard drive.  

“There are a lot of issues within the city government that they have to solve on their own,” said Droppleman.   

Clifford was told where the computer was and was satisfied with the results of the investigation, according to Droppleman. Clifford wasn’t in attendance at the council meeting.

“If they were concerned about Hall having the computer, then they shouldn’t have sent it to him for repair. They should have looked outside the city for someone to repair it,” said Droppleman. “Hall has had the computer since August and I don’t know why they are concerned about it now.”

During the meeting, Councilman Robert Patenaude said that John Francis, Hall’s friend, gave him the computer.

“He (John Francis) delivered it to my front door, so, I called Sergeant Droppleman and he told me to hold it until he could figure out what is going on,” said Patenaude. “That’s what I did and I wasn’t happy about it.”

Council members said they were upset with Patenaude for not telling them he had the computer.

“You are a city councilman and you went against the city and held a piece of stolen property knowing we were looking for it,” said Councilwoman Paula Boggs.

Patenaude reiterated that he was told by Droppleman to hold the computer. Paul Karalewitz, chief of police, said that, technically, Patenaude received stolen property.

Patenaude received a letter from Hall requesting that his motherboard, hard drive and a CPU card he installed in the computer be returned. Hall has said that the city can’t use the computer because his parts are in it, said Boggs.

“We didn’t ask him to fix the computer; we didn’t give it to him (Hall),” said Boggs.

Karalewitz went and got the computer from Patenaude’s house. The computer, minus the hard drive, is now under lock and key with evidence, said Karalewitz.

“We did not do anything wrong by getting it back,” said Karalewitz. “We need to know what is on that hard drive.”

If and when the hard drive is returned, all the police records from that hard drive are going to have to be put on a new hard drive, according to Karalewitz.

Contact Elaine Blaisdell at