The Tim Mazza lawsuit, which was pending in the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of West Virginia, is now settled. In police lawsuit cases, the settlements are not necessarily confidential. This case was settled for $100,000.00. Another case involving two of the same officers was settled a couple months prior for $70,000.00.
Link to a news story on the Mazza settlement.
Link to a news story on the Ratliff settlement.
The funny thing in this case is that from day one, in the newspapers, the mayor and police chief blamed us lawyers and tort reform in general. They publicly announced that they would not be settling this case and that they would handle the matter in court. Of course this had to be addressed once the decision to settle was made. In the News and Sentinel article announcing the settlement, they blamed the decision to settle on their insurer.
If I could get an insurer to settle a frivolous case for 100 grand just to avoid the time and expense of litigation, I wouldn’t be so picky about which cases to accept.
In the Charleston Gazette this morning is an article on a federal lawsuit I filed yesterday on behalf of Brian Sawyer, replete with a video of his beating at the hands of a Wood County, WV deputy. This is an excessive force case which is currently the subject of an FBI investigation, as the article confirms.
This incident would have coasted under the radar if it were not for Sgt. Dave Westfall of the Wood County Sheriff’s Department, who blew the whistle on what happened, and saved the surveillance video of the beating, providing it to the FBI after his superior allegedly told him to not throw his fellow deputy “under the bus.” Westfall is a veteran of the U.S. Special Forces, with a distinguished career as a law enforcement officer. He is also a certified self defense instructor and use of force instructor. It goes to show that real men do not need to use their badge to beat people up. Real men use restraint and act with a clear head. Real men do what is right and would never cover up a civil rights violation just because he can.
Unfortunately, now Sgt. Westfall is defending himself against the Wood County Sheriff’s Department. He alleges that he was caught by his superiors showing this video to two FBI agents secretly at a Cracker Barrel restaurant, and now they are seeking to discipline him for unrelated allegations. And we wonder why other officers do not come forward to report misconduct . . . . Their choice is to have a long, quiet career with no bumps in the road by staying quiet, or to do what is right and face persecution.
Now we all need to stand behind Sgt. Westfall and keep him from getting thrown under the bus for having integrity.
This is a good lesson on what the proper role of the federal government is. I was watching the Maynard / Rahall debate last night, and there was a lot of discussion on the proper role of the federal government. There are a couple of things that we do need the federal government for: raising, maintaining, and operating a military; and stepping in to local situations where there is questionable accountability and integrity within state or local government. Thank God we live in a country where we can go to the FBI if we believe that there has been a coverup or conspiracy among law enforcement at the state or local level. Otherwise, what could we do?
Other Media Links for this case:
WTAP video (Note: during the video the anchor says something about Sawyer pleading guilty to assault on an officer, and at the exact time she says that you see Sawyer in the background being choked and held up off his feet. Obviously a vicious assault against that officer. Of course when he took the plea offer, he would have had no idea about the video, and without a video it’s like talking to a brick wall when you tell people you were beaten up. That’s the usual way things work. You get beaten up, and they charge you with assault. Then they give you a good deal on the jail sentence if you just plead to assaulting an officer.)
Statement released by Sheriff Jeff Sandy:
“On October 26th, 2010, a federal law suit was filed concerning alleged “excessive force” violations being committed by a former employee of the Wood County Sheriff’s Office. I assure the public that the Wood County Sheriff’s Office will continue to cooperate fully. As Sheriff of Wood County, I am responsible for all events that have occurred at the Wood County Sheriff’s Office since taking office. Under my watch the Sheriff’s office has not and will not tolerate illegal and unethical behavior by any employee that has taken the oath of office. The Wood County Sheriff’s Office has some great public servants, and this alleged incident should not reflect upon the entire organization. In ending, as Sheriff, I welcome any and all investigations by federal and state investigators, because after their investigation is completed it will show an unbiased detail of the events.”
Note: probably not coincidentally, I also have another case currently pending in federal court for a police beating which occurred in Parkersburg – Tim Mazza. At least this time officials have not been blaming me or tort reform….
As usual, there were some comments by the WVSP included as their response to the reporter’s inquiries. However, I was surprised to see that for once there were no potshots taken at me or any other lawyer. They did not call for tort reform this time. I wonder why this is? Could it be that this time there is an independent agency conducting an investigation (the FBI)? After all, they would look pretty bad if they discounted the lawsuit’s allegations and the FBI ends up finding merit in them.
To be fair, the main incident I am referring to is the comments from the Mayor and Police Chief in Parkersburg from the Mazza case, which of course does not involve the state police. And usually the WVSP are more professional than that. But, it was only a week ago that they publicly decried attorney Mike Clifford for releasing information to the media in the Snavely case, all-the-while ignoring the fact that the WVSP had apparently been caught in a cover-up.
I still don’t see how it helps the WVSP to engage in secrecy and suppression of trooper misconduct. You would think that public confidence would be instilled through the purging of troopers who can’t follow the rules. Maybe this is something that we can change if we yell loudly enough. After all, we are citizens and taxpayers, and the state police is our state agency. It represents us, and at least theoretically, is funded by us. Let’s resolve to engage not in tort reform, but reform of the WVSP. We need public disclosure and accountability.
Again, I will say, that I support the military; I support law and order; I support law enforcement. I understand that 95% of law enforcement out there are good people who place public trust and integrity foremost in their actions as officers, and who would willingly sacrifice themselves to save another. I am okay with “cowboyism” where necessary, i.e., in Compton, CA, or some like place. I understand that it is necessary in places which are akin to war zones. But for the most part, in West Virginia, which is the primary area I am concerned about, and the only area in which I have any power to seek justice, I don’t want it to happen – especially against someone who did not commit a crime. And if it does happen, the WVSP knows, and counties and municipalities know, that myself, and other lawyers, who also take an oath to uphold the U.S. and West Virginia Constitutions, will be watching.
- John H. Bryan.
As I mentioned in the previous post, we filed a lawsuit against the city of Parkersburg, West Virginia, for the alleged sexual orientation hate crime beating of our client, Timothy Mazza. There is a good article in the Charleston Gazette – actually the Sunday Gazette Mail, as it is called on Sundays – top of the fold on the front page. It features a color picture of Mr. Mazza displaying the large black and blue side of his abdomen where his rib was fractured. The reason I say it is a good article is because the reporter, Gary Harki, conducted his own investigation into the case. He interviewed witnesses and examined evidence. Other reporters would have just regurgitated the lawsuit.
An interesting thing about the article is that the mayor and the police chief of the town are quoted several times in reference to the case:
Parkersburg Mayor Bob Newell and Police Chief Joe Martin dispute Mazza’s claims. Newell said that if what Mazza claims is true, he should have talked to police – not to a lawyer and the news media. . . .
The mayor blames the lawsuit on what he says is West Virginia’s need for tort reform.
“It is very aggravating that it is being handled this way,” Newell said. “I’ve dealt with attorneys a lot, and they are trying to get cases settled through public pressure.” . . .
Martin and Newell said they will ask their insurance carriers to allow the case to go to court, rather than settle.
Martin, who became chief after the incident, said they never received a formal complaint or even a phone call about the incident before being served with the lawsuit.
“We will let it work itself out through the legal process,” he said. “He can say whatever he wants to say. We’re not as free to speak as they would be.”
So let me get this straight. If the police trespass on your property, beat you up, fracture your rib, refuse to take you to the hospital, keep you in jail overnight, and call you gay slurs while doing so, you should go to them for help? Let me tell you something. I have people who call my office or email me everyday with similar experiences, and there is absolutely no one willing to help them. Making a formal complaint is laughable. The only complaint they take seriously is one filed in a courthouse. Why would you go to them for help while they are trying to prosecute you. They never voluntarily dropped the charges against Mazza. It took a criminal defense attorney going to the court to cross examine the officers in order to point out the civil rights violations which occurred. It was the court that dismissed the charges. The prosecutors/cops were all-the-while trying to get Mazza to agree to a plea involving 30 days in jail. It is outrageous to claim that instead of going to lawyers he should have gone to the police.
In reality, Mazza comes from a long line of law enforcement officers. His father was a police chief. He has great respect for law enforcement. After this happened, phone calls were made, and they were ignored. The police chief would not return a phone call from, or communicate with, Tim’s police chief father about what happened to Tim – nor would they even provide Tim or his father with the officers’ names. It took lawyers to take action. And American citizens have every right to go to the media, as we are guaranteed the ability to do under the First Amendment of the US Constitution (regardless of whether the Parkersburg mayor and police chief agree with that document).
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