WV Civil Rights Lawyer

Police Misconduct, Civil Rights Law

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

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.  You generally have 2 years to file a lawsuit based on a civil rights violation.  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

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

New Summary of the Sawyer v. Asbury Opinion

I just went back through the Sawyer v. Asbury opinion in this post on the Use of Force Source.  If you have followed the case on this blog, it’s interesting to take a step back and analyze the Court’s ruling as it finds its place in Fourth Circuit excessive force case law.

April 9, 2014 Posted by | Civil Liability, Excessive Force, Governmental Liability, John H. Bryan, Judges, Juries, Lawsuits, Lawyers, Police, Police Misconduct, Trials | Leave a comment

New Online Resource for Use of Force law

I started a new website called “Use of Force Source” at UseofForceSource.com.  The purpose is to establish an online resource to discuss and compile Fourth Circuit federal case law, and U.S. Supreme Court case law on the use of physical force – both police situations and self defense situations.  I have already listed a bunch of black letter law on excessive force in the Fourth Circuit (so Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina and South Carolina).  It will be a blog format, and will be specific to use of force cases.  My intention is to post about specific cases, going over the facts, as well as the law.  I also like to listen to the oral argument audio since it gives you much more insight into the case and the reasoning behind the Court’s decisions.

I already posted my first post today, discussing the November of 2013 Fourth Circuit opinion from Ayala v. Wolfe, which was a police shooting case.

March 20, 2014 Posted by | Appeals, Civil Liability, Concealed Weapons, Excessive Force, John H. Bryan, Lawyers, Police, Police Misconduct, Self Defense | Leave a comment

Federal civil rights lawsuit filed out of Mercer County, WV, alleging denial of medical care for an epilepsy victim

View this document on Scribd

January 31, 2014 Posted by | Civil Liability, Denial of Medical Care, Excessive Force, Governmental Liability, John H. Bryan, Lawyers, Police, Police Misconduct | Leave a comment

West Virginia Lawyer Charged in Relation to Shooting

Apparently a West Virginia lawyer was charged with being an accessory after-the-fact in relation to a New Year’s Eve shooting in Charleston, which is a felony.  This was reported by WCHS, as well as the Charleston Gazette.  Allegedly, after his friend shot a guy after an argument over ordering a pizza, the lawyer took the guy’s cell phone and instructed him to run.  And then he was allegedly uncooperative with police when they asked him the identity of the shooter.

It was reported that all of this can be viewed on surveillance footage:

“Conrad is in trouble, because police said he can clearly be seen on surveillance video taking Underwood’s cell phone, which is considered evidence, from the scene and telling the suspect to run.”

So my initial thought is, how can you view what someone is saying on surveillance footage?  You can’t.  We pretty much know the footage does not contain audio – since that in itself would constitute felony illegal wiretapping in West Virginia, since it would be capturing conversations for which no party has consented.

The police are the first to complain about surveillance footage when they are accused of misconduct, noting that you can’t tell everything from the video.  Well you certainly cannot tell what someone is saying to another.  How does a video prove that the lawyer was instructing the shooter to flee? And if you can view the cell phone being handed to the lawyer, how can you tell that the lawyer asked for it.  And if a cell phone is handed to you in such a situation, does that make you a felon?  What if you are a lawyer potentially representing the individual.  Can you preserve evidence yourself?  Are you compelled to turn over your own evidence to police at their demand?  The West Virginia Rules of Criminal Procedure don’t provide for that.  In fact, a criminal defendant is not compelled to provide discovery to the prosecution until and unless he or she requests discovery from the State.

As with any of the decaying “cities” in this country where you have arrogant and hypocritical leadership, the City of Charleston was quick to jump into attention-whore mode and to engage in their first attempts at poisoning the jury pool:

“It’s really surprising that someone in a position of authority, and all that he is responsible for, to participate in this criminal conduct,” Lt. Steve Cooper, with Charleston police said. 

. . .

Charleston Mayor Danny Jones said he plans to file an ethics complaint with the state bar, against Conrad.

What ever happened to “innocent until proven guilty”?  Is it ethical for a police officer, or mayor, to go onto TV and tell the public that an individual who has been charged, and who is presumed innocent, has committed criminal conduct?  Or that the individual has abused a position of authority?  Or that the person is unethical?

I’m not passing judgment on the lawyer’s actions one way or the other since I don’t know all of the facts.  After all, isn’t that what police say when one of their own are accused of misconduct?  Well, it’s under investigation and we don’t know all of the facts.  So what if he did take the guy’s cell phone and told him to run?  What negative consequences did that have?  Who is a victim to the lawyer’s alleged crime?  None and nobody.

January 3, 2014 Posted by | Concealed Weapons, Lawyers, Media Coverage, Police, Police Misconduct, Self Defense, Uncategorized, West Virginia Concealed Carry Laws, West Virginia Gun Laws | Leave a comment

I’m Back: Another Excessive Force 1983 Lawsuit Filed in Parkersburg, West Virginia

Well, I said I didn’t think I would be returning to Parkersburg.  But wouldn’t you know it, I’m headed back over there.  Here is yet another federal lawsuit filed by myself, and my co-counsel Paul Morrison, for yet another videotaped use of force out of Parkersburg, West Virginia.  This is my fourth time there.  This one was already in the news a few times.  With the closure of the federal courthouse in Parkersburg, this case will be litigated out of the federal courthouse in Charleston.  Maybe had we filed it a couple of days earlier . . . .

View this document on Scribd

November 20, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liability, Excessive Force, Governmental Liability, John H. Bryan, Lawsuits, Lawyers, Police, Police Misconduct | Leave a comment

Media Coverage of Pumphrey v. Harrison County Commission, et al.

WV Record:

Man says Harrison County Deputies broke orbital bones, ribs

Charleston Gazette:

Clarksburg man alleges police brutality from 2011 arrest

October 7, 2013 Posted by | Excessive Force, Governmental Liability, John H. Bryan, Lawsuits, Lawyers, Media Coverage, Police, Police Misconduct | Leave a comment