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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This should be a real wake-up call.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can read the opinion here.

McInarnay et al. v. Hall, et al.

It actually created some new law in West Virginia:

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

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

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

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

State trooper we sued in the news yet again

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

WV state trooper accused of sexual assault in lawsuit

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

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

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

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

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:

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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