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Charges to be dismissed against diver who removed rock from Ohio River

Criminal charges against a diver who removed a rock from the Ohio River in 2007 could be dismissed by Thursday. Greenup Circuit Judge Bob Conley has set a hearing in the case for 1 p.m. Thursday.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Cliff Duvall filed a 12-page motion last week to dismiss charges against Steve Shaffer of Ironton.

The problem the prosecutor had was that he couldn’t prove the eight- to nine-ton rock removed by Shaffer and currently stored in a garage in Portsmouth was the one mentioned by historians as the Portsmouth Indian Head Rock, said Michael Curtis, an Ashland lawyer representing Shaffer.

“There are other rocks in the river,” Curtis said Sunday. “No one had an exact location of the Indian Head rock. It’s generated a lot of controversy. With all the pretrial publicity, I doubt we could have gotten an impartial jury, anyway.” The case had been set to go to trial Aug. 3. “Mr. Duvall did the right thing in filing the motion to dismiss. I’d say the rock will stay where it is.”

Even if the theft charge — which carries a prison sentence of from one to five years — is dropped, the state of Kentucky has filed a civil suit against Shaffer and others in federal court. That case has been held in abeyance pending the outcome of the criminal charge in state court, said Curtis, who plans to file a motion to dismiss the civil case if the criminal charges are dropped.

Duvall said that Shaffer also could face other proceedings including being cited by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a dredging operation without a permit. “He will have to answer for that whether it was the Indian Rock or not,” Duvall wrote.

“Neither the Commonwealth’s experts nor any other can truthfully testify that any of the inscriptions on the raised rock are beyond a reasonable doubt Native American or pioneer in origin,” Duvall said in the motion. The rock removed by Shaffer has inscriptions from the mid-1850s, he said. It was pulled from the Ohio River near the Kentucky shoreline opposite from Bond Street in Portsmouth.

“There is yet another rock reportedly often confused with the rock (removed by Shaffer) that is upstream and that has a likeness of an Indian with a headdress of feathers,” Duvall said.

“Individuals with the ‘Indiana Jones’ treasure-hunting mindset set out to take into their personal collections to sell or simply to make a name for themselves and in the process disturb these archeological objects and sites without any regard to law, ownership or collective input from the learned institutions of our state-supported universities,” he said.

“These renegade type actions take away democratic decision making from the archeoligical community and give the final decisions on exploration of these sites and removal of these antiquities to common looters,” he said.

The rock hasn’t been seen since about 1920 because dams placed along the river since then have caused the water level to rise, covering the rock.

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