Attorneys for a man who accused two West Virginia State Police troopers of beating him in a parking lot want to amend their complaint to identify detachment supervisors and accuse them of “a deliberate indifference, or tacit authorization, of such abhorrent practices.”
Jamie Justice originally filed his lawsuit against Troopers Ralph Justus and Jarrod Tupper in September 2017, using the placeholder “John Doe” for their supervisors.
Eric Buckner and Russell Williams, Justice’s attorneys, filed a motion earlier this month to amend the complaint to identify Troopers Chris Kane and Robert Daniel and allege that they knew Justus engaged in repeated acts of excessive force and failed to act on that knowledge.
Capt. Reginald Patterson, director of public relations for the State Police, said Thursday that Justus is no longer a state trooper. He had been on paid administrative leave since March 2017.
Justus had been accused of similar beatings in three other lawsuits, all of which ended in court settlements. His legal team has not yet responded to the motion to add Kane and Daniel to the lawsuit.
In the original complaint, Jamie Justice alleged that Tupper choked him to the point of unconsciousness. When he came to, he claimed, Tupper and Justus kicked and stomped him, and punched him in the back of the head as he begged them to stop. Tupper then allegedly straddled and choked Justice again, to the point of unconsciousness.
Kane also was named as a defendant in one of the settled lawsuits involving Justus. In 2016, Antonio Tolliver accused Justus, Kane and Trooper Jacob Mann of punching him in the head repeatedly, spraying his eyes with a chemical spray and attempting to waterboard him while hosing him down afterward.
Tolliver settled the lawsuit for more than $90,000, including indemnity and legal fees.
The Charleston Gazette-Mail filed requests under the Freedom of Information Act for internal investigation reports of several troopers named in the lawsuits. The State Police denied requests for some of those reports for Kane and Justus.
“At this time, we are unable to release the Professional Standard file as it now concerns civil litigation against the West Virginia State Police,” said Melinda Craddock, a paralegal for the department.
State public records law allows a number of exemptions from the release of documents, although civil litigation is not one of them.
In 2013, the West Virginia Supreme Court ruled in favor of this newspaper and against the State Police, stating that the agency is legally required to release these reports.
“After the investigation or inquiry into the complaint has been concluded and a determination made as to whether disciplinary action is authorized by the Superintendent, the public has a right to access the complaint, all documents in the case file, and the disposition,” reads the court’s opinion from then-Justice Margaret Workman.
Also, the court ruled that, if a public body asserts that certain documents are exempt from disclosure, it must provide “a relatively detailed justification as to why each document is exempt, specifically identifying the reason(s) why an exemption ... is relevant and correlating the claimed exemption with the particular part of the withheld document to which the claimed exemption applies.”
The State Police provided no such index.
“As of March 24th this is still a pending matter,” Patterson said. “Thus the FOIA request was denied because of pending criminal litigation pursuant to West Virginia Code §29B-1-4(4) Records of law-enforcement agencies that deal with the detection and investigation of crime and the internal records and notations of such law-enforcement agencies which are maintained for internal use in matters relating to law enforcement, as this concerns a pending criminal investigation.”
Patterson did not elaborate on the significance of the March 24 date, which does not align with any of the lawsuits against Justus mentioned above. He did not respond to a follow-up email.
The agency did release an internal investigation file related to a 2015 probe of Justus’ conduct. Gloria Stephens, a Welch attorney, accused Justus of intimidating and harassing her client.
Investigating the claim, Kane interviewed Justus regarding the allegations for 26 minutes. The State Police Professional Standards Board exonerated Justus of the charges.
“In the report you reviewed, Justus was named as the employee who was accused of harassment and intimidation of a person who was accused of insurance fraud,” Patterson said. “He was investigated for violating West Virginia State Police policy and for interfering with the rights and property of others. The report you reviewed was the action taken in response to these allegations. This investigation included an interview with Kane, who was Justus’ supervisor. The results of this investigation of Justus indicated he did nothing wrong and he was exonerated.”
Craddock said no internal investigation reports exist regarding Daniel.
According to an article in the Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Daniel now oversees the State Police detachment in Welch, after Kane left for Turnpike duty in early 2017.
An attorney for Justus declined to comment. Buckner referred comment to Williams, who would not comment.