WV Civil Rights Lawyer

Police Misconduct, Civil Rights Law

West Virginia State Police and asset forfeiture in the news this weekend. The ugly truth.

The Charleston Gazette-Mail had an article this weekend on a New Jersey couple who were pulled over by a West Virginia State Trooper on their way to a casino.  They had $10,000.00 with them.  The state trooper took all but $2.00 and sent them on their way.  He also took their cell phone (presumably to search it for evidence of a crime, such as drug dealing).

This highlights what is perhaps the ugliest, most unconstitutional, most nazi-ish, thuggish, and un-American behavior engaged-in by the government at the present time: asset forfeiture.  This is the way it works.  You get pulled over for a traffic offense.  You have cash on you, or in the vehicle.  The officer seizes the cash, because they consider the cash itself to constitute evidence of being a drug dealer.  They don’t have to charge you criminally whatsoever.  They then serve you with a notice that, if you want to redeem your cash, you have to contact the court and the prosecuting attorney, and formally claim the cash.  In so doing, the process implies that have to explain to the court, and the prosecutor, where you obtained the money, etc.  The theory is, that drug dealers are not going to claim the money.  The the law enforcement agency gets to keep it, and the prosecutor’s office gets 10%.  Talk about a conflict of interest . . . .

In reality, the law provides that in order to keep the currency which was seized from the citizens, the State, pursuant to W. Va. Code § 60A-7-703(a)(6) (1988), is required to demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence that there is a substantial connection between the property seized and an illegal drug transaction.  This finding is in addition to the initial finding of probable cause that an illegal act under the drug law has occurred. See Syllabus Point 4 of State v. Forty-Three Thousand Dollars, No. 31224 (W. Va. 11/26/2003) (W. Va. 2003).

Only after the State has filed a civil forfeiture petition, and met its’ burden of proof by a preponderance is the citizen required to prove how he/she/they came into ownership of the currency. Id. at 6.

In the case of the couple in the Gazette article, Dimities Patlias and  Tonya Smith, they got nowhere until they contacted the media.  The reporter, Jake Zuckerman, started making some phone calls, including to the prosecuting attorney, and voila, their money was returned in full.  Now the couple is rightly pissed off, and much of the public is learning about this un-American scheme for the first time.

The Prosecuting Attorney of Jefferson County, who returned the money is a good guy.  Kudos to him for doing the right thing after looking into it.  I actually had an asset forfeiture case with him previously, and he returned the money in that case as well.  I also represented some of his family members in a real estate related jury trial, which we won, thankfully.  This is a problem in a national scale.  This occurs everywhere, and is practiced by the federal government as well.

August 27, 2018 Posted by | Corruption, Media Coverage, Police, Police Misconduct, Searches and Seizures, Vehicular Crimes | Leave a comment

Summersville Speed Trap/Scam on Route 19 in West Virginia Claims an Innocent Disabled Man

UPDATE 8/20/18:  Our FaceBook post on the topic.

UPDATE 8/17/18: I obtained the Criminal Complaint from the incident.  It is indeed signed by both the sheriff’s deputy who was the arresting officer, as well as the Summersville PD officer.  It’s not a notarization, but it is a signature.  While it doesn’t make sense as to why they did it that way, that process would be legal.  The following is the full text of the narrative, which is sworn under oath as the probable cause basis for the arrest:

ON THE ABOVE DATE IN SUMMERSVILLE NICHOLAS COUNTY, WV, I CONDUCTED A TRAFFIC STOP ON A MAROON CHEVY COLORADO BEARING WV REG. XXXXXX FOR NO BRAKE LIGHTS.  THE DRIVER WAS IDENTIFIED AS JEFFREY JONES.  WHILE SPEAKING TO THE DRIVER I OBSERVED HIM TO BE DISORIENTED, DROWSINESS, CONFUSED, BLOOD SHOT EYES, AND HE DID HAVE SLURRED SPEECH.  MY FIRST OBSERVATION HE WAS SWEATING PROFUSELY AND DID HAVE HIS HEAT ON IN HIS TRUCK. HE WAS ALSO FUMBLING HIS ITEMS AND DROPPING MONEY OUT OF HIS WALLET.  I PERFORMED THE HGN TEST ON JEFFREY AND WHILE ADMINISTERING THIS TEST HE DID SHOW IMPAIRMENT. JEFFREY WAS TAKEN TO SRMC FOR A BLOOD DRAW.  WHILE UNDER MIRANDA, JEFFREY DID ADMIT THAT HIS BROTHER KENNY HAD GIVEN HIM A PILL THAT HIS WIFE TAKES FOR ARTHRITIS AND PAIN. A DRE EVALUATION WAS DONE ON JEFFREY. THE INFORMATION PROVIDED IN THIS COMPLAINT IS BASED ON THIS OFFICERS INVESTIGATION.

According to Mr. Jones’ brother, they picked his truck up later that same day/night at the local impound for the exorbitant sum of $350.00, and it was driven home, with a vehicle following behind.  The brake lights worked just fine.  The narrative included no allegations of improper driving.  That means, the only basis for the stop was for a improper equipment violation which didn’t exist.  In other words, it appears to be a lie.  Without improper driving, what other information did this deputy have to want to stop Mr. Jones?  The only information he had was the color of Mr. Jones’ skin.  This is unfortunate, but not unheard of.  The same basis was used to stop my client Antonio Tolliver.  That state trooper is now a former state trooper.

What does that mean?  If the State/Prosecutor can’t prove that the vehicle had no brake lights, in light of testimony and evidence from Mr. Jones’ family and friends that the car’s brake lights worked just fine, the stop will have been illegal.  Under the “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine, everything that happened subsequently, is inadmissible in court.  Even assuming the blood draw was legal, which is a big “if,” and the supposed statement about the pill for arthritis and pain was legal, they cannot be used against Mr. Jones.  The arrest, and everything which happened afterwards,  is unconstitutional and illegal.

So he’s driving perfectly normal, gets pulled over for an equipment violation which doesn’t exist, gets put through field sobriety tests and supposedly fails.  So why at that point didn’t they give him a breathalyzer?  Instead they call Deputy Junk Science to arrive, who took a class on recognizing people who had taken prescription drugs?  Then forcibly taken to a hospital and forcibly withdraw blood from his body? He was driving normally, and wasn’t bothering anyone.  The only thing he did wrong was drive into a notorious speed trap, where officers are itching to pull over someone who looks like they’re coming down from one of the rust belt cities with a load of heroin.  Which brings us back to racial profiling.  It would be interesting to look at some of the other cases of stops on Route 19 in Summersville over the past few years.


Yesterday, WVVA ran a story about Jeffrey Jones, a man local to Greenbrier County, who had an unfortunate encounter with the police in Summersville, West Virginia – a place with the reputation as a well known speed trap extortion racket.  As a disclaimer, I don’t represent him in any way, but I do know the man since he works at my local Kroger.  He is the nicest guy, always smiling, and always helpful.  Everyone loves him.  What other grocery store employee has customers that take photos such as these?

 

These photos speak for themselves, which were posted on the WVVA website.  From the article:

SUMMERSVILLE, W.Va. (WVVA) Jeffrey Jones of Lewisburg is no stranger to hard knocks. As a child, he battled Spinal Meningitis, a condition that left him 90 percent deaf and with one leg longer than the other.

“Growing up, I had Meningitis. Everyone always thought I was stupid because I couldn’t hear. And because I was the smallest in the class, everyone picked on me.”

Despite the physical limitations, Jones said he never misses at day of work keeping track of the carts at the Ronceverte Kroger; the same place where his family said he was hit by a car a couple years ago and broke a hip.

“He stops and checks on everyone everywhere he goes,” said his friend Brianna Barkley. “There’s not a person that’s a stranger. He spreads happiness and friendship to everyone he sees.”

That job may be in jeopardy after Jones said he was unlawfully stopped by a Nicholas County Sheriff’s deputy on Sunday, August 5th, for a broken brake light. He was arrested and charged with Driving Under the Influence (DUI).

Then there was a phone call from a local legislator, to the Attorney General’s Office on his behalf:

Through his work at Kroger over the years, Jones has made friends from all walks of life, including Greenbrier County Del. Jeff Campbell, (D) 42nd Dist., who on Tuesday, personally requested the West Virginia Attorney General’s Office for an investigation.

“I would like to see the charges dismissed. I would like to see the $350 he spent to get his truck out of impound reimbursed. I think his wages should be reimbursed. And I’d like to see an apology.”

Oops.  So the Summersville Chief of Police contacts the news station and makes a stunning denial:

UPDATE: Summersville Police Chief John Nowak said Thursday his officers did not participate in the arrest of Jeffrey Jones on Sunday, August 5th.

Although Patrolman R.L. McClung with the Summersville Police Dept. signed both pages of the criminal complaint, the chief said the officer merely notarized the document for the arresting officer, Deputy J.D. Ellison with the Nicholas County Sheriff’s Dept.

Ok, say what?  Your officer “notarized” a criminal complaint?  Here is a sample Criminal Complaint, which is actually a form provided by the West Virginia Supreme Court, from a recent case of mine (which resulted in a large settlement and an officer being fired):

ExampleCriminalComplaint

As you can see, there is no signature block for a “notarization.”  Criminal Complaints, which are standardized forms meant to comply with state and federal constitutional requirements applicable to the process of putting a person temporarily behind bars, are signed by the “Complainant,” who is almost always a sworn law enforcement officer.

The Criminal Complaint notes that the complainant must be present in person before the Magistrate, who will authorize the arrest and subsequent incarceration, assuming the Magistrate believes probable cause exists based on the sworn written testimony/explanation offered by the Complainant/Police Officer.

In my 12 years of experience practicing law around the State of West Virginia, I have never heard of a police officer “notarizing” the Criminal Complaint of another police officer.  And being a civil rights lawyer, I have examined probably thousands of Criminal Complaints.  It would be understandable for one officer to draft and sign the complaint where there were multiple officers involved.  They don’t all have to sign their name to the complaint.  But I’ve never heard of another officer, from an entirely different agency, who wasn’t even present at the incident/arrest, to apply under oath for the signature of the Magistrate, which is effectively an arrest warrant.  That would be hearsay, and would not establish probable cause.  No competent Magistrate would sign such a Criminal Complaint.  The only exception would be, if the Magistrate did not know because that fact was concealed.

I’m not posting Mr. Jones’ Criminal Complaint, but somebody has some explaining to do in Summersville.  I wonder how many other arrests/tickets given by the county sheriff’s department were actually signed by a city police officer in Summersville, given their reputation as a well known speed trap extortion operation?  Hmmm.  Like all the old ways in West Virginia, it all comes down to money.  Maybe when the legislature finishes cleaning up the Supreme Court mess, they can come follow this money trail in Summersville.  I’m sure he isn’t the only victim – just one innocent enough to have people stand behind him.

August 16, 2018 Posted by | Corruption, Judges, Magistrates, Media Coverage, Misdemeanors, Police, Police Misconduct, Vehicular Crimes | 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.

IMG_6230.JPEG

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

Monroe County Jury Verdict in Elder Financial Abuse Case

Last week I tried a four day jury trial in the Circuit Court of Monroe County, West Virginia, for a 98 year old lady named Isadora Beavers. On July 23, 2013, she walked into my office in her black and white polka dot dress, and hat, and demanded to see me. She told me that she had a power of attorney whom she suspected was stealing from her. She told me that her power of attorney was also the Vice President of her bank, and that she had been unable to get copies of her bank statements. That same day I helped her revoke the power of attorney and, at her request, demanded copies of ten years of her bank records from her bank.

Shortly afterwards she fell and was admitted into the hospital. I visited her in the hospital and told her what I had found in the past few years of her bank records – primarily lots of “cash” checks. I asked her if she spent much cash. She told me no, that she grew up in the Great Depression era and was thrifty with her money. She did admit that she indulged in getting a fancy haircut every once and awhile. And she liked to eat at Shoney’s. I told her that a deed existed giving her power of attorney joint ownership of all of her real estate, with a right of survivorship. She said, no, that property was supposed to go to her family after her death.

Not long after she began to decline pretty quickly. She started to suffer from dementia. Family members arrived in the area and petitioned the court to become her guardians and conservators, which was granted. They later contacted me and asked me to get the real estate back so they could finance the best possible medical care for Isadora. We demanded the return of the real estate. The response from the ex-power of attorney was that she would deed the property back, but wanted a release from liability in exchange for it. Not surprisingly, this offended pretty much all of Isadora’s relatives, and they gave me the go-ahead to sue her.

Last week, we presented the overwhelming evidence to the jury. They returned with a plaintiffs’ verdict on all counts: fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, conversion and unjust enrichment. They awarded $326,771.06 in damages against the defendant, Betty B. Brown. That included $175,000.00 of punitive damages.

In my closing argument, I asked the jury to send a message that financial abuse of the elderly will not be tolerated. I believe they sent that message loud and clear.  By the way, all money collected is going to Isadora to fund her medical care and expenses.  The defendant is going to be reasonable for paying all of our attorney fees and expenses as well.

Media Reports:

Former bank exec is liable in elder abuse suit

Jury awards $325K to elderly victim of financial abuse

State woman to pay $325,000 in elder abuse case

In the courtroom with some of Isadora Beavers’ nieces and nephews immediately following the verdict:

IMG_4623 copy

December 19, 2014 Posted by | Civil Liability, Corruption, Embezzlement, Financial Abuse of Elderly, Fraud, John H. Bryan, Juries, Lawsuits, Lawyers, Media Coverage, Trials | Leave a comment

Former Prosecuting Attorney of Pocahontas County Indicted. Update: Kanawha Prosecuting Attorney also charged and currently “embattled”.

I don’t usually post many news headlines anymore, unless they involve my cases.  But, here goes.

The former prosecuting attorney of Pocahontas County, West Virginia, Donna Price, was just indicted.  She joins another now-former elected prosecuting attorney in West Virginia in recent prosecutor indictments (Michael Sparks out of Mingo County).  Prosecutors all over the state are probably loosening their collars.

Apparently she is being charged with embezzlement.  I have no idea what actually happened, so I’ll just point out that she is innocent until proven guilty.

And I have posted about her before.  In one of my most popular posts ever – from back in 2009 – Cops and Prosecutors Part Deux.

Local News Story Link.

Link to a copy of the Indictment.

Just as a side note: the former assistant prosecuting attorney of Pocahontas County mentioned in the “Part Deux” post, J.L. Clifton, was also indicted last year, as per this article.

Edited to add:  Also, if you didn’t get your fill of reading about West Virginia prosecutors who are being prosecuted, check out these articles about Kanawha County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Plants.  Yes he is being prosecuted.  No he won’t resign.

Kanawha Prosecutor Arrested.

Some Worry Kanawha County Prosecutor Has Lost Credibility.

New Questions Surrounding Ethics of Mark Plants.

Kanawha Prosecutor Defies Calls to Resign.

 

Maybe it’s time for Cops and Prosecutors Part III – 2014 Update.

April 14, 2014 Posted by | Corruption, Embezzlement, Lawyers, Media Coverage, Prosecutors, White Collar Crime | Leave a comment

Two more thoughts of the day: 1) Without video proof, police misconduct didn’t occur; 2) Sex offender registration mania is out of control

It blows my mind that this is on video, but it is.  A scumball cop in Ohio abused his authority and violated the civil rights of an innocent citizen.  He basically threatened to execute the guy, etc.  Of course the poor guy is then prosecuted for “failure to notify” that he had a concealed weapon permit and was carrying.  I heard through the grapevine that in the criminal prosecution which ensued (of the victim of course – not the cop) the prosecutor offered to dismiss the charges if the victim/defendant signed a release of liability foreclosing any possibility of a lawsuit over civil rights violations.  If this is true (and I have no proof that it is), the prosecutor should be prosecuted for attempting to cover up a crime.  I just found this statement from the police chief in that jurisdiction:

I want to assure our citizens that the behavior, as demonstrated in this video, is wholly unacceptable and in complete contradiction to the professional standards we demand of our officers. As such, appropriate steps were placed in motion as dictated by our standards, policies and contractual obligations. Those steps included: The officer immediately being relieved of all duty. The incident has been referred to the Internal Affairs Bureau for what will be a complete and thorough investigation. As bad as the video indicates our officer’s actions were, there is a due process procedure to follow. That process is designed in the best interest of both our employees and the citizens at large. That process will be followed in this case as in all others. Anyone shown to be in violation of our rules and regulations will be help appropriately responsible as dictated by all the facts. ~Chief Dean McKimm

The 800 pound gorilla in the room is this: if the video did not exist, nobody would believe the victim.  And it blows my mind that the video was recovered.  By the way, if you watch the video, take note of the illegal search of the backseat of the car which happens almost immediately after the stop.  This sort of garbage happens all the time.  After the fact the cops will claim to have received consent to search the vehicle.  There was no consent, and there was no probable cause to search.

Secondly, there is a story out today about 14 year old boys being required to register as sex offenders due to a high school prank.  It’s time to tell the whining hippy women and the “new-castrati” that enough is enough with this sex offender garbage.  Of course it has its place with real sex offenders.  But this has gotten out of control.  I’m tired of seeing this ruin the lives of good young people.  The sex offender laws are too broad.  Then once we label good people as “sex offenders”, it ruins their lives.  Not only this, but it waters down the real purpose of having registered sex offenders.  So what’s the point?

If you were wondering what the law is in West Virginia, it is basically this: if there is any conviction of an individual and the presiding judge makes a finding that the offense was “sexually motivated” in any way, that person then becomes a registered sex offender.  It doesn’t have to be an actual sex offense charge.

July 21, 2011 Posted by | Civil Liability, Corruption, Governmental Liability, Police, Police Misconduct, Prosecutors, Sex Crimes, Sex Offender Registration, West Virginia Concealed Carry Laws, West Virginia Gun Laws | 2 Comments

United Bank VP we sued to plead guilty in federal court

The State Journal ran a story today entitled “Guilty Pleas Expected in Development Scam” announcing that a former United Bank Vice President and loan officer who we sued as a part of our Walnut Springs Mountain Reserve civil fraud case, “R. Leon Cooper” has agreed to plead guilty to federal crimes as part of a plea deal.

The conduct supporting the plea has to do with fraud which occurred in the development of the “Lamplighter” subdivision in Lewisburg, WV.  The story also noted that:

As part of the guilty pleas, both Carter and Cooper agreed to cooperate with the U.S. Attorney’s office on further investigations. Both Carter and Cooper also will forfeit nearly $2 million in valued property.

Carter is scheduled to enter his guilty plea Jan. 6 in Beckley. Cooper’s plea has been scheduled for Jan. 13 in Beckley.

Cooper was the former Fayette Planning Commission president involved in the failed River Ridge development in Fayetteville.

That development crumbled when sewer plans for the development were prematurely approved so loans Cooper facilitated through United Bank could be approved for property purchasers, according to lawsuits filed concerning that development.

Cooper also has been named in a civil lawsuit filed in the failed Walnut Springs development in Monroe County.

The Monroe County lawsuit is pending.

There also was a story in the Charleston Gazette yesterday that United Bank paid $15,000,000.00 in fraud settlements in 2009 alone.  And we wonder why the economy collapsed….  The Gazette also ran a story on Friday on the Cooper fraud.  The banks have been running absolutely wild.  We are still sorting out how many innocent U.S. citizens were harmed due to bank fraud in the mid to late 2000’s.  It is a big deal for these two West Virginia publications to start reporting on United Bank’s dirty laundry.  For those of you who don’t know, United Bank basically runs the state of West Virginia.  It is the “state’s largest bank” and many, many people and institutions in West Virginia are afraid of it.  But once the cat’s out of the bag, it’s out.  I suspect we will read more soon.

Ok, here’s more:  A Virginia businessman, Osama M. El-Atari, 31, pled guilty to bank fraud totaling $53,000,000 in fraudulent loans.  Guess who else was involved?  That’s right, United Bank.  A United Bank Vice President and loan officer (same general position as Cooper), Sissaye Gezachew, 32, was arrested and pled guilty to bank fraud for his involvement with El-Atari. See Washington Post article and FBI press release.  Banks do not exactly advertise these incidents, or even explain them, to their customers or shareholders.  In fact, they don’t even let their mortgagees who have been victims of fraud know about the fraud.  Rather, they pretend it never happened and demand their money.  Then they foreclose and threaten to garnish wages.  Of course you would still be safer with United Bank than dealing with United Bank of Africa.

January 6, 2011 Posted by | Civil Liability, Corruption, Fraud, Lawsuits, Plea Agreements, United Bank Lawsuit | Leave a comment

Federal lawsuit against Wood County Sheriff’s Department in the news

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?

UPDATE: (10/28/10)

Other Media Links for this case:

WTAP article

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.)

News and Sentinel

Daily Mail

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….

October 27, 2010 Posted by | Civil Liability, Corruption, DOJ, Governmental Liability, John H. Bryan, Lawsuits, Police, Police Misconduct | Leave a comment

WVSP feeling the heat, and deservedly so.

The latest of Charleston Gazette reporter Gary Harki’s article critical of the WVSP is, to me anyways, an absolute bombshell – though not surprising in the least.  Usually in the media you find brown-nosed reporting with regards to law enforcement, usually which talks about all the criminals who were arrested and/or charged.  Harki has had the gusto to take on the West Virginia State Police in a big way.

The 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 crime.  But I was surprised to see Harki’s article titled, “prosecutor not told ex-trooper falsified log“.  Apparently the WVSP “investigation” into Snavely uncovered the fact that Snavely falsified his duty log for the evening when he was accused of his wrongdoing.  However, they apparently chose to leave that tidbit out of the investigation report which went to the prosecutor.  So Harki finds out about this from attorney Mike Clifford.  Harki then goes to the prosecutor who made the call.  And he is apparently pissed, and rightfully so – since it was published as being his decision not to prosecute Snavely.  And of course, as usual, the WVSP is angry at the attorney – at Clifford!  It was his fault – he shouldn’t have told Harki.

We have a culture of secrecy in the WVSP.  Even though for the most part they are good and law abiding officers, the top brass have have made some decisions which undermine the public’s trust and confidence in their integrity.  If you have a public official who has done something wrong, the public needs to know about it, and the public wants to know about it.  If covered up, the public gets pissed.  And the coverup is always worse than the crime.  If they would just throw the bad officers under the bus where they belong, from the very beginning, the WVSP would come out smelling like a rose.  It would reinforce our confidence in law enforcement.

Instead we have the awful situation where an innocent citizen can have his civil rights violated by some cowboy cop, and there’s nothing the person can do about it.  What can they do?  Call the police?  Yeah right.  Call the West Virginia State Police?  Yeah right.  Call the Governor?  You just get a form letter in return.  Call your congressman?  You just get a form letter.  Call the FBI?  Do you have any idea how many complaints they probably get?  Without something more to lend legitimacy to your complaint, there is about a 99% chance they will do nothing about it.  The only thing you can do is get a civil lawyer on your side.  Someone who has the guts to sue the WVSP, and to put up with the WVSP verbally accosting them in every newspaper article rather than commenting on their troopers’ misconduct.

July 19, 2010 Posted by | Civil Liability, Corruption, Governmental Liability, Lawsuits, Lawyers, Police, Police Misconduct, Prosecutors, State Agencies | 1 Comment

Law enforcement is [apparently] not a profession – Part 2

In the news today – college kid in federal court on trial for hacking into Sarah Palin’s email account – facing 50 years in the federal penitentiary.  Meanwhile, in West Virginia….

(can you see where this is going?)

Police officer, while on duty and using official resources, hacks into his ex-wife’s personal email account in the same exact way, downloads the emails and attempts to use them as evidence in a child custody proceeding, and then admits to doing so.  Federal indictment? Facing 50 years in federal prison?  Fired?  Nope, none of the above.

Could a lawyer do that?  No, he would get in big trouble.  But it’s pretty darn hard to get in trouble if you are a county or city police officer in West Virginia, especially the Ohio County Sheriff’s Department (Wheeling, West Virginia).

Here myself and another lawyer, Thomas E. White, from Moundsville, West Virginia, have teamed up to help give justice to a former law enforcement spouse who alleges that she suffered, and continues to suffer, due to her ex-husband’s position as a police officer, and to attempt to do the county’s job (for them) of providing discipline and accountability to the Sheriff’s Department there.

View this document on Scribd

April 23, 2010 Posted by | Civil Liability, Corruption, Governmental Liability, Lawsuits, Police, Police Misconduct | Leave a comment