Madison attorney Peter Hendricks claims his client, former Boone County Career & Technical Center principal Keith Phipps, is facing exactly the opposite situation in the eyes of both the public and the legal system.
“In my opinion, Mr. Phipps has become the victim of a situation in which he has been presumed guilty and must now prove himself innocent,” Hendricks told the Coal Valley News last week. “Despite the fact that charges against him have been dropped and he has not been charged or indicted by anyone else, he continues to have to prove himself innocent on a daily basis.”
Phipps was accused by the West Virginia State Police of purchasing too much allergy medicine that contained too much pseudoephedrine or other precursor chemicals used in the manufacturing of methamphetamine.
An accusation that Phipps and a teacher smoked meth inside the school, and even in the principal’s office, has also circulated throughout the public and the media since his arrest in May.
“Mr. Phipps reputation has been harmed by this clearly careless and improper investigation,” Hendricks said.
The state’s charges against Phipps were dropped Sept. 1, but it has been rumored that this was to allow federal investigators to pick up the case.
About two weeks ago, federal agents and state police raided the home Phipps shares with his wife and adult son. After several hours of searching, the agencies reported they took out guns and ammunition.
Hendricks said no federal charges or indictments have been made against Phipps and to comment as to why the home was raided would be purely speculative.
Phipps told a local television station that federal agents found nothing in his home related to any drug activity.
“They did however take some family heirloom guns. And also my son has a collection of guns,” he said. “Several. I'm not a gun collector myself, even though that has been said, but I do have 3 or 4 guns that have been gifts, handed down (my father is deceased) that were his. And they took all those.”
Hendricks says his client is speaking out now in order to clear his name.
“Most of these media reports have been one-sided,” he said. “Mr. Phipps and I want to offer some facts regarding this case.”
Hendricks said had a simple review of the actual purchases of the allergy medicines by Phipps at the pharmacies listed in the criminal complaint been done, it would have shown that two of the four products relied upon for a conviction in the case do not qualify as precursor chemicals for the manufacture of meth.
“The single active ingredient of each product must contain either ephedrine, pseudoephedrine or phenylpropanolamine and cannot be combined with any other active ingredient, which means two of the products purchased do not qualify,” he explained.
Hendricks added that the investigation also failed to even address the gram count of the products purchased.
“The four purchases identified in the criminal complaint totaled 7.2 grams, which is well under or below the therapeutic, recommended dosages of these products,” he said.
Many citizens use allergy medications and Phipps says he is still confused about how, and why, this has happened to him.
“I offered to take any kind of drug testing for anyone, including law enforcement and the school system, but nobody even bothered to do that,” Phipps said.
With 29 years and two months of service in Boone County Schools, Phipps was close to considering early retirement.
“I received a letter from the school system a few weeks ago stating I was suspended without pay and that it would be recommended by the Superintendent of Schools that I be terminated,” he said.
Phipps was originally placed on administrative leave with pay.
School officials said this was because he was only charged with a misdemeanor.
Since the charges have been dropped and no other charges filed, Phipps still wonders why he is being targeted for termination.
“What happened to innocent until proven guilty?” he asked. “I have been found guilty of nothing and now I am not even charged with anything.”
A source within the school system, and the school system’s letter to Phipps, appear to indicate that the school is looking at the suspension and recommended termination on the grounds of Phipps not fulfilling his responsibilities as a principal and employee of Boone County Schools.
The fact that meth residue was found inside the school and in the principal’s office appear to indicate the school system may accuse Phipps of not performing his required duties as principal.
“The largest concentration of meth residue was found in the girls’ bathroom,” Hendricks said. “The principal’s office was 13th on the list.”
Hendricks said anyone could have smoked meth inside the school, including students, teachers, visitors and even janitors that cleaned the school at night.
“Mr. Phipps can’t be there 24 hours a day, 7 days a week watching everyone at the same time,” Hendricks said.
Hendricks said the alleged “crime scene” was cleaned up prior to Phipps defense team and expert witnesses being allowed to perform their own tests.
“If this stuff was so contaminated, why were people from the general public and those in the school system taking stuff from the dumpsters home with them?” Hendricks asked. “Why wasn’t this stuff guarded and taken for proper disposal? I would like to see where they took the allegedly contaminated items. I would like to see if the list of contaminated stuff removed from the school matches the list of contaminated stuff dropped off at the disposal site.”
He also wondered if all of the other schools in Boone County have been tested for drug residue.
“Are they testing all the schools?”
Hendricks added that no meth labs were found, no physical evidence has been found and no credible witnesses have come forward.
“I think any jury, or the general public for that matter, is going to believe statements from self-confessed criminals,” he said. “The case was dismissed by the state, and for good reason, because they had no case.”
Hendricks says, however, this hasn’t stopped the public and the school system from prosecuting his client.
“The investigators and the media have already made Mr. Phipps guilty in the eyes of the public and the school system now feels the pressure to do something about it, even if they have no proof, no evidence or no guilty verdict,” he said.
The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution reads, in part, “No person shall be...deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law...”
What this means, in plain terms, is that constitutionally you cannot be executed, imprisoned, or fined without the proper course of justice taking place. Due process, itself, is not defined in the constitution, but is universally recognized as meaning what is termed as “a fair trial.”
Going forward from there, a fair trial by a jury of one’s peers requires that the jurors approach the case with the thought that the prosecution is required to prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Since the trial begins with the prosecution not having introduced a single piece of evidence, it follows that a defendant must be considered innocent, until proven guilty.
“Investigators and the media have already put out the theory to the public that Mr. Phipps was buying these products to make meth and that he smoked meth in the school,” Hendricks said. “He now is to prove he is innocent, and that isn’t right. He should be considered innocent, until proven guilty, by the legal system, the school system, the media and the public.”