LOGAN — The wheels of justice continue to spin ever-so-slowly in Logan County.
At the request of Logan Circuit Judge Roger Perry, Supreme Court Chief Justice Robin Davis has appointed a special judge to oversee the case against Logan High school head boys basketball Coach Mark Hatcher. The appointment comes more than six months after Hatcher was originally charged with assaulting a Chapmanville town police officer in December 2013.
While Hatcher’s stepfather, Logan Circuit Judge Eric O’Briant, had already recused himself from the case, there was no immediate explanation as to what conflict arose for Perry more than a half-year after the incident.
In making the appointment of Lincoln County Circuit Judge Jay Hoke to oversee the case, Davis simply wrote that she agreed with Perry’s request to be replaced.
The incident has been highly-controversial since the beginning. It occurred after Hatcher’s team and Scott High School players became involved in a brawl following a missed free throw shot in a game played at Chapmanville Regional High.
Hatcher is alleged to have pushed a Chapmanville police officer as he was being escorted off the court, where the coach had gone to separate fighting players. The coach was allowed to complete coaching the game, which Logan won, but was arrested immediately thereafter.
O’Briant was seen at the Chapmanville Police Department offices while Hatcher was being questioned after the arrest and Hatcher’s father, CRHS Coach Allan Hatcher, left his team bench during a subsequent game and went to the CPD offices as well.
Eventually, Mark Hatcher was charged with the crime. He has not talked with local reporters about it, although he claimed in a Charleston Gazette article that he was only doing what West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission (SSAC) rules require of a coach who witnesses a fight.
A special magistrate and prosecutor were named in the case earlier, when Logan magistrates and Prosecutor John Bennett recused themselves. The magistrate is James Boles of Wyoming County, who became controversial himself when a hearing scheduled in the Hatcher case was held behind locked doors at the Logan courthouse. A reporter was not admitted to the magistrate court area until the “hearing” had ended. Boles said the failure to allow public access to the hearing was the result of a “misunderstanding” but he has entered no orders nor held any subsequent hearings as far as the public record shows.
Mingo County Prosecutor Teresa Maynard, appointed as the special prosecutor, has consistently refused to answer or return reporters’ calls, although she has told th West Virginia supreme court public relations staff she would be “happy to talk to reporters about this if they called.”
Hatcher’s supporters maintain he was, in fact, only doing what a coach is expected to do in leaving the bench to assist in breaking up the melee. Some of his fans also say the highly-successful coach was the “target” of Chapmanville police since there is a huge rivalry between CRHS and Logan High.
The order entered by Davis means Hoke immediately takes charge of the overall case, although it is still assigned to Boles and magistrate court.