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Putnam website publisher arrested

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Police arrested the publisher of a Putnam County website on Tuesday and charged him with willful disruption of governmental process.

Mark Vance Hallburn, 51, of Dunbar, formerly of Hurricane, who runs PutnamLIVE.com, showed up at the Putnam County Health Department unannounced, according to Putnam Sheriff Steve Deweese.

Deputy D.M. Savilla wrote in a criminal complaint on file in Putnam County Magistrate Court that he met Hallburn in the lobby of the health department Tuesday and that he had interrupted the office.

Magistrate Kylene Brown released Hallburn on his own recognizance.

In an article published on his website last month, Hallburn wrote he had filed several Freedom of Information Act requests with officials at the health department. After unreturned phone calls, Hallburn went to the health department to try and file a FOIA request, Hallburn said.

"After PutnamLIVE.com left the Corporate Center parking lot we were stopped by a very polite and professional Deputy Lowther of the Putnam County Sheriff's Department. He inquired about our presence at the building and was informed that we never entered the building, showed him the videos, and were able to leave -- without arrest," Hallburn wrote last month.

Health department administrator Joel McKinney contacted Hallburn last week and told him he could come to the department by appointment on two certain days this week, according to Deweese.

Hallburn apparently showed up on a different day, Deweese said, and health officials called police.

"Mr. McKinney told [Hallburn] what he needed to do to get the information he wants, but that wasn't good enough," Savilla wrote in the complaint.

McKinney wasn't available for comment.

Hallburn said Tuesday night that he had made an appointment with the health department's secretary to pick up the FOIA request, which he hadn't been able to open on his computer.

"I was invited last week to pick up the FOIA," he said. However, according to Hallburn, McKinney said that his secretary wasn't authorized to have made the appointment.

"I called at 10:28 [Tuesday] morning to confirm my appointment and let them know I was running a bit late," Hallburn added.

"This is a government agency abusing its authority ... a blatant violation of the First Amendment and the freedom of the press," he said.  

In October, Hallburn was charged with harassment after police said he placed at least 13 phone calls to Valorie Comer, deputy director of Workforce West Virginia, and her staff, according to a criminal complaint filed in Kanawha County Magistrate Court.

He said at the time that the agency wrongly terminated unemployment benefits he was receiving from his job as a substitute teacher for Kanawha County Schools, which he has done since 2006.

An official in the Kanawha Magistrate Clerk's Office said Tuesday that Magistrate Pete Lopez had set Hallburn up on a six-month pre-trial diversion plan that could eventually result in the charges being dropped.

In 2007, Hallburn was found not guilty in Putnam County Magistrate Court on charges of harassing a Walmart construction site superintendent by phone. At the time, the Hurricane Walmart was being built near his former home. Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.


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