CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The ex-wife of DNR Director Stephen McDaniel has issued a statement about recent allegations of domestic violence.
McDaniel had a misdemeanor domestic battery charge rescinded but still must comply with a deferred prosecution agreement that includes completing an approved batterer’s prevention program and staying away from his ex-wife.
If he fails to comply, the agreement specifies that he could go right back to being charged. He remains on the job leading West Virginia’s Division of Natural Resources.
His ex-wife, who did not want to be named, said she has followed news coverage and wants to allay any concerns by the public. She particularly wanted to address any notion that the Governor’s Office might have influenced the disposition of the case.
MetroNews spoke with her by telephone to bring context to some of her points.
“There is no conspiracy. This has become a political debate, and it’s a private issue. From my understanding, there was a paperwork mistake. A charge has not been filed,” she stated. “If I thought the system was being manipulated behind the scenes, I would speak out.”
The woman is a West Virginia native who moved to Florida about a decade ago. She said she understands the nature of McDaniel’s job has made the situation a focus of the public.
“I live in Florida and have no political agenda in West Virginia. I spent many years as a journalist, and I understand the questions surrounding the matter and how it must appear. That is why I’m issuing this statement. There is no conspiracy or tampering, and my preference is for privacy for my family.”
Asked on the telephone for clarity on whether she had played a role in the deferred prosecution agreement, she only said she did not participate in pressing charges.
McDaniel, who has been director of the Division of Natural Resources since 2017, was arrested last month in Florida.
The arrest report notes that McDaniel’s ex-wife made a statement to police with a bruise on her left eye and a laceration under her upper lip. Police observed red marks on her neck.
“It is to be noted, the victim was shaken up, crying and appeared terrified,” the police report stated.
But, the officer noted, the woman did not wish to complete an audio statement of the incident. Then she answered ‘no’ to the first two questions of a domestic violence threat level assessment guide used by local authorities.
“The victim was hesitant to answer the last question regarding if she believed the defendant is capable of killing her,” the officer wrote. “The victim chose not to answer the question.”
After that, the case’s disposition got confusing.
McDaniel’s lawyer said he was talking to prosecutors about agreeing to steps McDaniel could make that would not involve being charged. But another prosecutor in the office was not looped in and filed an information, another word for a charge.
The prosecutor’s office in St. Augustine, Florida, confirmed that account
Early this week, a judge filed an order retroactively nullifying the charge.
But the deferred prosecution agreement still stands. McDaniel must avoid his ex-wife, stay out of bars, avoid committing any crimes and complete the batterer’s prevention class. The terms last up to a year but could be terminated early in nine months.
McDaniel initially offered to resign his state job, said Brian Abraham, general counsel for Gov. Jim Justice.
But Abraham, a former prosecutor, has said the disposition of the case led him to recommend against accepting the resignation.
“Based on the events I would not change my recommendation to the governor. What has transpired is what he described to us originally,” Abraham said in a Wednesday afternoon telephone interview.
“He has no charges pending against him. If they thought it was a very, very serious issue it probably wouldn’t have been the posture it’s in.”
The West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence has a meeting scheduled for Friday with representatives of the Governor’s Office.
Tonia Thomas, team coordinator, wants to make the point that the way the Governor’s Office has handled this situation sends a message to the public.
She said the Governor’s Office could have been more clear from the beginning that it takes domestic violence seriously.
That could have stopped short of terminating McDaniel but might have included being more forthcoming about his situation, including his acceptance of the deferred prosecution agreement and the batterer’s prevention class.
A statement by the Governor’s Office also might have included resources on dealing with domestic violence, Thomas said.
“It’s about us moving forward and how we can make West Virginia government and the Governor’s Office be proactive in handling domestic violence cases with employees to make the state a safer place,” Thomas said.
“It’s not a scolding. It’s an awareness and education in how they can do a better job. When the news broke it sounded more like excuses and like this was not taken seriously.”
Thomas said the initial police report was convincing.
“It looks like to me that there was absolutely no question that she was assaulted,” she said.
Broadly speaking, Thomas said there may be a variety of reasons for domestic violence victims to not press ahead with charges.
“They may feel there would be repercussions. Some may love their abuser and don’t want to see their abuser to get in trouble. They just want the abuse to stop. They don’t want to break up the family. They’ve got kids in common. There’s a lot of reasons why victims may recant,” Thomas said.
“Most domestic violence situations it’s not plastered across the paper. In these cases, it’s like ‘Gosh leave us alone; we’ve been through a lot.'”