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A former LaRue County Deputy Sheriff pleaded guilty to three misdemeanors Monday in LaRue Circuit Court.
Joshua Matthew Darst, 32, of Hodgenville, a six-year veteran of the department, was charged in April with first-degree official misconduct, a misdemeanor; theft by unlawful taking – auto; and tampering with physical evidence, both Class D felonies.
Darst was accused of recovering a stolen motorcycle “with the intent to deprive the owner of its use by keeping it himself,” according to a news release by Kentucky State Police.
Darst pleaded guilty to amended charges of theft by unlawful taking under $500; attempted tampering with physical evidence; and official misconduct.
LaRue County Circuit Judge Charles Simms III ordered Darst to pay a $500 fine and court costs of $185. He agreed that a $500 bond posted by Darst could be assigned for the fine. The case will be reviewed for payment on Feb. 18.
Darst said Tuesday that he struggled with the decision to accept the plea bargain.
“I thought about it a long time,” he said. “It was the hardest thing in the world to do ....”
After talking it over with his wife, Whitney, he decided to avoid a trial by jury.
He maintains his innocence but didn’t want to take the risk of being convicted of a felony that would require jail time.
He has four children with one on the way and is the sole provider of his family, he said.
He also did not want to ask the other deputies in the sheriff’s office to testify at trial.
“They’re like brothers to me,” he said.
The motorbike, a 2002 Honda CR 125 valued at $1,250, was found by a local resident in September 2011 in a creekbed off Whelan Road, according to KSP. Darst was dispatched to the scene and he admitted to taking it to his home on Leafdale Road.
Darst said the deputies often “transported things” themselves to avoid a tow bill.
Darst told KSP, according to court documents, that it was a common practice for employees of the sheriff’s office to keep recovered items at their homes. The sheriff’s office denied the statement, according to documents.
Darst told the Herald News he was under the impression that the bike would be sold at auction for the sheriff’s department and he never attempted to conceal its presence at his home.
“We don’t have an impound lot,” he said.
He said he purchased items to spruce up the bike at the same time he purchased items for his own bike.
He disputes the estimated value of the dirt bike, saying it was “laying in water and rusted” and some of the plastic parts were broken when he located it.
“Why would I take a rusted $300 bike?” he asked.
The bike’s owner had in fact, reported the bike as stolen, according to court records, but he had reported it to authorities in Nelson and Marion Counties.
When the bike’s owner showed up at the sheriff’s office, he did not have the VIN or vehicle identification number. Darst said he did not think it was the same bike he had found.
Darst’s house on Leafdale Road burned in December 2011. He claimed that Sheriff Bobby Shoffner and Chief Deputy Russell McCoy came to the house and saw the bike in January. He was suspended from duties after that.
Sheriff Shoffner lodged the complaint with KSP in March 2012.
KSP interviewed Darst for the first time on April 16. He was charged two days later.
Darst said he rejected the first plea deal he was offered – one that included 30 days of jail time, a $1,000 fine and probation.
He and attorney Ronald Hines met with prosecutors and hashed out Monday’s agreement. Darst said he described his past military service as a U.S. Marine and his career in law enforcement during the meeting.
“I was an evidence technician for two years at Grayson County,” he said. “I never had a problem there and didn’t here (until this).”
The 11th District Commonwealth Attorney’s office handled prosecution of the case.
Whitney Meredith, assistant for the 10th District (which includes LaRue County) Commonwealth Attorney’s office said her office could not oversee the case because of potential conflict of interest. Her office had worked with Darst in the past on criminal cases.
Darst said he misses working in law enforcement and isn’t sure what kind of work he will seek in the future.
“I want people to know I feel I’m innocent and I appreciate the support I’ve been shown,” he said.