The West Virginia State Police has suspended two troopers following an alleged beating last week of a 16-year-old suspect in Martinsburg.
Gov. Jim Justice issued a news release about the alleged Nov. 19 incident on Thursday.
“The suspect was stopped by troopers after a pursuit and dashcam video taken at the scene shows the suspect being beaten by the two troopers,” he said. “While I proudly support the brave efforts of our law enforcement agencies every day it must be perfectly clear that I will not tolerate this kind of behavior in any way, shape, form, or fashion.”
According to Brian Abraham, the governor’s general counsel, State Police Superintendent Col. Jan Cahill called him Wednesday evening about the alleged altercation because he “recognized it was a pretty serious incident.”
The teen allegedly struck a Berkeley County Sheriff’s Department cruiser with a vehicle and fled. Then, he allegedly collided with a telephone pole.
“The car rolled a couple of times, and he was pulled from the vehicle, and apparently the alleged assault occurred sometime thereafter,” Abraham, a former Logan County prosecutor, said.
Troopers did not use weapons of any kind in the alleged beating, Abraham said. The teen was taken to a hospital and has since been released.
Troopers 1st Class Derek R. Walker and Michael W. Kennedy, have been suspended without pay.
Maj. Reginald Patterson issued the following statement about the alleged incident:
“It was during the apprehension process, where the Response to Resistance/Aggression actions of the troopers came into question and led to the suspensions,” he said. “The West Virginia State Police has initiated a criminal and internal investigation, upon reviewing an in-car camera video. The State Police cannot make additional statements pertaining to this incident until a thorough and complete investigation has been completed.”
When asked if the troopers have a history of disciplinary action against them, Patterson said the office is investigating and that information has not been released.
Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Catie Wilkes Delligatti could not be reached to comment. According to Dominic Orsini, office administrator, she is attending the West Virginia Prosecuting Attorneys Institute Winter Conference at The Greenbrier resort.
Orsini would not comment on whether the office would release the dashcam footage.
According to a news release from Delligatti, a Jefferson County sheriff’s deputy has been assigned to investigate the incident and an investigator from within Delligatti’s office will perform an independent review.
“While I am unable to comment on the specifics of ongoing cases, I want to ensure the citizens of Berkeley County that in all cases involving allegations against law enforcement, independent and transparent investigations will be conducted to ensure appropriate action is taken,” she said.
Justice’s statement Thursday marks a contrast to his silence amid several other recent allegations against police officers.
For one, five citizens have each filed completed lawsuits against former Trooper Ralph Justus — four for the alleged use of excessive force and one for an alleged sexual assault.
Justus’ attorneys settled the cases for a total sum of more than $865,000, including settlement agreements and legal fees, according to documents obtained from the state’s insurer. The settlements do not indicate any admission of guilt, and Justus maintains his innocence.
One case, filed in relation to the allegation of sexual assault, is ongoing.
Additionally, in July, a man alleged that a group of Capitol Police officers entered his home and arrested him without a warrant before taking him to the Capitol in what amounted to an “armed abduction,” according to a lawsuit the alleged victim filed.
Another man, in a lawsuit filed in July, accused a state trooper of repeatedly beating him with a nightstick, choking him and spraying him with pepper spray.
The governor has not spoken about these incidents.