A Kanawha County man claims South Charleston police crashed a cruiser into his motorcycle, paralyzing him, and then maced him and stomped on his head afterward.
William Means filed a federal lawsuit against the city charging that the cruiser struck the rear tire of his motorcycle as he slowed to cross the Emmons Road railroad tracks near the Boone County line causing him to crash into a sludge pond. An officer pepper-sprayed Means before police dragged him out of the pond and another stomped on his head, the lawsuit says.
Means claims South Charleston Police Officer E.M. Peterson began following him May 2 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 lawsuit filed in the Southern District of West Virginia.
After Peterson trailed Means for 15 minutes without flashing his lights, another South Charleston officer, listed as D. Harvey, responded to a call for backup and began following, too, the lawsuit says. Means lost control after Peterson’s cruiser hit the motorcycle, the lawsuit claims. Harvey pepper-sprayed Means, 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.
South Charleston Police Chief Brad Rinehart said by phone that the facts are on the department’s side.
“The truth is going to come out in federal court,” he said.
Rinehart declined to comment further.
The lawsuit disputes the police account.
“Because neither Peterson nor Harvey recorded the events with their own body cameras or dashboard cameras, and because they were unaware that the stomping had been caught on video by bystanders, they felt at liberty to make up facts and include these in their official incident reports as a means of concealing their unlawful acts,” the lawsuit states.
In a statement, Means’ Charleston attorney, Dante diTrapano, said bystanders recording the incident ensured that the facts were known.
“If the South Charleston police were required to wear body cameras, these horrific incidents would not be so prevalent. Mr. Means was fortunate that a good Samaritan recorded this barbaric police misconduct,” diTrapano said. “To pepper spray and stomp on the head of a paralyzed young man is the epitome of excessive force and cruel and unusual punishment.”
Means claims police negligence and excessive force and is seeking unspecified compensatory damages, special damages for future medical care and lost earnings, injunctive and declaratory relief and other damages.