PARKERSBURG - A Washington County woman who made false statements to police that prolonged and exaggerated an already complicated high-profile case pleaded guilty Thursday to filing a false police report.
Ember S. Stafford of Marietta pleaded guilty in Wood County Magistrate Court to a misdemeanor charge of filing a false police report related to the Wood County Sheriff's Department investigation into the 2011 death of Jaleayah Davis.
Magistrate Robin Waters imposed the maximum penalty, sentencing the woman to six months in jail and a $500 fine.
Photos by Jody Murphy
Ember Stafford walks back to her seat in Wood County Magistrate Court Thursday. Stafford of Marietta pleaded guilty, to filing a false police report related to the 2011 death of Jaleayah Davis.
Stafford's attorney, George Torres, said he "had no idea what's between the young ladies ears," and he wasn't going to try to explain her actions. Stafford, a 28-year-old mother of four, is the sole provider for her family, which includes her disabled mother, Torres said.
Kim Davis, Jaleayah Davis' mother, was in court as Stafford was sentenced and said afterward her family had never met or been acquainted with Stafford.
Stafford left the court without comment.
Wood County Deputy Sheriff Camille Waldron, who investigated the case including Stafford's claims, testified Stafford's claims resulted in more than 30 hours of extra work, travel time and wasted resources pursuing false leads.
According to the criminal complaint, Stafford claimed to eyewitness events surrounding Davis' death. She claimed to have met Jaleayah Davis at a Parkersburg bar and witnessed a confrontation between Davis, two black males and a white female in the parking lot. Stafford told investigators Davis pulled out of the parking lot and was followed by the three in another vehicle. Stafford claimed the two cars engaged in horseplay before the vehicle with three occupants forced Davis' car to the slow lane of I-77 and off the road. Stafford also claimed to have seen Davis exit her car.
Waldron told Stafford all the information she provided was contrary to all the other interviews conducted surrounding the case. Waldron also asked Stafford why it took her four months to come forward with her claims.
Stafford agreed to a polygraph test in June 2012, which, according to the criminal complaint, she failed.
"During a follow-up interview, the defendant admitted to having lied about the information she disclosed to (Waldron)." the complaint states. Stafford then proceeded to fabricate two other stories implicating a female known as "Nicole" and a black male known as 'Freddie," the complaint states.
"As a result of the defendant's initial eyewitness account of events, investigators invested approximately 30 hours, including two no-shows for the polygraph by Stafford.
"The illusions she had in her head caused a lot of problems," Torres said. But sending her to jail would cause a lot of problems for her family."
Torres offered allowing Stafford to spend 15 weekends in jail and relocate to Wood County to serve out the remainder of her sentence on home confinement.
Wood County Prosecutor Nancy McGhee opposed the offered.
McGhee said Stafford knowingly made false statements that damaged the family and impacted the investigation.
Jaleayah Davis died in November 2011 along Interstate 77. More than 16 months later the sheriff's department ruled the 20-year-old Davis' death an accident.
She died of "multiple catastrophic injuries sustained as an unrestrained driver of a car that lost control and struck a guardrail on Interstate 77. Alcohol intoxication was also a factor in the accident, officials concluded.
Kim Davis said Stafford's story and subsequent guilty plea did nothing to change her mind about Jaleayah Davis' death and the sheriff's department's handling of the case. She remains convinced the investigation into her daughter's death was mishandled.
We can't say what happened," she said outside the court. "We just know what they claim happened, didn't happen."
Davis said her family was not hurt by Stafford's actions.
"What hurt was the (BS) from the sheriff's department."