WV Civil Rights Lawyer

Police Misconduct, Civil Rights Law

Law enforcement is [apparently] not a profession

It is often said that the definition of a profession is a group of persons who engage in the same occupation and police themselves.  Physicians authorize and discipline their own.  Lawyers authorize and discipline their own.  The same goes for veterinarians, pharmacists, and so on.  Cops do not police themselves.  They do not proactively sort out the bad apples.

Case in point: former Montgomery, WV PD officer Matthew Leavitt.  He successfully got his municipality sued multiple times and cost their insurance company six figure settlements.  This could have been avoided years earlier if anyone in the law enforcement field would have given a damn.  The Charleston Gazette published a story on his career.  According to the Gazette, his resume includes the following:

November 2000-June 2001:

Leavitt is employed at South Central Regional Jail.

June 25, 2001:

Leavitt is arrested for driving under the influence.

December 2001-December 2004:

Leavitt is in the U.S. Army. While there, he is disciplined for drinking on duty.

March 2005:

Leavitt is employed as a Cedar Grove Police officer.

January 2006:

Leavitt’s certificate of completion of West Virginia State Police Basic Training is signed.

April 2006:

Leavitt is charged with battery by Charleston police for a bar fight.

June 2006:

Leavitt leaves the Cedar Grove department and is hired by the Madison Police Department.

July 13, 2006:

Leavitt goes to Elsie Keffer’s house in Madison at 7:45 a.m. and harasses her, her boyfriend and her daughter, according to Madison Police records subpoenaed in the Reynolds’ civil suit.

August 2006:

Leavitt resigns the Madison Police Department.

October 2006:

Leavitt is hired by the Smithers Police Department.

Nov. 6, 2006:

Leavitt is hired by the Mount Hope Police Department.

Nov. 24, 2006:

Leavitt leaves the Mount Hope department.

Nov. 29, 2006:

Leavitt is hired by the Gauley Bridge Police Department.

In his employee file, provided to the Gazette by Reynolds’ attorney Mike Clifford, there is a paper where Gauley Bridge Chief L.S. Whipkey and Mayor Damon Runyon kept notes from interviews with Leavitt’s references.

Madison Chief C. Burgess said, “he would love to have him back” and that he “gets along well with other people.” Smithers and Cedar Grove police chiefs also recommended Leavitt to Whipkey.

December 2006:

Hutchinson is hired by Smithers.

January 2007:

Leavitt is terminated by Gauley Bridge for sleeping on duty.

January 2007:

Leavitt is hired by Montgomery.

September 2007:

Hutchinson and Leavitt allegedly assault Roderick and Lakisha White after responding to an incident at their home, according to a lawsuit filed in Kanawha County Circuit Court.

“[Leavitt] threatened to ‘blow my fat black ass away,'” Lakisha White told the Gazette. “He said, ‘Bitch, I own you. I own the streets of Montgomery.'”

December 2007:

Hutchinson receives certificate of completion of West Virginia State Police Basic Training.

February 2008:

Leavitt leaves the Smithers Police Department. (During Leavitt’s tenure at Smithers, he worked for other departments concurrently, a common practice among small-town officers.)

March 2008:

Leavitt, recently hired by Cedar Grove, along with another Cedar Grove officer and a Kanawha County sheriff’s deputy, allegedly sexually assaults Patricia O’Scha on a hill across from Riverside High School, according to a suit filed by O’Scha in Kanawha County Circuit Court.

The three allegedly told her that if she would have sex with them, she wouldn’t have to go to jail. O’Scha said that while she was alone with Leavitt at the Montgomery police station, he implied she should have sex with him or give him oral sex, according to the complaint. Just when he stopped working for Cedar Grove is unclear.

March 2008:

Hutchinson resigns from Smithers and is hired in Montgomery.

August 2008:

Leavitt allegedly handcuffs Gregory Lee Payne and drives him to a wide spot in the road just before Interstate 64 near Cabin Creek. There he chokes and hits Payne, then leaves him by the side of the road, according to a lawsuit filed in Kanawha County Circuit Court.

Aug. 23, 2008:

Leavitt allegedly assaults 17-year-old Sherkiri Terrell. She alleges that after he pushed her head against a wall, he slammed her cell phone to the ground. As the two struggled, she says she put the phone down her pants. She alleges that when it began to ring, he put his hands down her pants to get the phone, according to Terrell.

Aug. 27, 2008:

Joey Carr knocks over a soda machine in Montgomery. Leavitt stops him, takes him to the police station and assaults him. When Leavitt pepper sprays him at close range, Carr says he tries to run away.

“He grabs me and throws me down, kicks me in the stomach and Maces me again,” Carr told the Gazette previously. “When he handcuffs me, he throws me against the car and told me to ‘Quit screaming like a little bitch.'”

Sept. 26, 2008:

Leavitt and Hutchinson assault Twan and Lauren Reynolds. Leavitt hits Twan over the head with a blackjack, kicks him in the back and sprays his eyes with pepper spray at close range.

He also uses a racial epithet and licks Lauren Reynolds on the neck during an interrogation, saying, “Little whore, you like it like that.” Their 4-year-old daughter witnesses much of the assault.

Sept. 27, 2008:

Montgomery officials suspend Leavitt and fire Hutchinson for the incident.

Sept. 29, 2008:

Montgomery police start an internal investigation into the Reynolds beating.

Oct. 1, 2008:

Hutchinson is employed as a Glasgow police officer.

Oct. 21, 2008:

Hutchinson’s last day as a Glasgow police officer.

April 2009:

Leavitt is terminated by Montgomery Police.

April 2009:

Hutchinson is employed by Chesapeake Police, where he is still an officer.

June 10, 2009:

Leavitt is indicted on federal civil rights violations for beating Twan Reynolds and falsely charging his wife, Lauren Reynolds, with a DUI.

July 6, 2009:

Leavitt pleads guilty to two misdemeanor civil rights violations in federal court. During the sentencing Oct. 22, Chief U.S. District Judge Joseph R. Goodwin said Leavitt remains defiant.

“He has stated that he only pleaded guilty because he feared that due to, quote, ‘idiots,’ unquote, on the jury, it was the, quote, ‘smarter thing to plead guilty,’ unquote,” Goodwin said. “He stated he wants the Court to know, quote, ‘I stand by my actions that day.'”

This generally is not the case with the State Police.  But when the State Police fires somebody, or they resign due to misconduct, they usually go to some small municipality just as Leavitt did.  Another case-in-point, Derrick Snavely.  According to the Charleston Gazette, this is what was alleged:

In an interview with The Charleston Gazette in December 2008, the woman said Snavely told her she was driving in the middle of the road, then performed a field sobriety test on her. She asked him if she was going to get a DUI, and he told her he didn’t think she was that drunk.

Eventually they drove in separate cars to another spot, where Snavely, who is in his early 20s, began kissing and fondling her, she said. Then they drove in separate cars to her house, she said. “I went in survival mode,” she said at the time. “I couldn’t call anybody because he was the police.”

Snavely admitted to the sexual encounter, but claimed that there was no resistance.  Though he was fired, he was not prosecuted.  Prosecutors concluded that it was not a criminal offense for a trooper to have sex while on duty.  They really stuck up for him.

Kanawha County prosecutors declined to bring charges against Snavely after reviewing the evidence, said Dan Holstein, assistant prosecutor for Kanawha County. The case was independently reviewed by two assistant prosecutors and they agreed that there was no prosecutable offense, he said. . . .

“To have a sex offense under those circumstances, you have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that there was forcible compulsion. … And in this case there was no resistance at all, not even in word,” Holstein said. . . .

Prosecutors reviewed all the evidence, including a videotape inside the woman’s home that shows the officer there that night.

“If the Legislature wants to make it a crime to have sex with someone on duty, they can do that,” Holstein said. “But so far they haven’t. Just because he was a police officer and on duty doesn’t mean it was a crime.”

This should really piss you off.  He pulled some girl over.  Undisputed.  She admits she was drunk.  He ends up having sex with her at an apartment.  Undisputed.  (Undisputed only because it was caught on videotape).  She is not charged with DUI.  Undisputed.  Prosecutors go out of their way to conclude that no crime was committed.  Needless to say, her lawyer, Mike Clifford, disagrees:

“Any time a state trooper is in a squad car in uniform with a gun and a badge, the standing and negotiation powers for sex or anything else is severely restricted,” Clifford said.

Clifford, who has filed multiple lawsuits accusing police officers of wrongdoing in the past year, said he tells his clients that it’s best to follow police orders when they are stopped.

“Go along with whatever they do. We have the option in open court to figure it out,” he said.

So where does Snavely go after he resigns?  Hinton, WV PD.  A small municipality with a history of law enforcement issues.  He is now Chief.  I actually have met him, and he seemed like a nice guy when I met him.  But the point is, there is a complete lack of sanity in the hiring of police officers by municipalities.  These people are then given a gun and authority to point it at you.  This helps put West Virginia last on the list of where people want to come visit – or start a business.  Less officers is better than enough officers unqualified.

Officers who resign or are fired from counties also end up in these shady municipalities, such as Robert Alkire, Jr., about whom I have previously posted, who allegedly shot his gun off during an on-duty altercation with his girlfriend, and is now working at the Ronceverte, WV police department.  The Charleston Gazette has also published articles on him.

This is what you get when you unionize government.  This is what you get with big government: a complete lack of accountability, a complete lack of sanity.  Just wait until it affects you, and then you will care.  It happens.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

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March 23, 2010 - Posted by | Civil Liability, Corruption, Governmental Liability, Lawsuits, Police, Police Misconduct

4 Comments »

  1. John, We truly love your blog, and you do a great job and I myself find great value in everything you share here. Our blog has jumped off to average as much as a thousand hits a day, and last January we had over 31,000 hits.

    Just thought I would share a comment left on our website that goes along with the theme of this latest entry of yours.

    Keep up the good work. We are represented by Counsel, for our federal action, but we are hoping to file several civil actions in WV if the AUSA moves the complaints forward.

    Thanks,

    Lisa Wexler

    Comment by calpattypress | March 24, 2010 | Reply

  2. Police are the occupying military force. Notice how they refer to the non-police as ‘civilians’.

    Comment by Chattel Slave in West Virginia | March 28, 2010 | Reply

  3. […] prosecutors in southern West Virginia get preferential treatment when they break the law – Part 1Law enforcement is [apparently] not a professionLaws of Search and Seizure in West VirginiaWV Makes National Headlines for Mistake in Medical […]

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  4. […] article deals with former-Trooper-now-Hinton-Police-Chief-Snavely, who I have discussed before.  I wasn’t surprised when I found out that prosecutors were not charging Snavely with a […]

    Pingback by WVSP feeling the heat, and deservedly so. « West Virginia Criminal Law Blog | July 19, 2010 | Reply


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