The FBI is investigating an incident involving the South Charleston Police Department, where a Kanawha County man alleges an officer caused the crash that left him paralyzed, according to a federal court filing.
Counsel for the two South Charleston police officers named in a civil lawsuit, listed in filings as E.M. Peterson and D. Harvey, disclosed there is an active FBI investigation into the incident, according to an emergency motion filed Monday in the Southern District of West Virginia.
William Allen Means, 31, of Charleston, alleges Peterson used his police cruiser to strike the rear tire on his motorcycle, causing him to crash into a nearby sludge pond, according to the initial complaint filed Aug. 25. Harvey joined the pursuit after a call for backup.
Four days before he submitted the emergency filing, Duane Ruggier II, a Charleston attorney who is representing Peterson and Harvey, learned the FBI had begun investigating the officers’ conduct during Means’ pursuit and arrest, according to the filing.
Ruggier declined to comment on Tuesday. Danté diTrapano and Jesse Forbes, co-counsel for Means, also declined to comment. South Charleston Police Capt. P.C. Rader declined to comment on the contents of the lawsuit, but said “we look forward to having our day in court.”
Due to the FBI’s investigation into the incident, which occurred May 2, 2020, Ruggier asked the court to stay Peterson and Harvey’s upcoming depositions until the conclusion of the investigation.
U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Goodwin on Tuesday ordered a hearing on the officers’ motion to stay the depositions, which will be held at 11 a.m. Monday.
In the lawsuit, Means alleges Peterson began following him as he rode his motorcycle on U.S. 119. The registration did not appear to match the motorcycle, which prompted Peterson to begin following Means, according to the suit.
Peterson trailed Means for 15 minutes without flashing his lights, and responding to the call for backup, Harvey began trailing Means, too, the lawsuit alleges. As Means slowed to cross the Emmons Road railroad tracks near the Kanawha-Boone County line, Harvey’s cruiser struck the rear tire of Means’ motorcycle, causing him to crash into the sludge pond.
Harvey pepper-sprayed Means while he laid near the pond, the lawsuit alleges.
Two bystanders pulled off the road and began video-recording as both officers stood over Means. The video, which is partially blurred, reportedly shows the officers dragging Means across the railroad tracks and laying him down. As one officer sprints toward the parked cruisers, the other officer, described in the lawsuit as Peterson, allegedly stomps on Means’ head once.
Means broke his spinal cord in the crash and is paralyzed from the waist down, according to the lawsuit.
A police report on the crash says the lights were flashing on Peterson’s cruiser as he pursued Means and the crash was caused by the railroad tracks, which the lawsuit disputes.
South Charleston Police Chief Brad Rinehart told the Gazette-Mail on Sept. 1 after the lawsuit was first reported that the facts are on the department’s side.
“The truth is going to come out in federal court,” he said, but declined to comment further.
A Kanawha County grand jury indicted Means Oct. 29 on charges of fleeing with reckless indifference to the safety of others, fleeing while DUI, driving while license revoked for DUI and possession of a stolen vehicle.
Per an agreement with the Kanawha County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, Means pleaded guilty to one count of fleeing with reckless indifference for a separate incident that occurred in February 2019; he also pleaded guilty to the count of driving while license revoked for DUI. He is awaiting sentencing.