On November 26, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals issued a decision in a suit filed by the Charleston Gazette (which I posted about back in November of 2010), to enforce a FOIA request initially sent by former Gazette police misconduct reporter Gary Harki. After the circuit court refused to allow the internal files to be produced, the Gazette appealed and ended up winning at the Supreme Court.
The opinion is available in .pdf format on the Court’s website here.
Essentially the Court ruled that state police internal investigation documents are subject to production through FOIA requests, so long as the investigation has been concluded, and the allegations involve official misconduct about which the public has a right to know. I’m summarizing.
This holding did not specifically address political subdivisions, i.e., counties and municipalities. However, I don’t see any legitimate reason for treating them differently under this case law.
On the filing of the lawsuit:
Prior to the filing of the lawsuit:
Well, I said I didn’t think I would be returning to Parkersburg. But wouldn’t you know it, I’m headed back over there. Here is yet another federal lawsuit filed by myself, and my co-counsel Paul Morrison, for yet another videotaped use of force out of Parkersburg, West Virginia. This is my fourth time there. This one was already in the news a few times. With the closure of the federal courthouse in Parkersburg, this case will be litigated out of the federal courthouse in Charleston. Maybe had we filed it a couple of days earlier . . . .
We settled the Seabolt v. Vensel, et al. case late last week. The settlement amount was $135,000.00.
Charleston Gazette on Saturday:
“I first became involved with civil rights issues in Parkersburg in June of 2010,” Bryan said after the settlement was reached. “With this settlement, I sincerely believe that these issues will not be coming up again. We’ve been through three years of federal court litigation, three six-figure settlements, two jury trials and two trips to the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.
“I’ve interacted with local leaders, police officers, citizens, local lawyers and Charleston defense lawyers, and I believe everyone is on the same page regarding Parkersburg’s future — which means that my time in Parkersburg has probably come to an end.
“Joshua Vensel is a good person who made one mistake. I uncovered no evidence of any prior acts of excessive force by him. In the end, he did right by Mr. Seabolt, and I have no doubt he will go on to lead a successful life. Lastly, I want to thank my co-counsel Michele Rusen and my opposing counsel Jim Muldoon for being great lawyers who are not afraid to do the right thing,” he said.
Parkersburg News and Sentinel:
Seabolt Settles in Lawsuit Against Parkersburg (also includes video of the incident)
There was a nice article on the front page of the Charleston Gazette this morning about the Sawyer Case.
“Today the citizens of West Virginia, Maryland, Virginia North Carolina and South Carolina have more constitutional protections than they did yesterday,” John Bryan, Sawyer’s attorney, wrote in a statement.
“As a result of today’s ruling, which affirmed the District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, law enforcement officers will be taught to treat people differently, and that if they fail to do so, there will be consequences. Because of Brian Sawyer, and the federal court system, millions of people have more freedom. And that is something I am very proud of.”
There was also an article in the Parkersburg newspaper:
Well, off to another trial this morning.
ETA: We won the property dispute trial. We have been very blessed to have streak of wins in WV state-law easement disputes. Although they might seem boring, they are quickly becoming one of my favorite types of cases, second only to civil rights cases. I do enjoy interesting criminal cases. However, I do not enjoy the stress of gambling with someone’s liberty. I much rather prefer property rights or money. The worse case scenario is never the end-of-the-world.
Also an article in the WV Record:
We won the Sawyer case at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. The audio from the oral arguments is one post down. Here is the opinion. I have been unable to discuss the case for about a year. Obviously, this is what has been happening. I believe this is, and will be, a very important decision. Although there was no new law created, this has greatly clarified, explained, and set the course, for future excessive force litigation and instruction.
Getting ready to leave today to argue before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.
The Fourth Circuit issued a decision bolstering our 2nd Amendment rights. The case is styled USA v. Nathaniel Black, out of the Western District of North Carolina. Essentially, a guy who was a convicted felon was open carrying a firearm. He was then seized by police, who were subsequently able to determine that he was not allowed to possess a firearm. But, was it an unconstitutional seizure since they didn’t know before they seized the guy that he was committing a crime by possessing a firearm?
The 4th Circuit held that it was unconstitutional to seize the man merely because they observed him with a holstered handgun, since they had no reason to believe that he was legally barred from possessing firearms, or that he was engaging in any other illegal activity. The importance of this decision is that it protects our 2nd Amendment rights. If it is legal for us to openly carry a handgun, then law enforcement is unable to seize us in order to determine our criminal record, harass us, etc. The case has all the goodies when it comes to search and seizure case law in the Fourth Circuit (WV, VA, NC, MD).
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