WV Civil Rights Lawyer

Police Misconduct, Civil Rights Law

McClurkin Petition filed before the South Carolina Supreme Court

Here is a copy of the petition recently filed with the South Carolina Supreme Court, in an attempt by the South Carolina Actual Innocence Project to reverse the murder conviction of James McClurkin.  This will actually be the FIRST TIME an appellate court has ever examined the facts, or even been presented with the facts, surrounding James’ conviction.

McClurkin Petition to the SC Supreme Court

If the petition is granted, and James’ conviction is reversed, it will re-set the statute of limitations on many of his civil claims.  If not, the civil claims will face substantial hurdles.  Let’s hope that for once, the criminal justice system in South Carolina does right by Mr. McClurkin.

August 10, 2018 Posted by | McClurkin Case, Wrongful Imprisonment | Leave a comment

Forget what you heard: the reality of the law of self-defense with a firearm in West Virginia. What does “castle doctrine” or “stand your ground” actually mean in WV?

Case studies are important aspect of learning and evaluating the law.  Being a Second Amendment supporting state, most West Virginians have heard one thing or another about the “castle doctrine,” or about what the law is regarding self defense with a firearm in West Virginia.

You can read the statutes, and you can read the case law.  You can read advice from anonymous sources on the internet.  But perhaps the best method is to go directly to a case-in-point.  A true nightmare scenario involving a home invader, a shooting, and a prosecution by overzealous authorities.

This case demonstrates a real life scenario.  It shows how the media and law enforcement can shift the narrative very quickly.  Most importantly, it shows the actual charge to the jurors who decided the man’s fate.  I obtained a copy of the jury charge, including the jury instructions, from the circuit clerk’s office, and have uploaded them to this site.  They are linked at the bottom of the page.  I also am providing a complete narrative showing some of the media reports, and how they shifted very quickly, turning on the homeowner.  It also shows how law enforcement used the media against the homeowner, poisoning the potential jury pool.

In March of 2015, a man intoxicated on various drugs, stripped off his clothes and attempted to forcibly enter the home of a family in Huntington, West Virginia.  The homeowner, Micah LeMaster, shot the intruder three times with his handgun.  He then followed the intruder outside towards the sidewalk, where he fired three more shots, resulting in the death of the home invader.  It was undisputed that this was a home invasion.  However, the media and the police quickly turned on the homeowner, resulting in an arrest, charge of first degree murder and a $700,000.00 bond.  The trial took place in November of 2016, resulting in a complete acquittal following his assertion of self defense and West Virginia’s “castle doctrine” law.  

One particular TV station’s website has their reporting of the incident, which in itself is educational.  From oldest to most recent:

LeMaster Media Narrative

If you really want to educate yourself on self defense law in West Virginia, read the actual law given to the LeMaster jury from the presiding trial judge.

The Actual Charge To the LeMaster Jury

The law given to the LeMaster jury contained the following specific instruction on the law pertaining to the West Virginia “Castle Doctrine,” in part:

An intruder is a person who enters, remains on, uses, or touches land or chattels in another’s possession without the possessor’s consent.

Our society recognizes that the home shelters and is a physical refuge for the basic unit of society, the family.  A man attacked in his own home by an intruder may invoke the law of self-defense without retreating.  The occupant of a dwelling is not limited in using deadly force against an unlawful intruder to the situation where the occupant is threatened with serious bodily injury or death, but he may use deadly force if the unlawful intruder threatens imminent physical violence or the commission of a felony and the occupant reasonably believes deadly force is necessary.

The violent and unlawful entry into a dwelling with intent to injury the occupants or commit a felony carries a common sense conclusion that he may be met with deadly force.

The source for this is the fact that West Virginia is a “stand your ground state,” and does not require a person to retreat before using deadly force:

(a) A lawful occupant within a home or other place of residence is justified in using reasonable and proportionate force, including deadly force, against an intruder or attacker to prevent a forcible entry into the home or residence or to terminate the intruder’s or attacker’s unlawful entry if the occupant reasonably apprehends that the intruder or attacker may kill or inflict serious bodily harm upon the occupant or others in the home or residence or if the occupant reasonably believes that the intruder or attacker intends to commit a felony in the home or residence and the occupant reasonably believes deadly force is necessary. 
(b) A lawful occupant within a home or other place of residence does not have a duty to retreat from an intruder or attacker in the circumstances described in subsection (a) of this section. 
(c) A person not engaged in unlawful activity who is attacked in any place he or she has a legal right to be outside of his or her home or residence may use reasonable and proportionate force against an intruder or attacker: Provided, That such person may use deadly force against an intruder or attacker in a place that is not his or her residence without a duty to retreat if the person reasonably believes that he or she or another is in imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm from which he or she or another can only be saved by the use of deadly force against the intruder or attacker. 
(d) The justified use of reasonable and proportionate force under this section shall constitute a full and complete defense to any civil action brought by an intruder or attacker against a person using such force. 

W. Va. Code § 55-7-22(a)-(d). 

Of course, there are exceptions. The absolute immunity afforded by Section 55-7-22 does not apply in the following circumstances: 

– The person who would invoke Section 55-7-22 was attempting to commit, committing, or escaping from the commission of a felony; 

– The person initially provoked the use of force against himself, herself, or another with the intent to use such force as an excuse to inflict bodily harm upon the assailant; 

– Otherwise initially provokes the use of force against himself, herself, or another, unless the individual withdraws from the physical contact and clearly indicates to the assailant the desire to withdraw, but the assailant continues to use force. 

W. Va. Code § 55-7-22(e)(1)-(3). Case law considering Section 55-7-22 is sparse. See State v. Samuel (No. 13-0273, Mem. Dec.) (Nov. 8, 2013); United States v. Matheny (No. 2:12-CR-00068, S.D. W. Va., May 8, 2012). 

Nothing in Section 55-7-22, however, permits the creation of a hazardous condition on or in real or personal property designed to prevent criminal conduct or cause injury to a person engaging in criminal conduct (e.g., spring-loaded shotguns). Nor does Section 55-7-22 authorize or justify a person to resist or obstruct a law-enforcement officer acting in the course of his or her duty. W. Va. Code § 55-7-22(g). 

[As quoted from the West Virginia Gun Law CLE 2017]

I hope this clears up some of the confusion out there regarding West Virginia’s self defense laws, the practical application of what they mean, and how the “castle doctrine” and “stand your ground” actually work.

 

August 3, 2018 Posted by | Media Coverage, Police, Prosecutors, Self Defense, Trials, West Virginia Gun Laws | Leave a comment

Yet another settlement by the West Virginia State Police for excessive force

State settles suit against WV State Police troopers for $150K

The state has paid a man $150,000 to settle a lawsuit over two West Virginia State Police troopers in McDowell County allegedly using excessive force.

The federal lawsuit, and settlement, is the fourth that names Ralph Justus, who is no longer employed by State Police. The state has paid about $415,000 settling those cases.

The American Legion’s police officer of the year strikes again.  I’ll bet they either stop giving that award out in the future, or they do some extreme vetting.

July 9, 2018 Posted by | Civil Liability, Excessive Force, Lawsuits, Police, Police Misconduct | Leave a comment

What kind of paperwork is generated during 40 years of wrongful imprisonment?

This is it.  This is the paperwork generated by the justice system during 40 years of wrongful imprisonment.

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People assume that people convicted of murder get a large amount of appeals, and have judges looking over their case to make sure everything was constitutional and fair . . . .  Nope.  This folder contains no actual direct appeal of James McClurkin’s murder conviction.

His lawyer who represented him during the 1977 trial which convicted him dropped the ball completely.  He filed the notice of intent to appeal, but never actually followed through.  Apparently he was waiting on payment from Mr. McClurkin’s family prior to filing the appeal.  However, James’ father, who had hired him initially, passed away two weeks prior to the trial, and had spent all he had on James’ trial.  The result was that Mr. McClurkin did not receive a direct appeal for his murder conviction.  The State of South Carolina filed a motion to dismiss the notice of intent to appeal based on the failure to take any action beyond filing the notice.  So the “appeal” was dismissed forever.  What followed is paperwork which mostly discusses legal technicalities such as failure to comply with deadlines, and the discussion of rules which forbid inmates from bringing up old issues.  It doesn’t appear that Mr. McClurkin ever had the assistance of a lawyer at all up until 1992, when the real murderer confessed.  Every document James filed throughout his incarceration always mentioned first that James had exhausted his appeals.  Well, he never got an appeal, and it is a fiction – a lie – that he exhausted his appeals.

The notoriously racist trial judge, Judge Moss, who in 1985 created “controversy” by using the “N word” from the bench (in response to black protestors following the conviction of a black man accused of shooting a white man – ironically similar to James’ conviction).   Here is an article I tracked down from January 28, 1985, as it appeared in the South Carolina Herald-Journal.

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This file contains almost no discussion of the evidence upon which James’ murder conviction stands.  At one point, a lawyer for the South Carolina Appellate Public Defender’s Office filed a motion to withdraw from representing James due to the case being “without merit.” He didn’t bother to mention the evidence from the 1970’s, or the lack thereof.  He didn’t even look into the 1992 confession and testimony of the real murderer.  This was 2004.  James would spend another 12 years in prison.

This should be a real wake-up call.

July 6, 2018 Posted by | Civil Liability, Evidence, Governmental Liability, Judges, Judicial Misconduct, Lawsuits, Lawyers, McClurkin Case, Media Coverage, Murder, Police Misconduct, Prosecutors, Trials, Wrongful Imprisonment | Leave a comment

Our new mission: South Carolina man wrongfully imprisoned for murder from 1977 through 2016

We are pleased to have been hired to represent a man named James McClurkin.  James was convicted of murder in 1977.  In late 2016, law enforcement appeared at his parole hearing and testified that the old murder case was reopened, and that James was innocent.  James was released.  He was 63 years old, and had been in South Carolina prisons since the age of 18.

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South Carolina is one of the states which does not provide compensation to innocent people who are wrongfully imprisoned and then later exonerated.  Hopefully that legislation can soon be enacted in South Carolina.  But until that happens, we are working hard to compensate Mr. McClurkin for the terrible injustice which occurred in his case.

Here are some of the media accounts of his release from prison:

Chester man paroled after 39 years for crime he denies. Were wrong men convicted?

Judge says Chester men must go to S.C. Supreme Court to seek exoneration for murder

‘I am free’: Chester man in prison 43 years goes home, still hoping to be exonerated

‘The air. It smells different. Like freedom.’ Man freed after 39 years in prison for murder police now say he didn’t commit

The sheriff said he didn’t do it and he was released from prison but stigma impossible to shake.

James McClurkin and his co-defendant were convicted of the 1973 murder of laundromat attendant Claude Killian.  James, and his co-defendant Ray Charles Degraffenreid, both African Americans, were convicted under the brutal 1970’s Chester County, South Carolina justice system, which involved, among other things, a presiding trial judge who was known for using the “N word” while on the bench.

The real murderer actually confessed in 1992, which was corroborated by the fact that he was convicted of a similar murder, and by the fact that he had no alibi on the night of the murder.  However, the justice system once again failed James, and he was sent back to prison for another 25 years. Now law enforcement reopened the case, and have concluded that the real murderer was telling the truth.  How did this occur?  Well, among other issues, the mother of the real murderer was apparently the maid of the prosecutor who prosecuted James and Ray Degraffenreid.

This sounds like a novel, but it’s not.  It’s real, and it was only uncovered because a courageous new sheriff was willing to give someone the benefit of the doubt, and double check an old case.  Follow along as we jump into this case and work to reverse the wheels of justice.

IF YOU LIVE IN SOUTH CAROLINA, PLEASE CONTACT YOUR POLITICIANS AND EXPRESS YOUR SUPPORT IN PLACING THESE CASES BEFORE THE GOVERNOR OF SOUTH CAROLINA.  BOTH JAMES MCCLURKIN AND RAY CHARLES DEGRAFFENREID SHOULD BE PARDONED BY THE GOVERNOR OF SOUTH CAROLINA.

You can donate in order to assist with James McClurkin’s living expenses through the following site:

https://www.youcaring.com/jamesmcclurkin-815274

June 22, 2018 Posted by | Civil Liability, Corruption, John H. Bryan, Judges, Judicial Misconduct, Lawsuits, Lawyers, Legislation, McClurkin Case, Media Coverage, Murder, Police, Police Misconduct, Prosecutors, Trials, Wrongful Imprisonment | Leave a comment

U.S. Supreme Court Case on Cell Phone GPS Data

Today the SCOTUS released a decision pertaining to cell phone GPS data obtained without a warrant.  I wish this case existed back when I was litigating the constitutionality of warrantless GPS trackers on police vehicles, which ultimately was decided against us.

Given the unique nature of cell phone location records, the fact that the information is held by a third party does not by itself overcome the user’s claim to Fourth Amendment protection. Whether the Government employs its own surveillance technology as inJones or leverages the technology of a wireless carrier, we hold that an individual maintains a legitimate expectation of privacy in the record of his physical movements as captured through CSLI. The location information ob- tained from Carpenter’s wireless carriers was the product of a search.

The opinion describes the nature of what makes such a “search” a violation, and unreasonable:

As with GPS information, the time- stamped data provides an intimate window into a person’s life, revealing not only his particular movements, but through them his “familial, political, professional, reli- gious, and sexual associations.” Id., at 415 (opinion of SOTOMAYOR, J.). These location records “hold for many Americans the ‘privacies of life.’ ” Riley, 573 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 28) (quoting Boyd, 116 U. S., at 630). And like GPS monitoring, cell phone tracking is remarkably easy, cheap, and efficient compared to traditional investigative tools. With just the click of a button, the Government can access each carrier’s deep repository of historical location information at practically no expense.

This essentially mirrors the arguments we made in the Asbury vs. Ritchie County case.

In fact, historical cell-site records present even greater privacy concerns than the GPS monitoring of a vehicle we considered in Jones. Unlike the bugged container inKnotts or the car in Jones, a cell phone—almost a “feature of human anatomy,” Riley, 573 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 9)—tracks nearly exactly the movements of its owner. While individuals regularly leave their vehicles, they compulsively carry cell phones with them all the time. A cell phone faithfully follows its owner beyond public thor- oughfares and into private residences, doctor’s offices, political headquarters, and other potentially revealing locales. See id., at ___ (slip op., at 19) (noting that “nearly three-quarters of smart phone users report being within five feet of their phones most of the time, with 12% admit- ting that they even use their phones in the shower”); contrast Cardwell v. Lewis, 417 U. S. 583, 590 (1974) (plurality opinion) (“A car has little capacity for escaping public scrutiny.”). Accordingly, when the Government tracks the location of a cell phone it achieves near perfect surveillance, as if it had attached an ankle monitor to the phone’s user.

Justice Alito dissents and argues that such information should be available without a warrant. I am at a loss to understand how a justice alleged to be a strict constitutionalist sides with the government in a dispute about whether a warrant should be obtained?  Shouldn’t someone who respects the original intent of the constitution always side with a warrant over a warrantless search?  After all, warrants are a piece of cake for law enforcement to obtain.  But at the very least, they have to create a paper trail.

 

June 22, 2018 Posted by | Searches and Seizures, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

In one of the last opinions written by now former-Supreme Court Justice Ketchum, I can announce that we just won an important real estate case before the WV Supreme Court

The newly-indicted justice actually didn’t vote, but we recently a won a big case.  It was a case we had tried to a jury, and won.  Months down the road, the trial judge threw out the verdict and tried to take it away from us.  But we appealed, and won.  The verdict has been reinstated.

You can read the opinion here.

McInarnay et al. v. Hall, et al.

It actually created some new law in West Virginia:

(Basically, a trial lawyer needs to complain about insufficiency of the evidence before the case goes to a jury, not after.  If you roll the dice and lose, you can’t claim afterwards that the jury didn’t have enough evidence.)

Under the WEST VIRGINIA RULES OF CIVIL PROCEDURE [1998], when a party has failed during a jury trial to make a motion for judgment as a matter of law under Rule 50(a) challenging the sufficiency of the evidence, that party has waived the right to mount any post-trial attack on the sufficiency of the evidence under Rule

50(b). Additionally, if the party moves for a new trial under Rule 59 and attempts to challenge the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the verdict, then the scope of review of the motion is confined to whether there was any evidence to support the jury’s verdict, irrespective of its sufficiency, and which, if not addressed by the court, would result in a manifest miscarriage of justice.

June 20, 2018 Posted by | Lawsuits, Lawyers, Trials | Leave a comment

State trooper we sued in the news yet again

Apparently former State Trooper, Ralph Justus, made the news yet again for being the subject of a sexual assault lawsuit.  Here is my last post about him.

WV state trooper accused of sexual assault in lawsuit

A State Police spokesman said last week that Justus no longer is employed by the State Police. An agency spokesman said Monday that his termination was the product of a completed internal investigation, and that a criminal investigation is underway.

Keep in mind that when we first took this guy on, he had been named State Trooper of the Year by the American Legion.  Sometimes it just takes one victim to take the first step, and other victims come out of the woodwork.  The system did not flush this guy out by themselves.  It took outside lawyers, such as myself, to investigate him and file civil lawsuits.

May 1, 2018 Posted by | Civil Liability, Excessive Force, Governmental Liability, John H. Bryan, Lawsuits, Lawyers, Media Coverage, Police, Police Misconduct, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Lawsuit filed against Senator Ojeda

You might have read about this case in the news, as did I, this past week:

Logan Man Fired After Posting Video of Ojeda

Fortunately I was subsequently hired by David Woolsey, the man who lost his job, to get involved.  I worked quickly to draft and file a federal lawsuit on behalf of David Woolsey and against West Virginia Senate member, and congressional candidate, Richard Ojeda.

Here is the video that started it all.

 

 

Here is the response video posted by Sen. Ojeda later that night, and then subsequently deleted:

 

 

The Complaint alleges retaliation by a public official against a private citizen’s First Amendment political expression.

Here is a copy of the Complaint which was filed yesterday:

David Woolsey v. Richard Ojeda, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, Civil Action No. 2:18-cv-00745

Media Reports:

My radio interview with The Tom Roten Morning Show

Charleston Gazette-Mail

WV Record.

WOWK TV

Herald-Dispatch

May 1, 2018 Posted by | Civil Liability, Elections, John H. Bryan, Lawsuits, Media Coverage, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Civil Rights Seminar in Charleston, WV May 8-9.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, May 8-9, I’ll be co-presenting a civil rights seminar in Charleston, West Virginia on behalf of the National Business Institute.

The seminar is called, The Ultimate Guide to Police Liability Claims.  It is ideally geared towards lawyers, but would be beneficial to anyone related to the business of policing.  The seminar will come with a manual containing probably thousands of hours worth of experience and research into federal civil rights issues, and other information related to the civil liability side of policing.  Attorneys for both sides of the spectrum will be presenting.

Topics include federal constitutional law related to search and seizure, excessive force, and other common issues, as well as information related to police disciplinary issues.

April 18, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment