A Democratic leader in the West Virginia House of Delegates has been criminally charged with kicking open a door to the chamber floor and injuring a doorman in the process, and then elbowing a House Republican.
House Minority Whip Mike Caputo, D-Marion, faces one charge of battery, although a criminal complaint outlines two alleged episodes that happened one after another.
The charge, filed Friday in Kanawha County Magistrate Court, revived an incident that started with an anti-Muslim poster outside the House chamber and sent the final days of the legislative session into a tailspin of censure and expulsion votes, all amid polarizing debates on charter schools and campus carry legislation.
Caputo “either pushed, hit, or kicked” open the door, striking doorman Logan Casterline, according to the complaint. After the incident, Casterline allegedly sought medical attention at a local hospital. The complaint does not state whether he sustained any injuries. His lawyer said Monday he sustained a rib contusion.
After the door incident, the complaint states, Caputo pushed Delegate Sharon Lewis Malcolm, R-Kanawha, out of the way with his elbow and “advised her to get the ‘F’ out of his way.”
Malcolm told investigators she was already out of his way, and Caputo had to turn around to strike her. She said she was not initially hurt, but she was sore. She later advised Capitol Police that she sought medical attention for pain she had been experiencing on the right side of her chest and shoulder, where Caputo allegedly struck her.
“Delegate Malcolm has further advised that she has continued to experience pain and is still under physician’s care for the injury,” the complaint states.
If convicted, Caputo faces a maximum of one year in jail and $500 fine.
Caputo would not comment Monday. He is the second West Virginia lawmaker to be charged with a crime in the past month, after authorities charged Sen. Mike Maroney, R-Marshall, with soliciting prostitution.
The complaint against Caputo states that he was “making a commotion, talking loud, and saying nasty things as he started up the steps” toward the House floor.
A day after the incident, he apologized to the chamber in a floor speech. He said he “kicked the door open” and let his “emotions overload my good sense.” The House voted against expelling or censuring Caputo at the time.
“I hope that’s an indication that people have forgiven me, because I’ve asked them to forgive me, and we can just move on and get on with the business of the people of West Virginia and get our lives back to some normalcy,” he said after the votes. “I’ve admitted to my mistake, I’ve never hidden behind it, and I apologize again to all of West Virginia for my actions.”
Casterline has hired attorney Chris Pritt to represent him in the matter. Pritt said Casterline has not yet filed any legal action because they wanted to see if any criminal charges would be filed. Pritt said Casterline was discharged from the hospital with a recommended treatment plan for having a rib contusion.
“Logan looks forward to the day when we can all move past what happened. However, everyone must be held accountable for their actions,” Pritt said in a statement. “We live in a free country, but with that freedom comes responsibility. A person seeing either offensive, or what appears to be offensive, content is no excuse to engage in outrageous, violent or negligent conduct.”
Pritt made an unsuccessful run for the House as a Republican in 2018.
Although House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, stripped Caputo of his committee assignments in March, they have since been restored, according to the Legislature’s website.
House spokesman Jared Hunt deferred comment to prosecutors.
“House leadership has not been involved in this matter since the date the incident occurred and was referred to Capitol Police, therefore we would refer any comment on the investigation or decision to pursue a criminal charge to the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety and the Kanawha County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office,” he said.
According to Caputo, a display outside the House chamber on “WV GOP Day” sparked the incident. The poster, which branded itself with the group ACT for America, juxtaposed a photo of Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., with an image of the al-Qaida terrorist attack on 9/11. Omar is a Somali-American and Muslim.
The group also handed out literature, including a booklet titled “Readin’, Writin’, and Jihadin’: The Islamization of American Public Schools.”
The complaint states Caputo stated, “open the ‘GD’ door and nobody keeps me out.” The door was closed for the prayer that precedes legislative sessions.
On Monday afternoon, West Virginia Democratic Party Chairwoman Belinda Biafore issued a statement criticizing Republicans for protecting their own while trying to defame Caputo.
“Delegate Mike Caputo is a good man and a good public servant,” she said. “Everyone knows the accusations against him are nothing more than a politically motivated scheme to distract from the negative attention that Republicans have brought on themselves.”