Harlan County Judge-Executive Joe Grieshop was cleared of charges filed against him by Harlan County Sheriff Marvin Lipfird during a preliminary hearing Friday in Harlan District Court.
Grieshop was charged with third-degree burglary, theft of items valued at over $10,000, 10 counts of retaliating against participants in a legal process and one count of official misconduct.
Judge Ralph E. McClanahan, a retired senior status judge from the 23rd Judicial Circuit, presided over the hearing.
The charges stemmed from an incident involving a county-owned building in Coldiron that was occupied by the Harlan County Sheriff’s Chaplain Corps.
According to the criminal complaint against Grieshop, the Judge-Executive entered a building “knowing he had no legal right to do so and took control over property that he had no legal right to and refused to return it to rightful owners.”
The complaint further charged, Grieshop did this in retaliation to a civil suit filed against him on July 2, 2011. Grieshop used his position to retaliate against people involved in the lawsuit, the complaint alleges.
Special prosecutor Jesse Stockton, a commonwealth’s attorney based in the 40th Judicial Circuit, called several witnesses to testify about the incident in question.
County employee Tony Felosi testified there were more than 10 people on the property when the alleged incident occurred. Felosi further testified that he loaded items into Grieshop’s vehicle.
According to Felosi’s testimony, he suggested to Grieshop that the activities be recorded via video, to which Grieshop responded he didn’t want to waste the funds to do so because letters explaining the action had already been issued.
Jimmy Joseph testified he was present at the incident as a worker. Joseph further testified he had been told by “someone” not to testify in court. Joseph said he did not know the person’s name, but would know him by sight.
Grieshop’s attorney, Steven Romines, provided documentation showing Joseph was not employed by the county but was working there as part of the CAA (Community Action Agency) doing work for the county. The document tendered to the court by Romines showed Joseph was not utilized by the county at the time of the incident, but rather at the same location at a later date.
Romines summed up his position for the court, stating that the Judge-Executive is responsible for county property and Grieshop had the authority to be on the premises.
According to Romines, there was no lease between the chaplain’s corps and the county; therefore Grieshop could not have illegally entered a county-owned building.
Romines further argued there was no intent to commit a crime, and the organization occupying the property had no lease, paid no rent and did not maintain the property.
Romines stated Grieshop’s arrest was due to a “political feud.”
“There is absolutely no valid evidence,” said Romines.
Stockton argued that the incident amounted to an eviction without due process, stating that he knew of no place in the state of Kentucky where a three-year resident of a building had no rights to the property.
Stockton stated that he was aware of no statute allowing property to be confiscated by a government agency without due process.
“The county could have acted appropriately,” said Stockton. “They didn’t.”
After both sides had made their case, McClanahan ruled that all charges should be dismissed without prejudice.
“I just don’t feel there was any criminal intent,” said McClanahan.
McClanahan clarified that charges dismissed without prejudice can be brought up again if a grand jury chose to hand down an indictment.
Romines pointed out after court that the prosecution had not shown probable cause.
“This case was a sham,” said Romines. “If you can’t meet that burden, you have zero proof.”
Lipfird declined comment, but said comment should be obtained from Stockton. A comment was declined by Stockton, as well.
Reach Joe P. Asher at 606-573-4510, ext. 113, firstname.lastname@example.org