One of the more troubling aspects of a federal civil trial alleging Logan police officers used excessive force in an arrest is how the incident was handled afterward.
Chief P.D. Clemens testified Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Charleston that his investigation into the 2018 incident — in which a man has accused a former Logan officer of beating him with a pole and his fists in Logan City Hall long after the initial arrest, resulting in hospitalization — was far from exhaustive.
Clemens said he took statements from the officers involved. He didn’t record any of the interviews, he said. Clemens said he took notes, but those haven’t been entered into the record at trial, nor were they provided following a Freedom of Information Act Request from the Gazette-Mail two years ago.
Clemens didn’t interview the alleged victim, relying instead on statements the man gave to the West Virginia State Police from the hospital. He didn’t interview the alleged victim’s ex-fiancee, who reportedly was an eyewitness, but reviewed a statement she gave to one of the officers involved. She testified that the officer coerced her into writing the document.
The chief testified that he was satisfied with the internal investigation, although he admitted it wasn’t as thorough as it could have been.
This points back to a problem with some internal police investigations. For instance, the Gazette-Mail has reported on numerous cases where State Police troopers who might have used excessive force were cleared after being investigated by their own agency and put back to work. The same officers often wound up being repeatedly investigated for alleged excessive force or other abuses, with little action, until incidents came to public attention. It also resulted in millions of taxpayer dollars spent to settle civil lawsuits.
In the Logan case, one of the officers is named in two other lawsuits alleging excessive force.
Whether a jury decides the officers in this particular case used excessive force or not, it’s clear from the chief’s own testimony the Logan Police Department could have done a much better job of reviewing the incident.
There needs to be another layer of investigation when these incidents occur. Police departments should absolutely conduct their own internal investigations, but the public needs to be assured that an external and neutral party also reviews these incidents to remove potential bias, serve justice and, perhaps, avoid costly civil lawsuits.
Clemens said in his testimony that victims of excessive force often contact the FBI, but it’s difficult to know how many people actually think to do that. It’s also hardly an automatic secondary investigation.
West Virginia is a bit task-force heavy, but a solution could be to form an independent state board that reviews use-of-force incidents. Any such agency should have the power to either recommend or enforce actions based on their investigations.
Something needs to change. Otherwise, mistrust of law enforcement could build, and it’s clear to see nationwide where that can lead. Police need to be able to do their jobs, and sometimes that entails using force. But such incidents need to be properly examined. It would keep everyone accountable and, perhaps, deter some from crossing the line.