WV Civil Rights Lawyer

Police Misconduct, Civil Rights Law

Braxton County Wrongful Arrest Case Working its Way through the System…. Can you lie to the police in West Virginia?

I don’t believe I ever posted on this case:

https://wvrecord.com/stories/511259277-woman-sues-braxton-county-sheriff-s-deputy-after-allegedly-being-unlawfully-incarcerated

The Rosa O’Neal Fourth Amendment case against Braxton County, and Deputy Bryce Scarbro.  This is an interesting case because it brings up what is commonly referred to as a “Franks Claim.”

In West Virginia, unless a warrantless arrest is made, that means that a police officer usually wrote out a “Criminal Complaint,” and submitted it to a magistrate for their approval.  This is basically an affidavit for an arrest warrant.  If the arrest was “wrongful,” you can’t sue the magistrate because they have absolute immunity.  You can only sue the police officer who submitted the document to the magistrate.

If the magistrate approved it, then there is basically a presumption that there was probable cause, and therefore not a wrongful arrest.  That leaves you in the position of proving that the officer who wrote the arrest warrant application included false statements, or material omissions, and that they did so with a certain degree of incompetency, or intentionally.

So generally, to sue for Wrongful Arrest in West Virginia:

  1.  If there was no arrest warrant, you can just prove there was no probable cause;
  2. If there was an arrest warrant (Criminal Complaint signed by a magistrate), then you are required to show false or misleading information was included in the affidavit to the magistrate which, had it been known to the magistrate, probably would not have been signed because there would have been no probable cause.

We are dealing with option No. 2, which isn’t easy.  So, did the police officer mislead the magistrate, and was it just a stupid or reasonable mistake, or was it really incompetent and/or done maliciously or purposefully?

Rosa O’Neal was a 66 year old lady who had never been in trouble in her life, who was physically arrested for allegedly lying to a deputy about two fairly innocuous facts.  She spent 15 hours in jail, and then was released onto the side of the road to hitchhike home.

I took the deputy’s deposition, and he claimed that it is always illegal to lie to a deputy in West Virginia, and because he’s Mr. Truth and Justice, and had her arrested.  That’s just not true.  It’s only illegal to lie to a deputy if it pertains to a material topic for an official felony investigation.  It’s not illegal to lie about a misdemeanor investigation, per se.  And it’s not illegal to lie about something irrelevant; or about something that’s not part of an investigation….

Lies to a police officer in West Virginia? Depends on what the officer is investigating:

  1. Felony Investigation:  A person who, with intent to impede or obstruct a law-enforcement officer in the conduct of an investigation of a felony offense, knowingly and willfully makes a materially false statement is guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction thereof, shall be fined not less than $25 nor more than $200, or confined in jail for five days, or both fined and confined.  The provisions of this section do not apply to statements made by a spouse, parent, stepparent, grandparent, sibling, half sibling, child, stepchild or grandchild, whether related by blood or marriage, of the person under investigation.  Statements made by the person under investigation may not be used as the basis for prosecution under this subsection.  For purposes of this subsection, law-enforcement officer does not include a watchman, a member of the West Virginia State Police or college security personnel who is not a certified law-enforcement officer.
  2. Misdemeanor Investigation: A person who by threats, menaces, acts or otherwise forcibly or illegally hinders or obstructs or attempts to hinder or obstruct a law-enforcement officer, probation officer or parole officer acting in his or her official capacity is guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction thereof, shall be fined not less than $50 nor more than $500 or confined in jail not more than one year, or both fined and confined.

So option 2 is your basic obstruction.  It actually doesn’t say anything about lying.

Anyways, discovery was completed in the O’Neal case.  Depositions were taken, and everything has been submitted to the federal judge, who will decide whether the evidence is sufficient to present to a jury…..

January 31, 2019 Posted by | Civil Liability, John H. Bryan, Lawsuits, Magistrates, Media Coverage, Wrongful Arrest, Wrongful Imprisonment | Leave a comment

Federal Judge Rules First Amendment Civil Rights Lawsuit against Richard Ojeda will proceed

Today we finally received a ruling in the Woolsey v. Ojeda civil rights lawsuit.  Here is the order we just now received from the federal judge:

Woolsey v. Ojeda, Memorandum Opinion and Order, January 30, 2019

The federal court found that Richard Ojeda was acting under color of law when he went on his Facebook Live tirade against my client, and also that by doing so in response to my client posting a critical video, if true, it was a violation of my client’s First Amendment rights:

In sum, under the facts pled in Plaintiff’s complaint, the totality of the circumstances points to a conclusion that Defendant acted under color of state law in both posting the response video to his official Facebook page and making a phone call to Plaintiff’s employer in an effort to have Plaintiff fired. Defendant’s motion to dismiss the complaint on this basis is therefore DENIED.

….

Plaintiff has demonstrated that in response to the video Plaintiff posted, Defendant contacted Plaintiff’s employer in order to pressure the owner to fire Plaintiff. Accordingly, Plaintiff has adequately pled a First Amendment violation, and Defendant’s motion to dismiss the complaint on this basis is DENIED.

This is a huge win for the constitutional rights of individual citizens, and is on its way to establish a new benchmark on the application of First Amendment rights to politicians and social media…..

January 30, 2019 Posted by | Civil Liability, Elections, First Amendment, Governmental Liability, John H. Bryan, Lawsuits, Lawyers, Media Coverage | Leave a comment

Another civil rights case settled….

This was actually a few weeks back and was posted on our Facebook.  For posterity, I’ll post here as well….

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This is my client, Robert McPherson. Today we reached a settlement in our lawsuit against the City of Hinton, WV and former police chief, Derek Snavely.

This case was on the front page of the Charleston Gazette-Mail a month or so back, which published a full copy of the federal lawsuit:

https://www.wvgazettemail.com/…/article_13d20637-f1d0-5c6e-…

“John Bryan, a Union-based attorney representing Robert McPherson, a man who filed a lawsuit in the Southern District of West Virginia against Snavely and the city of Hinton alleging excessive force by Snavely, said he wasn’t surprised to hear about the former police chief’s troubles of three weeks ago. Bryan said he had heard several people voicing concern about Snavely for a while.

“This is kind of a problem West Virginia has — if someone leaves a position, even if they should [leave] for a good reason, it’s cheaper to hire them on somewhere else instead of hiring someone who doesn’t have that certification,” Bryan said. “Unless that certification is gone, they are probably going to be picked up somewhere else.”

In his lawsuit, McPherson alleges that, in January 2016, Snavely punched him in the face — unprovoked — before proceeding to “violently beat” him outside a Kroger store.”

More about the lawsuit, and Snavely, here, on my blog:

https://wvcriminaldefenseattorney.wordpress.com/…/mcpherso…/

The terms provide for an award of $75,000.00 to Mr. McPherson. It’s always easier to make a client happy when you get to give him money, instead of the other way around.
😄 I’m glad it all worked out in the end.

Update: Charleston Gazette-Mail article: https://www.wvgazettemail.com/…/article_304c067d-079f-5ae8-…

October 23, 2018 Posted by | Excessive Force, Governmental Liability, John H. Bryan, Lawsuits, Lawyers, Media Coverage, Police, Police Misconduct, Searches and Seizures | Leave a comment

The moment I saved this young man’s life….

 

Somebody sent me a copy of audio which was recorded almost a decade ago at a criminal felony jury trial.  It is the audio of my closing argument to the jury in a First Degree Arson Trial in February of 2010.  Wow, it brought back memories.  Here is the last 11 and a half minutes of it.  Listen to how I hand the case over to the jury at the end…..   I got that from Gerry Spence.

People ask lawyers all the time: do you ever think your client is guilty? The worst possible scenario as a trial lawyer is to be responsible for defending someone who is actually innocent, and screw something up.  This young man was innocent.  Yet he was facing 20 years in prison.  His family came to me and asked me to save their son.  He had done a stupid, ridiculous thing, and had given a false confession to a girl over the telephone, for some reason thinking it would impress her.  He bragged that he started a fire which had burned down a big barn, which had been a local mystery up to that point.  But he didn’t actually do it.  But…. he was caught on a recorded phone conversation stating that he did.

He was charged with first degree arson.  I ended up proving to the jury that he had lied about it, and that he was actually innocent.  Talk about a difficult task.  But I did it.  This was the fastest I’ve ever had a jury return a verdict.  It took maybe 6 or 7 minutes.  This guy/kid could have spent the last decade sitting in prison….

Choosing a lawyer is an important decision.  With this audio, you can hear an example of me speaking for somebody in court, in a situation when that individual’s liberty was at stake, and see the end result.  Pretty cool.

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October 18, 2018 Posted by | Arson, John H. Bryan, Juries, Lawyers, Trials | Leave a comment

McPherson Case makes front page news this morning

This morning, investigative reporter Catie Coyne had a great article on the front page of the Charleston Gazette-Mail about the McPherson case, and the firing of Hinton police chief, Derek Snavely.

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I’ve been doing this for awhile.  Usually after the news dies down, a fired police officer will quietly appear somewhere else – usually a small municipality or county somewhere. I’ve seen it happen again and again.  When the reporter called me about the case, I shared my frustration with her.

The Hinton police chief — who is the target of a federal lawsuit filed in December alleging that he used excessive force on a Summers County man by beating him and hitting him three times with a stun gun without provocation — was terminated this week based on his “job performance,” according to Hinton City Councilman Larry Meadow….

John Bryan, a Union-based attorney representing Robert McPherson, a man who filed a lawsuit in the Southern District of West Virginia against Snavely and the city of Hinton alleging excessive force by Snavely, said he wasn’t surprised to hear about the former police chief’s troubles of three weeks ago. Bryan said he had heard several people voicing concern about Snavely for a while.

“This is kind of a problem West Virginia has — if someone leaves a position, even if they should [leave] for a good reason, it’s cheaper to hire them on somewhere else instead of hiring someone who doesn’t have that certification,” Bryan said. “Unless that certification is gone, they are probably going to be picked up somewhere else.”

August 23, 2018 Posted by | Civil Liability, Excessive Force, Governmental Liability, John H. Bryan, Lawsuits, Media Coverage, Police, Police Misconduct | Leave a comment

My early training as a trial attorney

I recently found some old photos of my experience as a captain of the UCF Trial Team, one of the best mock trial programs in the country in the early 2000’s.

https://www.facebook.com/JohnBryanLaw/posts/1052250548310140

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August 22, 2018 Posted by | John H. Bryan, Trials | Leave a comment

Police Chief we sued in federal court is the subject of a scathing TV news report today.

Awhile back, we filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the City of Hinton and its police chief, Derek Snavely.  Mr. Snavely was no stranger to the media, even then. Here is the Complaint:

McPherson v. Snavely, et al.

Well, he is back in the news this morning.  Check out this TV news clip from WVNS.

WVNS – Hinton police chief on leave; forced to turn in service weapon, badge and police cruiser

August 16, 2018 Posted by | Civil Liability, Excessive Force, Governmental Liability, John H. Bryan, Lawsuits, Lawyers, Media Coverage | 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

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

UPDATE: 8/24/18:  We are still waiting on a ruling from the Court on the pending motion to dismiss.

Sen. Ojeda’s Motion to Dismiss

David Woolsey’s Response to Motion to Dismiss


 

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 | 2 Comments