Former chief deputy accepts position as assistant chief

CHESTER-Former Hancock County Chief Deputy Todd Murray has accepted a position as assistant chief on the Chester Police Department to help out with a rapidly-dwindling force, officials said.

Murray’s hiring by Chester City Council on Monday, as well as the hiring of Brandon Whitaker, of Chester, as a probationary patrolman, brings the police department back up to four officers. Full strength is considered six officers.

“It was basically an emergency situation,” Mayor Ken Morris said.

Council created the assistant chief position after learning that police Lt. Dante DiJirolanio and Patrolman Garrett Barnhart had accepted positions as Hancock County sheriff’s deputies last week. Both men were sworn in on May 1.

The two officers’ departure left Chester with only four men on the police department-Chief Ken Thorn and Patrolmen Pete Bowen, Clint Schon and Brent Bergman. The latter two are new hires, and both must still graduate from the West Virginia State Police Academy.

Bergman left for the academy on April 28. Then, on Saturday, Bowen, who works the midnight shift, broke his hand in an incident unrelated to his job, Morris said. He will be out for approximately six weeks.

That left the department with only two officers to cover shifts-Thorn and Schon. “We had to get the county (sheriff’s department) to fill in a couple shifts for us,” Morris said.

Murray, 53, of Chester, is scheduled to be sworn in today by Chester Municipal Court Judge Curtis Parkins. Whitaker must first receive his gun certification before he can be paired with Thorn or Murray, Morris said.

Murray, who could not be reached for comment, retired from the sheriff’s department in December 2013 after the election of Sheriff Ralph Fletcher.

Murray came to the sheriff’s department from the private sector, starting as a deputy in 1993 under Sheriff Warren Watkins. He also served under Sheriff Jeff Woofter and Sheriff Mike White, who hired him as chief deputy in 2004.

Along the way, Murray worked as a sheriff’s detective, an officer on the Hancock-Brooke-Weirton Drug Task Force and a deputized Drug Enforcement Administration agent.

When Fletcher hired Art Watson as his chief deputy, Murray decided to retire. He also is assistant chief on the Chester Volunteer Fire Department.

Whitaker was the last person on the Chester Police Civil Service Commission list. The city is in the process of accepting applications to establish a new civil service list.

Applications are available at the Chester Police Department, 600 Indiana Ave., Suite 208, and are due by 4 p.m. May 30.

The first phase of testing, the physical agility test, is scheduled for 10 a.m. June 7 at the Oak Glen High School track. The second phase is a written exam whose time and date will be given to those who pass the physical agility test.

Applicants having a passing grade of 70 percent or better will be placed on the eligibility list, which will be used for hiring. The list is good for up to three years.

The recent round of hirings caps a tumultuous year for the police department, which lost longtime Lt. James Bryan to retirement last summer.

Chester City Council has discussed ways to retain police officers in a system that has become a revolving door of late. Officers have hired on with the department and then moved on to greener pastures.

Newly-sworn Officer Markas Dunlevy resigned last year before entering the police academy. In October 2013, council hired Schon, a Hancock County Sheriff’s Reserve deputy from Chester, to fill the vacancy left by the resignation of Officer Becky Haught. In November, council hired Bergman, of East Rochester, Ohio, to fill the vacancy left by the firing of Officer Eric Maruca.

DiJirolanio was named a lieutenant, essentially a second-in-command position, in December after five years with the department.

Morris said no one on the department was available to take the lieutenant’s position after DiJirolanio’s departure, so council created the assistant chief position especially for Murray.