Carper stepping down from county commission, no criminal charges filed

Story by MetroNews Statewide Correspondent Brad McElhinny 

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Longtime Kanawha County Commissioner Kent Carper has resigned after a long year of serious medical challenges and an investigation that unfolded after allegations of lewd behavior at a local roadside park. The investigation has concluded without charges.

Kent Carper

“County Commissioner is a demanding job, one at which I have worked hard every day for 28 years. After a series of medical issues over the past year, however, I have decided that now is the time to pass the torch,” Carper said in a statement released this afternoon.

Shortly after Carper’s retirement announcement was released, the U.S. Attorney for Southern West Virginia put out a statement saying an investigation of Carper has concluded without charges.

Will Thompson

“The investigation uncovered significant allegations of concern. It also found that Carper had significant health issues that could have had an impact on his actions relevant to the investigation,” according to the statement attributed to U.S. Attorney Will Thompson.

“As a result, a decision has been made to end the investigation without taking further action.”

The statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office acknowledged that the U.S. Department of Justice normally does not publicly announce investigations or investigative findings — but does allow exceptions such as when circumstances surrounding cases have already received significant publicity.

Carper, a Democrat, has served on the commission since 1996, many of those years as president. Early this year, he stepped aside from the president’s role. On Jan. 25, Carper said he would seek re-election to a six-year term as a commissioner again.

Now he says he will not serve if elected.

West Virginia’s primary election is Tuesday, and early voting continues through this Saturday. Carper, a Democrat, will still be on ballots against a primary opponent, former Secretary of State Natalie Tennant. Two Republicans, Chris Walters and Dewayne Duncan, are also competing in the Kanawha County Commission race.

“I make this announcement now so that voters know I will no longer be serving on the Commission, regardless of the result of the election. I am deeply grateful to the people of Kanawha County for the opportunity to serve them for so long. I could not be prouder of what we accomplished together, and I look forward to continuing to serve our community in any and every way that I can,” Carper stated.

The Kanawha County Commission put out a statement this afternoon acknowledging Carper’s resignation and describing next steps. The remaining commissioners are President Lance Wheeler, a Republican, and Ben Salango, a Democrat.

“The Commission appreciates Commissioner Carper’s service to the Commission of 28 years.  The Commission will discuss the appointment of the vacant seat at an upcoming meeting.”

Carper has been the subject of widespread rumors about an indecent exposure incident at Daniel Boone Park on the Monday of a week he wound up being hospitalized and underwent open heart surgery.

The incident happened, according to transcripts released by Metro 911 in Kanawha County, after a woman at the Charleston roadside park pulled in to meet an acquaintance and complete a purchase.

“Yes. I was sitting here, uh, waiting on somebody on somebody to come and give me my stuff I’m buying off of her,” the woman told a dispatcher in an initial call at 2:17 p.m. May 15, 2023, “and there’s a guy that pulled up beside of me here at Daniel Boone and he unzipped his pants and he’s got his thing out, shaking it.”

A second call followed at 2:23 p.m.

“Oh my god, ma’am, I just called you about that guy had his pants down…” the caller began.

The woman continued, ”I’m here at Daniel Boone, and, oh my god, the guy got out of the damn van there, and come up here… honey, he’s the one on damn TV, he’s…”

The dispatcher, who was different from the one who handled the prior call, asked for more context. “I don’t know what you mean. Who is he?” this dispatcher asked.

The transcript didn’t specify a name, but the caller said the man was someone she recognized as a public figure. “I don’t… oh my god, um… I think his name’s… he’s well known. But he come up to my damn Jeep and said ‘nice Jeep’ and he’s got sunglasses on. I am shaking like a leaf.”

Emails obtained by local news organizations show that at 3:57 p.m. May 15, 2023, Carper followed up on a conversation among commissioners about the condition of Big Bend golf course by asking county employee Megan Estep, “Are you interested in being the superintendent [at] Big Bend?” Estep had been dating the Charleston police officer who responded to the complaint at the park.

The Charleston Police Department began investigating the incident, which was then assigned to a special prosecutor, who then referred the case to the West Virginia State Police.

Under West Virginia code, an indecent exposure charge is considered a misdemeanor punishable by no more than 90 days in jail or fine no more than $250, or both. More punishment is possible if the exposure was done for sexual gratification. If that can be proven, the fine is no more than $500 and the jail time is no more than 12 months.

The special prosecutor who was appointed for the investigation in June 2023, David Wandling, today released a statement that acknowledged its conclusion.

David Wandling

“The special investigation conducted by the West Virginia State Police revealed information of concern about the allegations made by the complainant,” stated David Wandling, the Logan County prosecutor who was appointed special prosecutor in the Carper investigation.

“However, mitigating information was also uncovered that Mr. Carper had significant health issues that could have had an impact on his actions. As a result, a decision has been made to end the investigation without taking further action.”

Carper had open heart surgery May 18, 2023, days after the incident at the roadside park was alleged. Carper’s family on May 19, 2023, acknowledged an allegation of inappropriate conduct at the park, characterizing it as a misunderstanding related to a health crisis. Carper was recovering from a stroke, heart attack and bypass surgery.

“My father’s illness and his apparent confusion have been misinterpreted as being something inappropriate. My family and I regret this awful misunderstanding,” Carper’s daughter Virginia stated then.

Before serving on the commission, Carper served in a range of roles such as an assistant Kanawha County prosecutor, director of public safety and police chief for the City of Charleston. He was also an attorney for the West Virginia Department of Highways and the state Auditor’s Office. His law firm is Hill, Peterson, Carper, Bee & Deitzler.