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Ironton historian asks to delay civil case

PORTSMOUTH — It would be a violation of Steve Shaffer’s civil rights. That’s the argument Mike Curtis, Shaffer’s Ashland, Ky., attorney, is offering in response to a civil federal lawsuit filed over the controversial Portsmouth Indian Head Rock.

In early February Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway sued the city of Portsmouth, Shaffer and two other men involved in retrieving the artifact from the Ohio River in federal court.

Shaffer, an Ironton historian, is already facing criminal charges as the result of his removing an 8-ton sandstone boulder from the Ohio near Portsmouth over a year ago. The river at that section comes under the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

Curtis says requiring Shaffer to answer Conway’s complaint would make him surrender his right against self-incrimination.

Also named in the federal lawsuit are David Vetters, one of the divers allegedly involved in bringing the rock to the surface, and former Portsmouth Mayor Gregory A. Bauer.

A Greenup County Grand Jury indicted Shaffer in June 2008 charging him with “removing, excavating and appropriating an object of antiquity.” That is a Class D felony and could mean prison time for Shaffer.

No one has come forward with a definitive date on The Rock, but as far as experts can surmise, it has rested in the Ohio possibly for centuries somewhere between South Shore, Ky., and Portsmouth.

Periodically, it would pop to the surface when droughts sent the water level of the river down. One drawing is thought to be a Native American petroglyph and protected under state and federal laws, according to the Kentucky Heritage Council.

Shaffer’s criminal trial is set to begin in Greenup Circuit Court on Aug. 3.