LOGAN — The Logan prosecuting attorney has removed his office from involvement in the prosecution of a controversial case involving Logan High School head boys basketball Coach Mark A. Hatcher, 43. Meanwhile, a former game official has asked to file a “friend of the court” brief on Hatcher’s behalf.
Logan Prosecutor John Bennett filed paperwork in late December, asking that his office be recused from any involvement in the Hatcher case. Bennett cited being acquainted with Hatcher, for more than 20 years. He also pointed out that his office practices law and make numerous appearances before Hatcher’s step-father, Logan Circuit Judge Eric O’Briant.
Logan’s other circuit judge, Roger Perry, is presiding over the case and will preside at the January 2014 term of grand jury deliberations.
Hartcher was arrested following the Logan-Scott boys basketball game played December 14 at Chapmanville Regional High School. With about 4:44 remaining in the game, a brawl broke loose on the floor between players from the two schools. Hatcher and other coaches rushed to the court, apparently to separate the combatants. At about the same time, officers from the Town of Chapmanville and Logan County Sheriff’s Departrment also arrived on the court.
A video of the episode shows Hatcher pushing a Chapmanville police officer away from two players who are wrestling on the floor. However, Chapmanville N.D. Tucker says in his complaint that the coach pushed him as he attempted to calm Hatcher down and get him to return to his bench.
“The undersigned officer (Tucker) … began to escort Mr. Hatcher off the court,” Tucker says in his complaint. “While trying to get him to calm down and return to the bench, he pushed the undersigned officer and said, ‘f—- you, get your f——-g hands off me.’”
In an unusual portion of the complaint, Tucker apparently acknowledges the help of a CRHS student who was photographed helping with the incident. “This officer (N.D. Tucker) along with Corporal B.D. Cobb, Corporal F. Ferrell, and the assistance of Matt Dingess went on the floor to separate the individuals involved.”
Dingess became the center of attention when it was revealed he was a 17-year-old CRHS student who was wearing a shirt and “uniform” that appeared to show him as a Logan deputy. Despite several callers to the newspaper who insisted Dingess had worked as a “junior deputy” with the Logan Sheriff’s Department, the department denied that they even operate a “junior deputy” program and most, including Sheriff Sonja Porter, said they did not know who Dingess was.
Reporters had observed the youth standing with the law enforcement officers throughout the game and assumed he (the student) was a policeman.
Nobody was ever available or returned calls to the Chapmanville Police Department which were intended to ask if officers there knew Dingess. Apparently, according to the complaint filed, Tucker not only knew him but appears to acknowledge that Dingess was part of the police contingent that broke up the fight.
Meanwhile, Hatcher was released on $2,500 personal recognizance bond.
In another development, game official Patrick O’Reilly is asking to file a “friend of the court” brief in support of Hatcher. In discussing his plans with The Logan Banner, O’Reilly appears to be basing his support on the theory that law enforcement has no right to enter a field of play or court without being invited there by game officials. A portion of O’Reilly’s argument seems to be that only the officials on the floor or the school principal or athletic director can make such an invitation.
However, CRHS Principal Kathy Moore told reporters after the incident that she and Football Coach George Barker had asked the police to be there “for security purposes. They had every right to go on the floor at our request.”
Officials at the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission (SSAC) in Parkersburg have been unavailable when a reporter attempted to contact them regarding the incident.
O’Reilly will also apparently back Hatcher’s contention that, since game officials did not call a technical foul on him or ban him from the game, law enforcement had no right to be escorting him from the court.
No court date has yet been scheduled in the case.