Fourteen years ago, Trooper Robert W. Hinzman left the West Virginia State Police after he was part of a bogus-arrest and beating scandal that rocked the agency and resulted in a government payment of $1 million to settle the resulting lawsuit.
Last year, Hinzman was rehired by the State Police.
Hinzman left the agency in 2000 after a State Police retirement party he attended in Welch devolved into gunfire, an unlawful arrest and a beating resulting in hospitalization.
Another ex-trooper, Gary L. Messenger II, was convicted of a federal civil rights crime for beating Raymond Neal Rose, a man who lived next door to where the party was taking place in October 1999.
Rose had called 911 several times to complain about the party, held at the American Legion hall in downtown Welch, saying troopers were firing their guns.
Rose also exchanged words with the troopers and, around 1:45 a.m., called 911 to say that troopers were breaking down his door.
Much of what happened next was captured on the 911 call. Messenger swore at and threatened to kill Rose and beat him, leaving Rose hospitalized for three days with fractured ribs, bruised lungs and a crushed thumb.
During his trial, Messenger “testified that a drunken Trooper R.W. Hinzman had grabbed Messenger’s gun from its holster and fired several shots into the door of the American Legion hall,” according to reports from Gazette-Mail archives. “Messenger said Hinzman later got his own gun from his vehicle and again shot up the door.”
Messenger, Hinzman and a third officer, T.C. Bledsoe, were placed on leave immediately after the incident.
Messenger quickly resigned, would ultimately be indicted and convicted of civil rights offenses, and served one year of a seven-year sentence.
Hinzman left the agency after a State Police investigation.
Bledsoe was suspended for 15 days without pay and demoted from sergeant to senior trooper.
A State Police criminal investigation recommended that Hinzman be indicted, but a McDowell County grand jury declined to do so, according to Gazette-Mail reports at the time.
Rose sued the State Police, Messenger, Hinzman and Bledsoe, asking for $20 million. The case was settled for $1 million, the maximum allowed under the state’s insurance policy.
In 2013, Hinzman was rehired by the State Police as a “civilian financial crimes investigator.” It is a bonded position, meaning he can carry a gun and issue subpoenas but cannot make arrests.
Hinzman’s position falls within the Bureau of Criminal Investigations, led by now-Capt. T.C. Bledsoe, the same trooper who was suspended after the Welch incident.
Since leaving the State Police, Hinzman had worked as an investigator for the West Virginia Insurance Commissioner, as an adjunct professor at Mountain State University, as an officer for the Bluefield Police Department and as a private investigator for two law firms, according to the State Police.
Before joining the State Police, Hinzman was a U.S. Marine and an officer in the Beckley Police Department.
Lt. Michael Baylous, spokesman for the State Police, said Hinzman was not fired over the 1999 incident.
“We never had a Robert Hinzman that was fired,” Baylous said. “We had a Robert Hinzman that resigned.”
News reports from the time, from the Gazette-Mail and The Associated Press, say Hinzman was “fired” and “dismissed” and refer to his “termination.”
“According to our records, Mr. Hinzman resigned from the West Virginia State Police on March 9, 2000,” Baylous wrote in a follow-up email.
John DeCarlo, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a former chief of police, said it is unusual to rehire someone who has left for disciplinary reasons.
“I don’t think that I’ve ever seen someone who was let go rehired back into the same agency. Sometimes it happens that someone will pop up back in another state,” DeCarlo said. “If he did resign, and chances are that’s what happened officially, then he’s got a great case. Maybe he could say that he was traumatized by the case, that he’s an innocent party.”
DeCarlo, who was a police officer for 34 years, said the fact that Hinzman is now in a civilian position also is a mitigating factor.
“Technically, that’s a valid way around the issue of him being a sworn peace officer,” he said. “It’s really interesting that they would take a chance and do that. He obviously has some credentials or I don’t think they would have hired him back, been willing to take the chance.”
Reach David Gutman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5119.