WV Civil Rights Lawyer

Police Misconduct, Civil Rights Law

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

Excessive Force Lawsuit Filed Against Logan County Deputy

The Charleston Gazette-Mail today reported on a lawsuit we filed late last week against a Logan County police officer for the use of excessive force against Mark Messer.

Here is the article:

Lawsuit: Logan deputy’s excessive force led to 17-day coma, long-term injuries

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Mark Messer was never convicted of any crime.  However, during his arrest, his life was changed forever due to having his skull crushed on the asphalt by a Logan County, West Virginia deputy.

When Johnson began to walk Messer to his police vehicle, Messer turned his head and asked Johnson, “Who do you work for, the State Police, or the county?” according to the lawsuit.

The deputy “aggressively” replied, according to Messer’s lawsuit, then tripped Messer and pushed him to the ground. “Witnesses observed Johnson purposefully slamming plaintiff into the ground, in an apparent action in response to plaintiff’s question,” the lawsuit states.

 

With his hands cuffed behind him, Messer fell face-first onto the ground, as witnesses heard his head and face “loudly crack” on the ground and saw him “immediately start bleeding profusely,” according to the lawsuit.

 

Here is a previous post on the plight of Mark Messer, from back when he was still in a coma:

In the news: our client is on life support after use of force during an arrest

Katrina Seabolt says she witnessed a Logan County Sheriff’s deputy throw her brother to the ground about three weeks ago….

Mark Messer, 54, has been on life support in a Charleston hospital ever since an incident on Mud River Road in Logan on Aug. 18.

“It’s under investigation right now,” Logan Chief Deputy Mike Mayes said on Friday. “Whenever it involves use of force, this office investigates it.”….

Messer’s family has hired Monroe County lawyer John Bryan. He said last week that no one from the sheriff’s department has reached out to the family since the incident.

“My goals are to find out what happened,” Bryan said. “I want any documentation from law enforcement about the incident.”

Mark Messer was forced to go through an extended period of rehabilitation.  He had to relearn how to walk; how to talk.  Still, he never received any communications from Logan County.  Not an apology.  Not a conclusion to their “investigation.”  Not compensation for his severe life-long medical injuries.  Fortunately, he has the option of going to the federal courts to seek justice.

April 10, 2018 Posted by | Civil Liability, Excessive Force, Governmental Liability, John H. Bryan, Lawsuits, Media Coverage, Police, Police Misconduct, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

So you want to sue the police, Part II

Back in 2010, I wrote a post entitled, So you want to sue the police . . . . , and it has had an overwhelming number of reads.  Well, it’s been 8 years since then, and I’ve learned a lot  I’ve tried cases since then.  Appealed cases.  Settled cases.  Won cases.  Lost cases.  I’ve reviewed probably thousands of allegations.  Since this appears to continue to be a popular topic, here is part II.

  •  Have documentation.  When people call our office about allegations of police misconduct, and/or civil rights violations, we first ask them if they have any documentation.  Here is what we need:
    • Police Report.  This could be what is referred to in West Virginia as a “Criminal Complaint.”  Or, it could be any other official report containing a narrative, or version of the events, written by a police officer.
    • Medical Records.  If the complaint is that injuries were caused by the police, we would like to see documentation of those injuries.  Was there a hospital visit, or doctor’s office visit pertaining to the injuries?  If so, you are entitled to the records, and we will need to review them.
    • Photographs.  Again, if the complaint is that injuries were caused by the police, we would like to see photographs of the injuries.
    • Video Footage.  It goes without saying that if video footage exists of the incident, we want to see it.  It may be the case that footage exists, but the police are in possession of the video.  In West Virginia, and most states, there is a right on behalf of private citizens to request that footage.  This is called a Freedom of Information Act Request, or FOIA request.   If criminal charges were filed, a defendant is going to have a right to receive a copy of the footage.
  • Don’t Wait.  In West Virginia, you generally have 2 years to file a lawsuit based on a civil rights violation.  Other states may have different statutes of limitations periods, even though they are all the same type of claim under federal law.  In some cases it could be less.  Don’t wait 2 years and then call us the day before the statute of limitations expires.  We will not take the case.  Yes, people do this.
    • Witnesses.  Witness recollection of incidents gets worse over time.  Witnesses may die and their testimony may be lost forever.
    • Evidence.  Some evidence disappears with time.  911 records and transcripts may disappear in as little as 30 days if not requested.
  • Do not make a formal complaint to the police.  At least not without acting through competent legal counsel.  Police should never investigate themselves. But that’s exactly what happens in West Virginia, and many other states.  In regards to the West Virginia State Police, in particular, and other larger agencies, this is a huge mistake that people make.  Why?
    • Witness Intimidation.  If an individual makes a formal complaint, for instance to the State Police, they are presented with a piece of paper they are forced to sign which warns them that they will be prosecuted if they are found to have given false information.  This is purely a threat meant to having a chilling effect and to scare off victims of police misconduct who would otherwise complain.
    • Interrogation.  The next thing that happens is, an “investigator” from the agency will want to interview you.  This is not an actual unbiased interview.  This is an interrogation.  They will, perhaps secretly, record the questioning.  Without a lawyer present, a detective will perform an interrogation. They will ask you leading questions.  They will essentially take your deposition, but without your lawyer present.  You will not be given a copy of the recording.  The agency will save it, and later use the recording against you in court.  I have seen it happen many times.
    • Building a defense.  The “investigator” will obtain information from you – not for the purposes of determining whether the complaint is justified, but for the purposes of undermining your allegations.  If you tell them a particular person witnessed the event, they can now go confront that person.  They can tailor their defense to counter your exact allegations.  I am generalizing.  Of course some investigators are honest and will do the right thing.  But for the purposes of protecting yourself, you should assume they are not.
    • Photographs.  If the complaint pertained to excessive force, or resulted in injuries, the “investigator” will take photographs of you.  These photographs may be taken at a time when injuries have become less visible, or healed.  They may be taken in such a way as to minimize their appearance, rather than to document the truth.
  • Call an attorney experienced in civil rights law as soon as possible.  You can’t call just any lawyer for a civil rights case.  The area of civil rights, and in particular police misconduct, is a small niche area of the practice of law. Most licensed lawyers will be inexperienced in civil rights law.  There are only a handful of competent civil rights plaintiffs’ lawyers in West Virginia who regularly handle these types of cases.  I often get referrals from other lawyers across West Virginia who encounter clients with civil rights complaints. There are special aspects of the law in these types of cases that have nothing to do with automobile accident cases, or even criminal defense cases.  Make sure whichever lawyer you call can demonstrate a record of successfully handling these types of cases.  For years, I have been teaching other lawyers, government leaders, and law enforcement administrators, seminars on the law of police liability and civil rights litigation.

March 29, 2018 Posted by | Civil Liability, Excessive Force, Governmental Liability, John H. Bryan, Lawsuits, Lawyers, Police, Police Misconduct, Searches and Seizures, Trials | Leave a comment