WV Civil Rights Lawyer

Police Misconduct, Civil Rights Law

New Civil Rights Case Filed out of Fayette County: Sizemore vs. Members of the WV Drug Task Force

Here is the copy of a civil rights lawsuit we filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia late last week.  It has now been assigned to Judge Goodwin in Charleston, WV. The case comes out of Fayette County, West Virginia, and involves a criminal investigation and prosecution gone awry.

Sizemore Complaint

My client, Keith Sizemore, had his home searched, via a SWAT team style raid, while he and his 16 year old son were home.  In the subsequent federal prosecution, the federal judge presiding over the case ended up suppressing evidence obtained during the search, and issuing an order finding that members of the Drug Task Force had lied to the Magistrate Court of Fayette County in order to obtain the search warrant for Mr. Sizemore’s residence.  It’s really an astonishing order:

Sizemore Suppression Order

The order shines the light on what has become a common scenario: a drug raid with some sort of seizure of illegal drugs, and then there is a civil forfeiture proceeding in WV State Court, in which the owner of the items has all the items confiscated under color of law.  In this case, our lawsuit alleges that the state civil forfeiture machine had already seized and became the new owner of Mr. Sizemore’s home and 2017 pickup truck, before the criminal indictment was even served on him.  However, interestingly, the criminal prosecution exploded with the suppression order finding that the task force members lied to obtain the warrant.

I wonder what will happen?  We shall see…..

September 10, 2019 Posted by | Civil Liability, Drugs, Governmental Liability, John H. Bryan, Judges, Lawsuits, Magistrates, Searches and Seizures, Suppression, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

New changes in West Virginia law regarding hemp and medical marijuana

Update: Facebook video I made:   https://www.facebook.com/JohnBryanLaw/videos/244860226411030/


So last night I attended a great seminar on the developing legal changes in West Virginia. Here are some of my notes, regarding my take-aways…  This is a completely new area of the law, and economy, in West Virginia.  Here were my basic takeaways.  Excuse the short-hand notes:

Things learned from the hemp seminar last night:

1. There will be a boom of investment into West Virginia, including a land rush, for hemp and medical marijuana, similar to the marcellus shale.  Foreign investors and land agents are going to be looking for lease contracts.  Private property owners and farmers are going to want to cash in as well.  A legal quagmire is imminent, due to the next thing:

2. The difference between hemp and marijuana is a chemical difference only.  You cannot tell the difference, nor can law enforcement, between hemp and M. by looking at it.  A chemical analysis has to be performed.  Hemp is, by law, .3% or less THC of a certain strain of marijuana plant, and therefore not illegal.

3. State and federal law, and authorities are not on the same page.  The WV DOA is fully on-board and is looking to assist landowners and businesses in developing this new economy, while the feds are still looking for pot needles……  There are differences in state and federal law which can land you in big trouble very easily…..

4. Industrial hemp growing, and production, is going to be much easier than dealing with medical marijuana.  Pretty much anyone is going to be able to get into hemp, so long as all owners, and land owners, pass background checks.  While MM is going to be limited to 10 growers, and 10 processors…..  Insert WV good ole’ boy politics.  

5. Both hemp and MM are going to be cash-intensive businesses.  While hemp is reasonable as far as permit fees go, there currently is no access to banking institutions, nor insurance for those activities.  MM has the same problems, with the added bonus of enormous filing fees and capital requirements.  To get into that business, it looks like millions in liquid capital is going to be necessary.  With the added bonus of no banking, no insurance, and high legal risk.  The cherry on top is that apparently the IRS is auditing pretty much 100% of these businesses….

6. LEOs are going to be very slow in understanding the legalities and the differences.  You must get legal advice prior to getting involved.  Transporting can be big trouble. Likely better to fully notified any applicable agencies ahead of time.  Be proactive.

7. This is going to be a regulation nightmare, but it will be necessary.  Permitting is going to be key.  Permits will be denied based on nondisclosure, lies, or omissions.  Better to be fully compliant than sorry.

Summary:

Get ready and buckle up because this industry is coming; and it could be an economic boom for West Virginia.  There’s a lot of money to be made, and let’s try to keep it in WV rather than the out of state investors.  But as they say, you’re going to need a lot of 

Lawyers, guns, and money…….

Thanks to Jennifer Mason, Esq., of Dinsmore & Shols law firm for the presentation last night.  The thoughts here are my own and not hers BTW…..

January 16, 2019 Posted by | DOJ, Drugs, Hemp/Marijuana, Lawyers, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Important gun Rights civil lawsuit filed against Putnam County, West Virginia, and three deputies.

 

Update:  Charleston Gazette-Mail article:

https://www.wvgazettemail.com/news/putnam_county/scott-depot-man-sues-putnam-deputies-commission-after-alleged-false/article_293c3a92-be3e-53d9-9de9-d5619717376f.html

WV Record article:

https://wvrecord.com/stories/511685545-man-sues-putnam-county-commission-deputies-for-civil-rights-violations

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Yesterday we filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Putnam County Commission, along with three of their employee deputies: Lovejoy, Donahoe and Pauley.  The suit is related to multiple searches and seizures of Michael Walker, a Scott Depot, WV resident, who was simply exercising his right to open-carry firearms in the State of West Virginia.  He has seizures, so he cannot drive.  Therefore he walks everywhere he goes, including hunting.  But when he walks with a firearm openly displayed, which is perfectly legal in West Virginia, he has been harassed by the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department.  In December of 2016, he was arrested by Deputy Lovejoy for open carrying a pistol.  He spent an entire weekend in jail without his seizure medications, and ended up hospitalized.  He was found not guilty following a trial of that illegal arrest.

Two months later, Mr. Walker knew to turn the video recorder of his cell phone on so that his next encounter would be preserved for the world to see.  This video, a portion of which is posted here:

(https://www.facebook.com/JohnBryanLaw/videos/595342300923715/)

The video shows a law enforcement officer admitting that he targets all firearms owners, including law abiding citizens, for illegal searches and seizures.  In other words, he admits to a pattern, practice and policy of depriving the rights of gun owners in Putnam County, West Virginia.  At one point, the deputy asks Walker why he needs an AR-15….

The officer, Deputy Donahoe, calls Mr. Walker a “fucking cocksucker” a few times, accuses him of being a “sovereign citizen,” and blatantly defies established federal constitutional law.

Federal law is very clear that, in open carry states, such as West Virginia, a police officer cannot perform an investigatory detention, or seizure, or “Terry Stop,” of an individual lawfully open-carrying a firearm.  Not unless they have individualized information that the specific individual is prohibited from possessing firearms, or that the individual has committed some criminal act.  They cannot walk up to you and ask for your ID, then run a background check on you, just to be sure you’re legal to carry a gun, which is what happened here.  In fact, Deputy Donahoe admitted to committing many more civil rights violations involving innocent gun owners.  He said he does it every day, and arrests people all the time on that basis.  That might perk up the ears of some public defenders in Putnam County……

If you want to know more, read the Complaint linked below.  It has all the details, and sets out the laws which were violated.

Complete text of the Complaint:

Walker v. Lovejoy, et al., Civil Action No. 3:18-cv-01523 , U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia

December 18, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

U.S. Supreme Court Case on Cell Phone GPS Data

Today the SCOTUS released a decision pertaining to cell phone GPS data obtained without a warrant.  I wish this case existed back when I was litigating the constitutionality of warrantless GPS trackers on police vehicles, which ultimately was decided against us.

Given the unique nature of cell phone location records, the fact that the information is held by a third party does not by itself overcome the user’s claim to Fourth Amendment protection. Whether the Government employs its own surveillance technology as inJones or leverages the technology of a wireless carrier, we hold that an individual maintains a legitimate expectation of privacy in the record of his physical movements as captured through CSLI. The location information ob- tained from Carpenter’s wireless carriers was the product of a search.

The opinion describes the nature of what makes such a “search” a violation, and unreasonable:

As with GPS information, the time- stamped data provides an intimate window into a person’s life, revealing not only his particular movements, but through them his “familial, political, professional, reli- gious, and sexual associations.” Id., at 415 (opinion of SOTOMAYOR, J.). These location records “hold for many Americans the ‘privacies of life.’ ” Riley, 573 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 28) (quoting Boyd, 116 U. S., at 630). And like GPS monitoring, cell phone tracking is remarkably easy, cheap, and efficient compared to traditional investigative tools. With just the click of a button, the Government can access each carrier’s deep repository of historical location information at practically no expense.

This essentially mirrors the arguments we made in the Asbury vs. Ritchie County case.

In fact, historical cell-site records present even greater privacy concerns than the GPS monitoring of a vehicle we considered in Jones. Unlike the bugged container inKnotts or the car in Jones, a cell phone—almost a “feature of human anatomy,” Riley, 573 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 9)—tracks nearly exactly the movements of its owner. While individuals regularly leave their vehicles, they compulsively carry cell phones with them all the time. A cell phone faithfully follows its owner beyond public thor- oughfares and into private residences, doctor’s offices, political headquarters, and other potentially revealing locales. See id., at ___ (slip op., at 19) (noting that “nearly three-quarters of smart phone users report being within five feet of their phones most of the time, with 12% admit- ting that they even use their phones in the shower”); contrast Cardwell v. Lewis, 417 U. S. 583, 590 (1974) (plurality opinion) (“A car has little capacity for escaping public scrutiny.”). Accordingly, when the Government tracks the location of a cell phone it achieves near perfect surveillance, as if it had attached an ankle monitor to the phone’s user.

Justice Alito dissents and argues that such information should be available without a warrant. I am at a loss to understand how a justice alleged to be a strict constitutionalist sides with the government in a dispute about whether a warrant should be obtained?  Shouldn’t someone who respects the original intent of the constitution always side with a warrant over a warrantless search?  After all, warrants are a piece of cake for law enforcement to obtain.  But at the very least, they have to create a paper trail.

 

June 22, 2018 Posted by | Searches and Seizures, Uncategorized | 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

Civil Rights Seminar in Charleston, WV May 8-9.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, May 8-9, I’ll be co-presenting a civil rights seminar in Charleston, West Virginia on behalf of the National Business Institute.

The seminar is called, The Ultimate Guide to Police Liability Claims.  It is ideally geared towards lawyers, but would be beneficial to anyone related to the business of policing.  The seminar will come with a manual containing probably thousands of hours worth of experience and research into federal civil rights issues, and other information related to the civil liability side of policing.  Attorneys for both sides of the spectrum will be presenting.

Topics include federal constitutional law related to search and seizure, excessive force, and other common issues, as well as information related to police disciplinary issues.

April 18, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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

image

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

Several of my Federal Lawsuits Against West Virginia State Police Troopers In the News

A couple of days ago, the Charleston Gazette-Mail did an expose’ story on a series of 4 lawsuits against a West Virginia State Trooper.  3 of those lawsuits were my cases. They are now settled.

Accusations, lawsuits mount against WV State Police trooper

Four men have sued the same West Virginia State Police trooper in federal court over the past 18 months, alleging he beat them and caused broken ribs, concussions and spinal damage.

Senior Trooper Ralph Justus has been on paid administrative leave for a year, as he is the subject of an active internal investigation, according to State Police. No allegations in the lawsuits line up with the March 2017 administrative change.

Two of the men who sued Justus, Aaron Akers and Antonio Tolliver, settled their lawsuits last December for a combined total of nearly $190,000. Justus allegedly beat the two men in the hallway of the State Police detachment in Welch, beyond the range of building security cameras. Their settlements note they are resolutions of disputed claims, and the defendants are not admitting liability.

Another alleged victim of a hallway beating from Justus, Michael Ferguson, signed a settlement agreement for $75,000 earlier this month. A judge still needs to formally dismiss the case.

A funny part of the story, at least in a sad-funny sort of way, is that the defendant trooper was named “Policeman of the Year” by a local American Legion post.  This was for 2017.  According to the article, he was on administrative leave for  9 months of 2017, presumably due to allegations of misconduct.  Low bar, I guess.

Frank Cooley, a member of the post, spearheaded efforts to find a state trooper to award. He said while he did not remember Justus by name, the post generally makes its picks by calling a branch’s commandeer, asking for recommendations and voting on the shortlist internally. Two lawsuits had been filed against Justus months before the post issued its award.

Frank, you had ONE JOB.

 

March 26, 2018 Posted by | Civil Liability, Excessive Force, John H. Bryan, Lawsuits, Media Coverage, Police, Police Misconduct, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

2nd Place Finish at Chocolate Thunder II Strongman Contest

I was fortunate enough to place 2nd Place in the Men’s Open Heavyweight Division at Chocolate Thunder II, in Lewisburg, West Virginia – a sanctioned United States Strongman Nationals Qualifying Event.

IMG_2336

March 29, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment