Fletcher gets 4 more years as sheriff

NEW CUMBERLAND–Hancock County will have four more years of Sheriff Ralph Fletcher, a no-nonsense, mustachioed lawman who ran on a tough drug enforcement record.

On Tuesday, Fletcher, 64, of Weirton, easily defeated Mark Cowden, a Republican opponent whose candidacy was seriously weakened by a conviction in October on an excessive-use-of-force charge.

Hancock County voters chose Fletcher over Cowden by a vote of 7,445 to 4,966, according to unofficial results released by the Hancock County Clerk’s Office.

Fletcher, who spent most of his career in Weirton, was elected in 2012 and has spent the last four years responding, with a department of 29 sworn officers, to a rising and sometimes overwhelming heroin epidemic.

Fletcher has overseen changes to the department’s rank structure, shift structure, training expectations and equipment requirements. And he has tried to respond to residents from northern Hancock County, especially Newell, who sometimes feel beleaguered and forgotten.

The campaign for sheriff took an unusual twist in June, when Cowden, a retired sheriff’s lieutenant with 26 years in the department, was indicted on charges related to the arrest of a DUI suspect in January 2015.

Cowden was charged with deprivation of rights under color of law and obstruction of justice–a prosecution that he claimed during his trial in October was politically motivated. A jury found him guilty of the first charge and acquitted him of the obstruction charge.

Fletcher distanced himself from the prosecution and focused his campaign on his record. He could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.