Investigators say Monroe County Sheriff was aware of complaints against new deputy

UNION, W.Va. — A criminal complaint reveals more details about allegations that Monroe County Sheriff Jeffrey Jones participated in obscuring the misdeeds of a deputy.

Jones was charged last week with deceiving the Monroe County Civil Service Commission, failing to file required notification to state authorities, and failing to comply with a lawfully issued subpoena.

The complaint was filed by Sgt. S.S. Keaton of the West Virginia State Police.

Keaton began his investigation into the hiring of Monroe County Deputy Evan Blankenship in April of 2023 at the request of the Monroe County Prosecuting Attorney Justin St. Clair.

Sgt. Keaton noted in the court filing he had learned from another deputy about a complaint filed by a 17-year-old student at James Monroe High School claiming Deputy Blankenship has solicited nude photos of her. Keaton relayed the information to St. Clair who said he was unaware of the allegation and asked for the investigation.

Upon speaking to the teenager, Sgt. Keaton said she made the same claim to him and as a mandated reporter he made notification of the complaint to the West Virginia DHHR’s Child Protective Services Division.  Keaton noted he also learned at that time no report was made by Sheriff Jones or his Chief Deputy James Hylton, who had made the sheriff aware of the complaint on March 29, 2023.

Keaton added he had sought all documentation relating to Blankenship’s employment as a deputy, including before, during, and after his hiring process. According to Keaton, the Sheriff provided everything except Blankenship’s application and background investigation.

Keaton was able to obtain those materials through a search warrant of the Sheriff’s office and found Blankenship had made several admissions during his pre-employment interview with Investigative Specialty Services Incorporated who was hired to handle the pre-hiring interview.

“He admitted to receiving nude pictures of underaged girls.  The applicant believed the girls to be ages 15 to 17 and in the same age group as he was. Blankenship further admitted to some petit theft and breaking into an abandoned farmhouse. He stated he didn’t steal anything from the farmhouse. The last admission Blankenship made was that he drank alcohol on a few occasions,” the criminal complaint stated.

Despite the admission, Blankenship was hired on February 27, 2023. The hiring came after Sheriff Jones wrote in a letter to the Monroe County Civil Service Commission he wanted to hire Blankenship for the deputy position.

That was because: “…he is from Monroe County, went to James Monroe, and his goal is to one day be a police officer. His background check and interview was solid. His current employer said he is a hard worker. This career field is hard to find individuals wanting to do this kind of work.”

Sgt. Keaton, as part of his investigation, received a letter from Monroe County Superintendent of Schools Joetta Basile who said she had expressed reservations about the hiring of Blankenship in a conversation with the Sheriff because of the allegations.  She said he told her he was concerned about “getting enough warm bodies” to fill positions in the sheriff’s department.

Monroe County Commission President Kevin Galford also noted a conversation with Sheriff Jones in which he expressed concern about Blankenship’s admission to receiving nude pictures of underaged girls and whether he had been fired.  Galford told Sgt. Keaton the Sheriff saw no reason to fire Blankenship because he and Chief Deputy Hylton had dealt with the matter internally.

“Sheriff Jones told me that he didn’t see a reason to fire him and that himself and Chief Deputy James Hylton had taken care of everything and counseled Mr. Blankenship.  I expressed my concern to Sheriff Jones and at that time Sheriff Jones told me he was just looking for warm bodies to fill the new cruisers recently purchased by the Sheriff’s Department,” Galford told the investigator.

“The undersigned officer based on his investigation and the aforementioned documents has reason to believe that Sheriff Jeffrey Jones deceived the Monroe County Civil Service Commission during the hiring of Evan Paul Blankenship, failed to file a referral with Child Protective Services as a mandated reporter, and obstructed the undersigned officer by intentionally not providing him with pertinent information that was requested with a subpoena,” Sgt. Keaton wrote in the criminal complaint.

The status of Jones’ position as sheriff is in question. When asked about the situation, Galford referred MetroNews to the criminal complaint and said the county commission was awaiting a legal opinion about what their next move should be in the matter.

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