A Morgantown man still is seeking accountability for an unnerving early spring morning encounter with Monongalia County Sheriff’s deputies.
Chin Orih, his wife and 14-year-old daughter went to bed May 20 like any other Thursday. But at 4:51 the following Friday morning, the family awoke to pounding on their front door. Orih peered through a window, seeing only darkness. A minute later, they heard more banging.
They pulled up the live feed from a security camera facing his front yard. A deputy stood just off his front porch with his service weapon drawn. Another deputy hid from view, appearing in the frame briefly to knock a second time. A third deputy hid behind the family’s garage pointing an assault rifle toward the door. A second camera showed another deputy positioned behind a tree in the family’s backyard taking aim with an assault rifle.
The deputies did not identify themselves when they knocked. They told Orih who they were only after he flicked on the front porch light and slowly inched outside as deputies shouted, according to body camera footage reviewed by The Dominion Post.
Deputies told Orih they came to his home that morning based on a witness account of a shooting hours earlier in Marion County. This witness eyeballed a blue Chrysler Town & Country van and part of the license plate number and provided authorities with a description of a suspect. Deputies tracked the partial plate number. Orih’s registered blue van was the only hit in the region, the deputies said.
Orih’s work van was parked at the time in his garage across town in Chestnut Ridge, where he operates a cleaning service business. Officers drove to the site and radioed back 15 minutes later, confirming the van hadn’t moved all night, he said. The deputies then left Orih’s home near Brookhaven.
The family was shaken, Orih said.
He and his wife met with Monongalia County Sheriff Perry Palmer in his office a few days later. Palmer called the early-morning visit “standard procedure,” Orih said. Palmer said his deputies properly identified themselves. He described the encounter as by the book.
Orih pulled a flash drive from his pocket. Palmer and the deputies were unaware Orih’s home was equipped with security cameras, Orih said. Palmer then showed body camera footage to the couple, Orih said, and conceded deputies identified themselves only after the porch light came on.
Palmer did not respond to requests for comment for this report. The Marion County Sheriff’s Office did not return a request for information on the shooting deputies described to Orih.
The investigation tactic carried out at Orih’s home highlights the increasing use of “knock-and-talks” by law enforcement, said John Whitehead, a constitutional attorney and president of The Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit civil liberties defense group in Charlottesville, Virginia.
A knock-and-talk occurs when authorities appear at a home without warning, knock without identification, then wait for someone to open the door. When that happens, officers standing outside survey the inside of a home and can begin questioning whoever opened the door. This approach doesn’t require officers to obtain a search warrant.
An infamous knock-and-talk happened nine years ago in Leesburg, Florida, where Andrew Scott, 26, came home from a late shift at a pizzeria and began playing video games with his wife. Local sheriff’s deputies earlier that day pursued a speeding motorcyclist who fled from an assault. That case led them to Scott’s apartment complex.
About 1:30 a.m., four deputies decided to start knocking on doors. The first they tried was Scott’s. Deputies banged loudly and repeatedly without identifying themselves. This alarmed the couple, his wife said, so Scott retrieved his pistol. He opened the door with his right hand, pointing the gun down as he held the weapon in his left hand. The deputies fired six shots, striking Scott three times. He died shortly afterward. Scott was not the man authorities sought.
A federal judge threw out a civil lawsuit filed against the department. Because Scott held a gun, posing a perceived threat, the deputies were entitled to qualified immunity, their actions in response protected under the law.
“Andrew Scott made a fateful decision that night: he chose to answer his door with a gun in his hand,” the judge wrote in her ruling. “That changed everything. That is the one thing that — more than anything else — led to this tragedy.”
The Supreme Court declined to hear the case. The head deputy in the case was neither disciplined nor charged.
Whitehead, who reviewed Orih’s security camera footage, said two things distinguish his case. One deals with a term called implied license, which refers to actions based on societal expectations.
“While a homeowner might expect persons to approach during normal daylight hours, one does not expect — and society does not approve of — persons coming calling during early morning hours,” Whitehead said. “Thus, this conduct of the police could be considered to not be within the scope of a valid knock-and-talk, and the police committed a technical Fourth Amendment violation by intruding onto the curtilage of the home.”
The Fourth Amendment protects people from unreasonable search and seizure, requiring authorities to obtain from a judge or magistrate a signed warrant explaining probable cause and specifying places and people to be searched and things to be seized.
The second point deals with what’s known as constructive entry, Whitehead said. This happens when police, while not entering the home, deploy overbearing tactics that essentially force people out of their homes. Because Orih knew police were outside with guns drawn, which essentially forced him out of his home, the deputies’ actions might be considered constructive entry, which requires neither a warrant nor probable cause, he said.
Because of the live feed, Orih said, he did not respond to the disturbance carrying a weapon.
“At 5 o’clock in the morning, it’s dark, you’ve just been woken up. You look out your door and you don’t see anybody. What would you do? What would anybody reasonably do?” Orih said. “Somebody is banging on my door at 5 o’clock in the morning and disappearing from sight, and I have a wife and a daughter at home.
“Yes, chances are, absent a security camera, I probably would have stepped out there with the firearm to see who is disturbing me that hour of the day.”
“He couldn’t answer that”
Orih said it’s what happened after the fact that’s bothered him.
“The position I was put in, the only outcome was bad,” he said.
When Orih walked outside, a deputy radioed that the “older Black male” with a “bald head” did not match the suspect’s description, according to The Dominion Post report.
Palmer told The Dominion Post his officers did not initially identify themselves because they didn’t know whether someone was home or the shooting suspect was inside.
“What the hell does that even mean?” Orih said to the Gazette-Mail.
Chief Deputy of Law Enforcement Mark Ralston told The Dominion Post that department policy is to not use deadly force unless confronted with it.
A taxpayer and business owner employing 15 people, Orih said the sheriff appears to have left open the possibility of repeats of the incident.
“How is it possible that we can continue with the same methods, with the same practices, when you put civilian safety — you don’t even take it into account”” Orih said.
Orih said he wanted only for the sheriff to take responsibility for his deputies’ actions.
“That’s all we were asking for is for him to show some kind of remorse and say, ‘You know what, we came here on a partial plate. We came in way too hot because there’s a chance that it wasn’t you,’” Orih said. ”’We just showed up assuming it was you.’”
A West Virginia University soccer star from 1998 to 2001, Orih scored 27 career goals, good for top-10 in program history. He arrived at WVU as a lauded prospect from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, where he led his high school team to a state championship. USA Today ranked that team as the seventh-best in the country. He hails from Nigeria, coming to the U.S. at age 10. He also has coached youth soccer.
Orih said he hopes the incident at his home can spark change and raise accountability.
“There are a lot of people that go through things like this that don’t have a voice. I don’t want any of that to get in the way of this story,” he said. ‘What happened was wrong.”
He requested that his photo not appear with this story. He said too many people would see his face and make up their minds about the encounter between authorities and a Black man before even reading the account. He said his biggest concern was his family. He wanted to know from the sheriff whether deputies considered their safety.
“He never answered that,” Orih said. “He couldn’t answer that.”