HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Cabell County law enforcement officials have decided to reduce the charges against a pair of Marshall University football players.
Chief Deputy Doug Ferguson and Prosecutor Chris Chiles explained he reason behind the decision Tuesday afternoon at a news conference.
“When considering all circumstances surrounding the event, all indications are that the marijuana these two individuals possessed was indeed for personal use,” Ferguson said.
“For that reason, the Cabell County Sheriff’s Department, in consultation with the Cabell County Prosecution’s Office, has concluded it is in the best interest of justice to dismiss the felony charges against Mr. Marshall and Mr. Starling and to charge them with misdemeanor possession of less than 15 grams of marijuana as set forth in the West Virginia code.”
Ferguson said officers with the Cabell County Sheriff’s Department and Marshall University Police Department were working a grant-funded overtime operation targeting underage drinking early Saturday morning when they noticed a double-parked car in the 2100 block of 7th Avenue.
Marshall and Bembry were inside the car. There was a strong smell of marijuana when the players rolled down a window to speak with the deputies.
The deputies searched the car and discovered three individually wrapped bags of the drug, Ferguson said. Marshall had two bags — one that weighed about six grams and another that weighed about two grams. Bembry had one bag that weighed about one gram.
Officers arrested Marshall and Bembry and charged each with one count of possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver.
“Officers working on this operation were not drug officers and had no specialized training in drug investigations,” Ferguson said. “Because the marijuana was packaged in three individual bags, the arresting officer (deputy Steve Rappold of the Cabell County Sheriff’s Department) chose to err on the side of caution and, as a result, chose to charge both individuals with a felony possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver.”
Ferguson said the Cabell County Sheriff’s Department and its drug unit reviewed the arrests and the facts and circumstances of the case Monday afternoon.
Ferguson said after further investigation, officers determined the marijuana was different and did not come from the same source. That explains why it was packaged separately, he said.
Ferguson said no scales or empty bags — items commonly used in the packaging and distributing of marijuana — were found in the car. Also, neither Marshall nor Bembry had sums of money that indicated either was involved in selling the drug, he said.
Officers concluded there was nothing to indicate they were selling drugs other than the fact the marijuana was inside three separate bags, Ferguson said. Neither player has a criminal record that suggests he was selling drugs, the chief deputy added.
The total weight of the marijuana was about nine grams, which also was another factor in the charge reduction.
“Under West Virginia law, possession of less than 15 grams of marijuana — about a half of an ounce — is presumed to be for personal use,” Ferguson said.
A preliminary hearing is scheduled May 11. The felony charges will be dropped and the misdemeanor charges will be filed that day, Ferguson said.
Marshall Coach Mark Snyder previously suspended Marshall and Bembry from the team.
“First of all, let me reiterate how disappointed I am in DeQuan and Darius for their poor decision and in no way do I condone their actions,” Snyder said in a statement released by Marshall’s sports information department Tuesday. “This is a matter we take very seriously and we will continue to allow the legal process to take its course.”
Chiles and Ferguson stressed that Marshall and Bembry did not receive preferential treatment because of their prominence.
Marshall, 20, and Bembry, 19, are MU starters and arguably the most talented players on the offense and defense, respectively.
The 5-foot-10, 189-pound Marshall was the Herd’s leading rusher the past two seasons.
He ran 224 times for 1,095 yards and five touchdowns last year and 123 times for 631 yards and three scores two years ago.
The 5-10, 173-pound Bembry started 11 games as a redshirt freshman in 2008, establishing himself as a rising star with a breakthrough season.
He ranked first in pass breakups (11), first in tackles for loss (7.5) and third in tackles (80). He also had one interception.
“Justice is being done,” Chiles said. “That’s what it’s all about.”