WV Civil Rights Lawyer

Police Misconduct, Civil Rights Law

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.

IMG_6230.JPEG

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

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

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

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

Search and Seizure Case From Berkeley County In The News

Last week we filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of John W. Orem and his wife.  The Complaint alleges three civil rights violations: an illegal search, an illegal arrest, and an illegal violation of the right to privacy.

Former Berkeley County sheriff candidate sues state police

Former Berkeley Co. sheriff candidate sues police over drug arrest

Former Berkeley County Sheriff candidate files civil lawsuit against police

In the lawsuit, John Orem and his wife, Sher Orem, claim Trooper Matthew D. Gillmore, on Aug. 2, 2016, conducted an unreasonable search and seizure at their home in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

The civil suit requests the court to award damages against the defendants in an amount to be determined at a trial by jury for past, present and future medical expenses; past, present and future pain and suffering; loss of enjoyment of life; psychological and emotional distress; reasonable attorney fees and costs, as well as other compensatory and punitive damages.

John Orem told The Journal Tuesday that he did not want this to go this way.

“I made a complaint with (West Virginia State Police) and tried to get them to handle the issue within their department,” Orem said in an emailed statement. “Then after a year and never sending anyone out to look into the issue or speak to anyone, they said they see nothing wrong.

“So although all officers are human and make mistakes, I believe that we need to trust our law enforcement to self-police and correct errors. If they can’t do that, they force us to sue. Since the (West Virginia State Police) have immunity to civil suits, this is the only way to have them correct issues and help them to provide a better service to our community.”

Copy of the Complaint

This is the photo which was uploaded to social media, while Mr. Orem was still sitting handcuffed inside the Martinsburg state police detachment.  We allege this was taken and uploaded by employees of the West Virginia State Police in order to destroy Mr. Orem’s reputation and political campaign.

IMG_5936 (002)

The strategy worked well.  The arrest quickly made national headlines.

A few examples:

Sheriff’s candidate in West Virginia charged in heroin case – CBS News

Candidate For Sheriff In West Virginia Charged With Heroin Possession Authorities said they found John Orem unresponsive in his home. – Huffington Post

Mr. Orem was kept sitting on the bench for several hours prior to his arraignment – even though a magistrate was available to arraign him.  The Complaint alleges the delay was due to the fact that the State Police contacted the media, in order to be sure they were waiting with cameras to catch Mr. Orem being perp-walked into the courthouse, with the arresting officer proudly displaying his catch.  Here is a photo of the next morning’s newspaper:

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After both the prosecutor and the defense attorneys agreed that the arresting officer had performed an illegal search, and asked the court to dismiss the charge against Mr. Orem, this arresting officer wrote a letter to the court objecting to the dismissal.  The court ignored the letter and dismissed the charge.

April 11, 2018 Posted by | Civil Liability, Elections, Governmental Liability, Lawsuits, Media Coverage, Police, Police Misconduct, Prosecutors, Searches and Seizures, State Agencies | 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

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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

US Supreme Court takes up an excessive force case

Yesterday the United States Supreme Court issues a per curium opinion in a police excessive force 1983 lawsuit out of Arizona.  The case was Kisela v. Hughes.

There was no new law created.  Essentially, the SCOTUS was beside themselves that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals got the case so wrong.  The SCOTUS reiterated some of the basic tenants of excessive force case law and explained why the officer could not be held liable under the circumstances.

A police officer shot a woman holding a knife.  The woman was acting erratically, was within striking distance of a bystander, and ignored orders to drop the weapon.  Pretty standard case for qualified immunity.  Take the knife out of the equation, and it would be a different situation.  Take the bystander out of the equation, and it would also be different (because there was a chain link fence between the officer and the suspect).

April 3, 2018 Posted by | Civil Liability, Excessive Force, Governmental Liability, Lawsuits, Police Misconduct | 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