CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Several delegates are asking for the dismissal of West Virginia’s Division of Natural Resources director, who was arrested on a charge of misdemeanor battery against his ex-wife in Florida.
Delegates Cindy Lavender-Bowe and Amanda Estep-Burton, both freshman Democrats, sent a letter to Gov. Jim Justice, asking for the resignation of DNR Director Stephen McDaniel.
“We write today to request that you terminate the employment of Division of Natural Resources Director Stephen McDaniel,” they wrote.
“After reviewing the recent news reports and accompanying police report of the domestic violence charges filed against Director McDaniel, we believe that it is unacceptable to continue his employment as a public official representing the State of West Virginia.”
A separate statement that included both delegates asked for McDaniel to resign. That statement included additional delegates, including Cody Thompson, Michael Angelucci, Delegate Sammi Brown, Evan Hansen, Delegate Danielle Walker and Delegate Lisa Zukoff.
All are freshman Democrats in the Legislature.
News of McDaniel’s arrest broke on Friday afternoon. He was charged earlier this month in St. Johns County, Florida, where he maintains a home.
An initial police report indicates that McDaniel’s ex-wife believed he might kill her.
But officials in Florida reached a deferred prosecution agreement, which means McDaniel would avoid charges if he abides by a set of terms for a year.
After the event occurred, McDaniel described it to officials with the Governor’s Office, provided contact with his lawyer and offered to resign if the situation would reflect poorly on the governor, said Brian Abraham, general counsel for the governor.
But Abraham said he advised the governor to decline the resignation offer.
“There’s no change. I don’t anticipate any change being recommended to the governor,” Abraham said today.
Abraham was a prosecutor in Logan County for a decade and also spent time as a defense attorney. He said he took the deferred prosecution agreement into account when advising the governor.
Abraham suggested the Florida prosecutors would have been more aggressive with the case if they strongly believed there was wrongdoing.
“Even if you have an alleged victim who recants or says they don’t want to prosecute, they’ll go forward regardless,” he said.
“That did not happen in this instance, so that to me is a flashing red light that there is more to this than just what was printed in the officer’s complaint.”
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.
McDaniel’s ex-wife was at a home she has been preparing to be sold when McDaniel arrived after drinking at local bars, the report alleges. The report indicates a verbal altercation was prompted by accusations that McDaniel had been cheating.
“The victim stated the verbal altercation escalated when the defendant became physical with her,” the arrest record states.
“The victim stated the incident was a blur, but the defendant had the victim on the bed, was on top of her with his knee pressing down on her left forearm. The victim stated her hair was in her face when the defendant placed one hand on her mouth and nose, causing her to have some trouble breathing.”
The report continues, “It is to be noted the victim never lost consciousness.”
She felt like her life was in danger, the report alleges.
“The victim stated the defendant picked up a lamp and was standing next to the bed, and was shaking the lamp,” the report stated. “The victim believed the defendant was going to kill her.”
Lavender-Bowe, Estep-Burton and the other freshman delegates contend McDaniel should have been relieved of his duties.
“His behavior is unacceptable, as is the refusal to take action by the Governor’s Office because they believe that he is doing a good job,” stated Lavender-Bowe, who represents Greenbrier County.
Lavender-Bowe leads the House Democratic Women’s Caucus.
“Director McDaniel should resign from his position immediately,” Lavender-Bowe stated. “Should he refuse to resign, the Governor should terminate his employment because no matter how good of a job they believe that he is doing- it does not excuse domestic violence.”
Estep-Burton made reference to McDaniel’s position representing the public, which paid $74,999 last year, according to state records.
“This man is a government official who publicly represents the State of West Virginia,” stated Estep-Burton, D-Kanawha.
“It was reported that Director McDaniel reached a deferred prosecution agreement with the State of Florida for these domestic violence charges. We cannot let domestic violence be the face of our state.”