Civil Rights Issues in West Virginia

Chapter 2

Police-Community Relations

Troubled police-community relations were a predominant theme of the three community forums, and were particularly emphasized in Charleston and Logan. The seriousness of this problem was earlier documented in the Committee’s 1991 and 1993 forums held in Huntington and Logan, where witnesses charged that negative police attitudes toward people of color result in discriminatory law enforcement practices as well as verbal and physical abuse. In its reports following those forums, the Advisory Committee called for the governor to evaluate the need for citizen review boards to oversee police activities.[1] Despite this history of community concern about police conduct and the Advisory Committee’s recommendations, testimony by speakers in the 1998, 1999, and 2000 community forums made clear that serious problems persist.

In addition to presenting allegations that police continue to stereotype, discriminate against, and abuse the civil rights of minority citizens, forum participants examined factors contributing to alleged abuses, noted ongoing efforts to respond to these problems, and called for additional actions and new approaches.

Alleged Civil Rights Violations by Police

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of West Virginia monitors police activity around the state at the city, county, and state levels. Hilary Chiz, then director of the West Virginia ACLU, said that since monitoring began in the mid-1990s, the organization has received a “staggering” number of complaints about police behavior, ranging from the trivial all the way to claims of physical brutality.[2] Many complaints are from poor people, both minority and white. Ms. Chiz noted particularly severe problems in Charleston and Bluefield, cities with larger minority populations than elsewhere in the state.[3]

Drawing on the ACLU findings and on other records and statistics, as well as on their personal experiences, panelists raised three major concerns about police activities:

Stereotyping of Minorities, Youth, and Poor People

Several panelists said police hold negative stereotypes of racial minority groups, especially African Americans, which leads to harassment; this in turn fuels deep mistrust of the police in minority communities. Tom Rodd, a senior law clerk in the West Virginia Supreme Court, said that because of the “war on drugs” over the last 30 years, poor and racial minority neighborhoods are stereotyped as a “breeding ground for criminal drug addicts,” while the police are stereotyped as oppressors of racial minorities and the poor.[4] “In this atmosphere of stereotypes, relations between communities and the police are much more difficult and they’re charged with very increased potential for wrongdoing,” he noted.[5]

Relations are especially tense between law enforcement and minority youth. Erica Collier, a student at Roosevelt Junior High School in Charleston, asked the panel:

[Police officers] think all African American teens or African American children do bad things. Does that give them the right to come up to us and ask us questions like what are you doing, what’s your name, where do you live?[6]

Rev. James Murray of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, who is also president of the Charleston Police Civil Service Commission, asserted that “the police have the mentality that every black man is a criminal.”[7] He illustrated with a personal experience:

I was calling [a popular pizza restaurant] in the Charleston area, which is a predominantly white community, and I was notified that the [restaurant] drivers don’t deliver to “y’all.” I responded, who exactly is “y’all”? His response was “y’all’s community.” I said well, I happen to live no more than three city blocks from the governor of this state and if you cannot deliver to me, then that means you’re not delivering to the governor.

He said no, no, no, we just don’t deliver to y’all, so I hastily got into my car and arrived at the [restaurant] and asked to see the manager to address the issue. Well, on that particular day I happened to be dressed in a mode that happened to fit, whether the police department will openly admit it or not, the profile of a young male. . . . As I began to describe what had transpired, someone at the [restaurant] phoned the Charleston Police Department, and I’m not exaggerating, in less than two and a half minutes the police arrived in the [restaurant] and did not ask me who I was at the time, grabbed my hands, escorted me out, rolled me to the floor.

I said I cannot believe this. I am a leader in this community. If this would happen to me, what happens to somebody else on the corner?[8]

Disproportionate Stops and Arrests

While cases of police misconduct resulting in physical injury are the ones that receive press coverage, panelists emphasized that day-to-day minor harassment also fuels community tensions with police. Jason Huber, a Charleston attorney who specializes in litigation of police misconduct cases, told the Charleston forum:

In my practice, most of the complaints that I see aren’t very egregious cases where you have deadly force or excessive force used against an individual and they have very serious injuries. I think most of the complaints that Hilary [Chiz] and I both see and also that are reported to the ACLU are your slight harassments of younger individuals and poorer people in poorer neighborhoods, where police officers seem to arbitrarily exert their authority in trying to investigate a crime when they don’t have probable cause . . . or they unfairly stopped somebody . . . under pretext and entrapment.[9]

On December 1, 1997, the Charleston City Council passed a Youth Protection Ordinance that makes it illegal for youth under 18 to be on public property during specified nighttime hours, and authorizes police officers to stop, interrogate, and possibly take into custody young people on the street during the restricted hours.[10] The Charleston Police Department began enforcing the ordinance on June 11, 1999. The ACLU and three teens challenged the curfew law as unconstitutional, but the law was upheld by the West Virginia Supreme Court on July 19, 2000.[11]

The ACLU has been concerned that the city may be using the law to target specific population groups and areas of the city. Mr. Huber, the attorney who brought the suit for the ACLU, testified that the curfew—which enables officers to stop someone who is doing nothing more than walking down the sidewalk—“invites discriminatory enforcement.”[12] According to police department statistics cited by Mr. Huber, up to January 31, 2000, there were 67 encounters between police officers and young people in Charleston; of these, 31 percent were of African American youth. Furthermore, 48 percent of the resulting arrests were of African Americans[13]—vastly disproportionate in a city where African Americans make up 15 percent of the population. Mr. Huber concluded:

If you’re approached by a police officer and if you’re a minority or if you’re an African American, you stand a much bigger chance of being arrested than if you’re white.[14]

African American adults, including students and professionals, also report that police stop and question them for no apparent reason, and they say that minorities, especially black males, are more likely than whites to be jailed for minor offenses such as pranks.[15]

Use of Excessive Force

Romona Taylor Williams, director of a grassroots community group that serves low-income African Americans, told the Charleston forum:

I live in the East End of Charleston. I often watch police officers jump out on the youth and on men, throw them to the ground, put their feet on their necks, and yank their arms behind their backs to handcuff them. This is not what I’ve heard; this is what I see, and this is what we are tired of. We are tired of this abuse.[16]

Citizens in several West Virginia communities have been seriously injured in recent years as a result of encounters with law enforcement. For example, in October 1999 a trooper from the State Police, Welch Detachment, in McDowell County severely beat a young white man, Neal Rose. The trooper resigned and was convicted on federal civil rights charges, and the State Police settled the case for $1 million.[17] In 2000, the city of Bluefield settled a lawsuit for $1 million involving the 1998 dragging of a 20-year-old African American man by Bluefield police officers while the man was in custody; he was left paralyzed for life.[18] The U.S. Department of Justice’s Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division closed its investigation of the matter after reviewing information collected by the FBI and concluding that evidence was not sufficient to establish a prosecutable violation of federal civil rights laws. At the forum, Hilary Chiz mentioned a “particularly brutal attack” on a citizen, again a young African American man, by a city police officer in Charleston, and an incident in Huntington the week before the forum in which police shot an African American youth in the back.[19] The last incident was described in more detail by Phil Carter of the Cabell County NAACP:

That young man was trying to get away. He tried to climb the fence because he was afraid, intimidated of the police. He slipped, he came down, here’s a policeman coming at him, gun drawn, he is shot, the bullet goes right by his head, enters back here, comes out back here. Shot in the back by accident. . . . We have had continuous patterns and protocol from the Huntington police and criminal justice system of intimidation, incrimination, incarceration, and now attempted assassination.[20]

People with disabilities are another minority group sometimes ill treated by police, who may not realize that certain behaviors are disability related. Several years ago, a disabled man was arrested by the Charleston police when he was perceived to be drunk and disorderly. According to Ms. Chiz, he was wrestled to the ground, hog-tied, and pepper-sprayed. And while in police custody, he died.[21] Although an internal investigation of the death cleared the police of any wrongdoing, the incident was allegedly triggered by police misconception.

Factors Contributing to Police-Community Tensions and Alleged Violations

Panelists noted three main factors underlying poor police relations with communities of color and perceived police misconduct:

Few Minority and Female Officers

Panelists at all three forums noted the overwhelming predominance of white males and near absence of minority and female officers throughout West Virginia law enforcement agencies. This was seen as a problem for two reasons: it encourages racist attitudes and behavior among some, although not all, police officers; and it leaves minority citizens, especially youth, without law enforcement role models to whom they can easily relate.

Charleston and Bluefield have markedly higher minority populations than other communities in West Virginia, with 15 percent and nearly 25 percent minorities, respectively. In both cases, there is deep concern with the absence of African Americans in significant roles in the local police departments. As of May 2002, the Bluefield Police Department had four minority officers (one sergeant and three patrolman) out of 27 sworn members.[22] In Charleston, Rev. Homer Davis of the Charleston NAACP noted that there are currently no African American captains, lieutenants, or sergeants on the city’s police force; there are four black corporals.[23] Jerry Riffe, then chief of the Charleston Police Department, confirmed this count but noted that he has promoted several minority officers and intends to promote more.[24] In addition, Rev. Davis said there are only three African American female officers on a force of 135 in Charleston.[25]

Some other towns and counties around the state have no minorities at all in law enforcement. In Fairmont, according to Kay Francis Meade of the Fairmont City Council, there are no black police officers and only one female officer.[26] In Logan County, a civil suit resulted in the hiring and placement of an African American officer with the county sheriff’s department. Logan County attorney Joan Hill commented:

It appalls me that it takes court action and agreement by the sheriff’s department, and the court, and the prosecuting attorney’s office, and private counsel to get an African American placed as a law enforcement officer in Logan County. . . . I believe he is the only African American officer in Logan County.[27]

While there was agreement among panelists regarding the low numbers of minority and female officers, opinions differed as to whether law enforcement agencies in the state are making vigorous efforts to recruit and retain such officers. Several panelists asserted that there is a good-faith effort to recruit minorities, but that various obstacles stand in the way. First Sgt. Steve Cook of the West Virginia State Police, Logan Detachment, explained a recent “very active” effort in which the agency sought out potential minority recruits, although with uncertain results.[28] Chief Riffe of Charleston said the goal is to have a force “that’s someplace close to representative of what our communities are,” but that civil service laws make that “virtually impossible.”[29] This view is consistent with findings of the West Virginia Advisory Committee in its 1993 report on police-community relations in southern West Virginia, which noted that hiring and promotion procedures for law enforcement officers are governed by state law and dictated by civil service regulations that are “at times unrealistic, rigid, and not uniformly implemented,” especially in regard to the civil service examination, which is “of questionable validity.”[30]

Chief Riffe and several other panelists also emphasized that low pay makes it difficult to attract and retain African American officers. Eddie St. Clair, vice president of the West Virginia Troopers Association, asked:

What do I tell that young black trooper who is in let’s say Morgantown [and] knows that he can go five minutes across the border in Pennsylvania and get a $14,000 to $15,000 pay raise?[31]

Other panelists, however, argued that recruitment efforts have been halfhearted at best. Hilary Chiz of the ACLU commented, “If minority recruitment were, in fact, a serious commitment from the State Police, from county sheriffs or local police forces, I think we would see some results.”[32] Rev. Homer Davis of the Charleston NAACP said the 13 police officers hired by the city of Charleston in the preceding year had included no blacks and no women.[33] “That’s not serious recruitment and let’s not fool ourselves,” he said.[34] Dallas Staples, former police chief of Charleston and current president of West Virginia Black Law Enforcement Officers United, affirmed that outdated civil service laws are a problem, and said that the laws can be “manipulated to exclude people” and that agencies hide behind the laws and are reluctant to reexamine them.[35]

Rev. James Murray, president of Charleston Police Civil Service Commission, charged that past procedures in Charleston, particularly biased testing, had been “specifically designed to eliminate black involvement in the police force.”[36] The city had a consent decree to ensure that there were minorities on the police force, but it is no longer in place, and black hiring has slowed to a trickle.[37] “There is an institutionalized racism that exists in this city, in this region,” Rev. Murray stated.[38]

Several panelists pointed to the failure to promote minority officers through the ranks as a key factor that discourages blacks from seeking or continuing law enforcement careers. Sherwood Brown of the Raleigh County NAACP said young African Americans in Beckley do not want to take the civil service exam because “they see what those black officers already on the force go through to try to maintain their jobs—the harassment, the denial of promotions.”[39] He stated:

The two 30-year [black] police officers with the Beckley P.D., I think the highest rank they’ve had was sergeant. They’ve had Anglo-Saxon police officers come on and in four years outrank them. [Another black officer has] been on the department for 25 years; in fact he’s ready to retire. He was in the position as chief of detectives, but they would not promote him to lieutenant. . . . It seems to be a fact that . . . Anglo-Saxon police officers do not want to be supervised by blacks, therefore black officers have very few chances of even getting any promotions.[40]                       

Dallas Staples emphasized that promotion is more important than pay in retention of black officers:

A lot of those African American police officers left those departments because of the environment that they were expected to survive in. There was no upward mobility. Why would you stay somewhere where you were going to be bogged down? . . . It is not a money issue.[41]

Inadequate Qualifications, Training, Experience, and Compensation of Officers

In considering causes of poor police-community relations, panelists also raised questions about the qualifications, training, experience, and pay of West Virginia officers across the board. Several suggested that declining educational standards are a problem: the State Police now requires only a high school diploma before a recruit enters training, whereas previously two years of college were required. Most local police forces in the state apparently also require only high school. Tim Tweed, a Logan County citizen, told the forum:

They’ve hired many officers who do not have the education. . . . A lot of the racial problem we’re having, I think, is due to a lack of education—formal education and also racial education.[42]

In response, First Sgt. Cook with the West Virginia State Police said years of experience and common sense are more important than formal education in good policing. Yet several panelists also expressed concern about the large number of relatively young and inexperienced officers. The State Police no longer hires 18-year-olds, but many local police forces do. Attorney Joan Hill, a public defender in Logan County, said in her experience most cases of arresting officers beating or injuring suspects involve very young law enforcement officers.[43] Eddie St. Clair of the Troopers Association said that seniority among state troopers has dropped by half since 1982 and that “there is an inherent vulnerability with that inexperience.”[44] Referring to the publicized case of police brutality in Welch in 1999, he told the Charleston forum:

When you have incidents like the Welch incident where a police officer who had only been off probation a couple months, been on his own a couple months, can do more damage in 30 minutes than I could ever fix if I had a stellar career for 30 years, I take exception to that and I want to know what we can do to prevent that.[45]

There was general agreement that low pay is directly linked to low educational levels among recruits. Mr. St. Clair said:

There are 50 states in this union and the West Virginia State Police are dead last in pay. Charleston P.D. is in the same boat. How do we go to . . . those high-caliber candidates that we’re looking for, the ones with the criminal justice degrees, . . . and say we’d like for you to come to the West Virginia State Police, but we’re 27 percent behind the regional average in pay?[46]

Captain Steve Cogar, then director of training at the West Virginia State Police Academy, said small communities paying minimum wage to officers cannot set the educational bar very high.[47] It is difficult to tell someone that “you have to have a two- or a four-year college degree to come and get this minimum-wage job,” he noted.[48]

Several panelists said that testing and training of officers do not place enough emphasis on “people skills” and that officers on the job often do not know the communities they serve. Captain Cogar confirmed that training at the academy emphasizes defensive tactics designed to protect the lives of officers on the street, but he said that diversity training and ethics training are part of the program.[49] “We are a predominantly white male police force and have been for years, so we know that we need to raise the awareness in these areas.”[50] He said the curriculum, largely state mandated, is under review.[51]

Dallas Staples, the former police chief, said if recruits lacking interpersonal skills are hired, “it’s a gamble” that training would be able to make up for that.[52] He noted that “people with strong interpersonal skills that are able to communicate with the community” might be at a disadvantage in the promotion process because the written examination does not measure people skills.[53]

Parkersburg bail bondsman Polly Rempel said police officers in her county stay in their cars and “do not have contact with people until they see something that they think is probable cause.”[54] She asked, “If you don’t deal with people, how do you understand people? You can’t teach it in a book.”[55]

Police Impunity Stemming from Inadequacy of Internal and External Sanctions

Panelists noted the lack of effective sanctions for police misconduct as a cause of poor police relations with minority communities. This in turn hinges on three factors: ineffective internal discipline, absence of meaningful citizen review, and difficulty in prosecuting officers for alleged abuses.

Ineffective internal discipline. Jerry Riffe, then chief of the Charleston Police Department, said that an internal police review board that used to merely advise chiefs on discipline matters has been given legislative authority to make binding decisions, and that this change has deprived chiefs of the disciplinary authority they need.[56] Chief Riffe said, “The state of West Virginia has virtually rendered me helpless in disciplining my own people. . . . I don’t have the power to fire, I don’t have the power to reprimand, and I don’t even have the power to transfer someone from one shift to another.”[57]

A related problem is that when officers are fired from a particular force, they do not lose their certification, and can get jobs on another community’s police force. Captain R.E. Wilson of Parkersburg reported that small towns, unable to afford sending their own recruits to the state police academy, frequently hire academy graduates who have failed probation with larger city police departments;[58] this practice was reported to be widespread. Hilary Chiz said the ACLU knows of State Police officers who are no longer troopers for various reasons related to discipline, and who are now working for city police departments.[59]

Absence of meaningful citizen review. Following the 1991 forum in Huntington that examined police-community relations in southern West Virginia, the West Virginia Advisory Committee found that “the complaint systems now in place are not capable of handling the corruption, beatings, and misconduct. . . . Thus some form of outside review, including a civilian review board, must be established for investigating complaints against police.”[60] By the end of the decade, only two West Virginia cities, Charleston and Bluefield, had instituted citizen review boards; both boards were formed in the last couple of years in response to rising police-community tensions in those communities. Neither board has enforcement authority or subpoena authority, however. Attorney Jason Huber stated:

If you do not have subpoena power, [then] civil reviews, independent reviews, are meaningless. If you cannot compel somebody to come before you and give testimony under penalty of perjury, make findings of fact, make conclusions of law, and make recommendations, then civil review is absolutely hollow.[61]

He noted that other jurisdictions around the country have determined that citizens have an absolute right, under the Public Records Law and the Freedom of Information Act, to review complaints against police officers.[62] West Virginia state law specifically provides that police forces are subject to civilian authority.[63]

In 1999 and 2000 the three African American delegates in the state legislature, together with three white delegates, sponsored a bill to establish a citizen review board for the West Virginia State Police, but the bill never made it out of subcommittee. Delegate Arley Johnson (D-Cabell), one of the co-sponsors, told the Charleston forum that law enforcement agencies had mounted a massive lobbying effort to derail the legislation:

From the State Police to the lowest city police department in the state, they are in mass at all of those meetings and they are trying to convince the legislature that they do not need a review board.[64]

Although the board would have heard only complaints against the State Police, several citizen groups and leading newspapers also called for establishment of a statewide citizen review board for all police personnel in the state.[65] Proposals to establish citizen review boards have been controversial in West Virginia, as in other states, and that debate was reflected in the Charleston and Logan forums. Dallas Staples, the former Charleston police chief, said he would have welcomed a citizen review board during his time as chief:

Police agencies, not only in West Virginia but throughout the nation, if we are to rise to the professional level that we profess, we should welcome review because we can only correct [problems] when they are identified. . . . Sometimes you’re too close to it to see what’s really going on.[66]

On the other hand, Eddie St. Clair of the West Virginia Troopers Association confirmed that his organization had strongly opposed the proposal for citizen review.[67] First, he said, a citizen review board can do nothing to prevent incidents of brutality, but is only “one more group after it happened to point a finger.”[68] Second, when a complaint of misconduct is brought against an officer, it already triggers investigations at multiple levels, several of which involve civilian juries. Third, Mr. St. Clair emphasized the belief among officers that citizens cannot fairly judge police actions because they do not understand what it is like to be an officer confronting someone who may be armed and dangerous:

I can tell you as a police officer the one thing that we fear most is a rush to judgment. . . . Police officers have to make decisions in a split second that are going to be viewed sometimes very quickly by a community as the wrong decision. And it’s so important for us that in the court system, where the totality of the circumstances are looked at, that’s where we be judged.[69]

Difficulty in prosecuting officers for alleged abuses. Finally, several panelists pointed out barriers to successfully prosecuting cases of alleged police misconduct. Rev. Michael Pollard, a pastor and social worker in Logan County, expressed frustration that lawbreaking officers often are subjected only to internal sanctions when criminal prosecution would be more appropriate:

We see these incidents happen, and then we hear later that this officer has been placed on administrative leave without pay, and then maybe later he was allowed to resign or he was dismissed, but we get the impression sometimes that because it was an officer in uniform, well, we’ll just let him resign and he won’t be a policeman in this county again. . . . I’m a pastor. . . . I could have on my Sunday robe and beat one of my church members half to death, they’re going to do more than allow me to resign. Somebody’s going to take criminal action against me. . . . I just want to know, when are our officers of the law held accountable for criminal actions?[70]

Chuck Miller with the U.S. attorney’s office in Charleston said law enforcement officers accused of civil rights violations are “very difficult to convict,” not only in West Virginia but also nationwide.[71] Two contributing factors were highlighted: complaints of violations often are not pursued, and abuses by police officers are difficult to prove in court.

Allegations of officer abuse often are withdrawn before charges can be filed. Victims of excessive force are frequently people in police custody, facing charges in connection with the original incident as well as, sometimes, charges of resisting arrest; they may fear retaliation if they bring countercharges of use of excessive force. It is also extremely difficult to find attorneys willing to represent them on these countercharges.[72] Attorney Joan Hill, a public defender in Logan County, said she has represented many defendants who have been injured during their arrest; often charges of obstructing an officer or resisting arrest will be dropped in exchange for the defendant’s agreement not to pursue countercharges of use of excessive force against the arresting officer or agency.[73]

When allegations of brutality do wind up in court, the victims are frequently people with criminal records who do not make good witnesses. Hilary Chiz of the ACLU noted:

Typically, in all areas of law enforcement, when you put someone on the stand claiming the use of excessive force . . . it becomes a he-said, she-said, their word against ours kind of situation. And it’s very difficult for a hearing official or a jury to look at two detectives [or state troopers] who are neatly dressed, very polite, and by virtue of their presence command authority when they are on a stand—versus someone whose record is not particularly sparkling and whose record is brought up continually. So, it’s very difficult to prove use of excessive force.[74]

Also a factor in this courtroom scenario is the common refusal of police witnesses to testify against a fellow officer—the so-called wall of silence. Delegate Arley Johnson stated:

Most of the [officers] you meet are decent, honorable human beings, but they’re fully aware of that 1, 2, 3 or 4 or 5 percent of their ranks that are not. But the last thing that any police officer would ever do is to rat on another officer. That is the unwritten code.[75]

Chief Jerry Riffe of Charleston acknowledged that a wall of silence exists in the police department, but he said that a similar wall exists in minority communities, where witnesses often will not tell police who committed a crime.[76]

Reflecting on the recent publicized incidents of civil rights violations by police, several panelists expressed anger at the apparent sense of impunity among law enforcement agencies. Delegate Johnson told the Charleston forum:

Whether they’re in the Northern, Eastern Panhandle, whether they’re in Welch, whether they’re in Huntington, whether they’re Charleston, the police agencies in this state have run amok. They feel no intimidation and they fear no retribution for anything they do and when they close ranks, there’s not a stronger fence anywhere in this state and I think that’s unfortunate.[77]

Suggested Strategies and Ongoing Efforts

Panelists at the three forums suggested numerous measures to improve police-community relations, and some also mentioned efforts underway or planned, in the following areas.

Improve Police Recruitment and Hiring

Key measures suggested by speakers included fair testing and hiring procedures free of bias against minority candidates, an emphasis on recruits’ interpersonal skills, and active outreach to minorities. Dallas Staples of the West Virginia Black Law Enforcement Officers United and other panelists said the civil service regulations that currently circumscribe hiring should be revisited. Mr. Staples added, “The testing questions should draw out those people that have the types of things that you want in police officers and then you can build [on that] with good, strong training in sensitivity.”[78] He emphasized that minority recruitment can only succeed if it is an ongoing process “woven into the philosophy of the organization” and if efforts are made to create a work environment that minority officers will want to participate in.[79] Rev. James Murray, president of the Charleston Police Civil Service Commission, mentioned that the commission has purchased an unbiased test for use with both entry and promotion candidates and hopes it will increase the number of minorities hired.[80]

Increase Age and Educational Requirements for Recruits, and Raise Officer Pay

Attorney Jason Huber summed up this view:

Police officers have got to be paid more money, especially municipal police officers. They have a very difficult job, there’s no doubt about it. They have got to be paid more money, but the opposite side of that is they have got to be better educated and they have to have a higher degree of professionalism, and I think one big factor in that is increasing the age requirement.[81]

Increase Diversity Training for Officers

Captain Steve Cogar, then director of training at the West Virginia State Police Academy, said a complete curriculum review would be launched in the summer of 2000 in conjunction with the criminal justice program at West Virginia State College, with an eye toward making recommendations to the Law Enforcement Training Subcommittee of the Governor’s Committee on Crime, Delinquency, and Correction, which mandates the curriculum.[82] He said the general movement in the academy is away from classroom lectures and toward scenario-based interactive training that teaches officers how to deal with people. Diversity training and ethics training are ongoing, including a program called Critical Focus that helps officers learn to deal with people with disabilities.[83]   

Several panelists said in-service diversity and sensitivity training should be made ongoing and mandatory for officers on the job, perhaps tied to promotion. Chief Riffe said Charleston has done such training in the past and will do it again.[84]

Broaden the Criteria for Promotion

Panelists called for law enforcement agencies to reward officers with good interpersonal and communication skills who show the ability to interact with citizens of all backgrounds. They cited efforts in the state legislature to broaden promotion criteria beyond mere test scores to include other information such as an officer’s communication skills and record of dealing with people of diverse backgrounds, but the legislation went nowhere; it was suggested that renewed efforts be made. Such broader criteria, if adopted, would be a major step toward efforts to promote more qualified minority officers.

Strengthen Internal Discipline and Sanctions

Several panelists, including the current and former Charleston police chiefs, stressed that most officers are honorable but that there are “bad apples” who need to be eliminated from the ranks through appropriate internal discipline and sanctions. Measures to achieve this would include strengthening the authority of police chiefs to discipline their officers and ensuring that officers fired for misconduct lose their law enforcement certification so they cannot be rehired by other police departments. Chief Riffe mentioned that there is some movement in the direction of stripping fired officers of their certification.[85]

Establish External Oversight Through Citizen Review Boards

The ACLU is among a number of organizations in the state advocating the creation of citizen review boards, preferably with subpoena and enforcement authority, in every community over a certain size. Delegate Arley Johnson said he hopes the bill to establish a review board for the West Virginia State Police would be introduced again in the legislature.[86]

There have been some advances in citizen monitoring. The Charleston Police Department, which previously had no systematic way of tracking complaints of police misconduct, has created an up-to-date database as a result of litigation by the ACLU. The database identifies each officer by anonymous number, records each complaint, and records the disposition of the complaint.[87] However, litigation seeking to make this information subject to public disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act was rejected by the West Virginia Supreme Court in May 2001.[88]

Bring Police and Citizens into Contact Outside the Law Enforcement Setting

Various formal and informal programs are underway around the state with the goal of increasing contact and building trust between police and citizens, especially minorities. In Huntington, for example, the police department established and attends 12 monthly community meetings around the city, encouraging citizens to convey their concerns and complaints directly to the police.[89] In Charleston, Romona Taylor Williams mentioned that the grassroots organization she heads, REDEEM, works closely with the city police department on a youth initiative.[90] The State Police is involved in a number of community initiatives, some under the federally funded COPS (Community Oriented Policing Services) program. Pete Kelly of the Logan County Community Action Group and Youth of the NAACP told the Logan forum:

Sgt. [G.R.] Johnson and the West Virginia State Police have helped in our community greatly. They took some of the kids out of some of the communities to ballgames in Charleston. They donated money to some of the organizations in our community. They’ve done a great job trying to come into the communities and let people know that they’re not there to just arrest people, but they’re there to protect people. . . . And I just wanted to let them know that we appreciate them very much for what they’ve done in our community.[91]

Yet it appears that such programs are not always sustained or successful. For example, attorney Joan Hill stated:

I also recall the Community Cooperative Program that was set up with sheriffs’ departments, law enforcement, community leaders, and in fact a partner of mine was on a committee that worked to establish better relations with law enforcement and other police and prosecutors’ offices. I guess I lack the memory to figure out whatever happened to that group or to that organization, because it went very gung ho for about six or eight months, maybe even up to a year. But after some period of time it simply fell apart.[92]

Attorney Jason Huber stressed that the solution is, ultimately, political and depends on organization at the community level:

The best thing that people can do if they are concerned about police misconduct, who really want increased community relations with police officers, is organize. Get out in the street and organize, because lawsuits and litigation are meaningless without the movement behind them that supports the goals and if they don’t work together, they’ll be ineffective.[93]

[1] West Virginia Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Rising Racial Tensions in Logan County, West Virginia, 1995, pp. 26–27, and Police-Community Relations in Southern West Virginia, 1993, pp. 30–31.

[2] Chiz testimony before the West Virginia Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, community forum, Charleston, WV, Apr. 20, 2000, transcript, pp. 11–12 (hereafter cited as Charleston Transcript); and Chiz testimony before the West Virginia Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, community forum, Logan, WV, Nov. 17, 1998, transcript, pp. 58–59 (hereafter cited as Logan Transcript).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Rodd testimony, Charleston Transcript, p. 111.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Collier testimony, Charleston Transcript, p. 195.

[7] Murray testimony, Charleston Transcript, p. 56.

[8] Ibid., pp. 54–55. Although identified in the transcript, the name of the restaurant has been omitted from this report.

[9] Huber testimony, Charleston Transcript, p. 21.

[10] The curfew makes it illegal for juveniles under 18 to be on public property from 10 p.m to 6 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, and from midnight to 6 a.m. Friday and Saturday, unless they are with a parent or guardian or fit one of the other exempt categories provided in the law. See Charleston, W. Va. Code § 18-17 (2000). The text of the ordinance may be found at <>.

[11] Sale v. Goldman, 539 S.E.2d (W. Va. 2000). See also ACLU Newswire, “West Virginia State Court Rules City Curfew Legal,” July 19, 2000. Under paragraph 11 of the ordinance (18-17-(d)), the chief of police was given unrestricted discretion to issue permits to parents and guardians who indicate a reasonable necessity for his or her child to be in a public place during the curfew. The West Virginia Supreme Court found this section unconstitutional because no meaningful standards were provided to the chief of police by which to exercise this discretion.

[12] Huber testimony, Charleston Transcript, p. 23.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid., p. 24.

[15] Bankole testimony before the West Virginia Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, community forum, Morgantown, WV, June 14, 1999, transcript, pp. 133–36 (hereafter cited as Morgantown Transcript).

[16] Williams testimony, Charleston Transcript, p. 193.

[17] Tom Searls, “Welch Beating Incident Settled for $1 Million,” Charleston Gazette, Mar. 9, 2000.

[18] Bill Archer Thomson, “Bluefield Settles Brutality Suit with Establishment of a $1 Million Trust,” Beckley Register-Herald, June 1, 2000. C.N. Blizzard, chief of police, Bluefield Police Department, attachment to letter to Marc Pentino, Eastern Regional Office, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, May 8, 2002, in response to affected agency review request.

[19] Chiz testimony, Charleston Transcript, p. 13.

[20] Carter testimony, Charleston Transcript, p. 51.

[21] Chiz testimony, Charleston Transcript, pp. 214–15.

[22] C.N. Blizzard, chief of police, Bluefield Police Department, attachment to letter to Marc Pentino, Eastern Regional Office, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, May 8, 2002, in response to affected agency review request. Unless otherwise noted, data on the composition of the various law enforcement agencies mentioned are current as of the dates of the forums at which the information was presented.

[23] Davis testimony, Charleston Transcript, pp. 15–16.

[24] Riffe testimony, Charleston Transcript, p. 122.

[25] Davis testimony, Charleston Transcript, p. 16.

[26] Meade testimony, Morgantown Transcript, p. 179.

[27] Hill testimony, Logan Transcript, p. 30.

[28] Cook testimony, Logan Transcript, pp. 52–53.

[29] Riffe testimony, Charleston Transcript, p. 118.

[30] West Virginia Advisory Committee, Police-Community Relations in Southern West Virginia, p. 30.

[31] St. Clair testimony, Charleston Transcript, p. 150.

[32] Chiz testimony, Logan Transcript, p. 65.

[33] Davis testimony, Charleston Transcript, pp. 74–75.

[34] Ibid., p. 137.

[35] Staples testimony, Charleston Transcript, p. 37.

[36] Murray testimony, Charleston Transcript, p. 57.

[37] Ibid., p. 58.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Brown testimony, Charleston Transcript, p. 17.

[40] Ibid., p. 18.

[41] Staples testimony, Charleston Transcript, p. 164. Because of a transcription error, Mr. Staples is cited in this portion of the transcript as “Unknown.”

[42] Tweed testimony, Logan Transcript, p. 80.

[43] Hill testimony, Logan Transcript, p. 32.

[44] St. Clair testimony, Charleston Transcript, p. 154.

[45] Ibid., pp. 150–51.

[46] Ibid., p. 152.

[47] Cogar testimony, Charleston Transcript, p. 134.

[48] Ibid.

[49] Ibid., pp. 104–05.

[50] Ibid., p. 105.

[51] Ibid., pp. 103–05.

[52] Staples testimony, Charleston Transcript, p. 87.

[53] Ibid., pp. 87–88.

[54] Rempel testimony, Charleston Transcript, pp. 84–85. Because of a transcription error, Ms. Rempel is cited as “Unknown” in the Charleston transcript.

[55] Ibid.

[56] Riffe testimony, Charleston Transcript, p. 124.

[57] Ibid.

[58] R.E. Wilson testimony, Charleston Transcript, p. 138.

[59] Chiz testimony, Charleston Transcript, p. 141.

[60] West Virginia Advisory Committee, Police-Community Relations in Southern West Virginia, p. 30.

[61] Huber testimony, Charleston Transcript, pp. 25–26.

[62] Ibid., p. 73.

[63] William M. Oliver, “Are Citizen Review Boards Right for West Virginia?” West Virginia Public Affairs Reporter, vol. 10, no. 2 (Spring 2001), Institute for Public Affairs, West Virginia University. The article cites West Virginia law, which provides that “every municipality shall have plenary power and authority to protect persons and property within the municipality and preserve law and order therein and, for this purpose, to provide for, establish, equip and maintain a police force or department. The police force shall be subject to the authority, control and discipline of the administrative authority.” W. Va. Code § 8-14-1 (2001).

[64] Johnson testimony, Charleston Transcript, p. 66. Because of a transcription error, Delegate Arley Johnson is cited as “Delegate Howard Johnson” in the Charleston transcript.

[65] Oliver, “Are Citizen Review Boards Right for West Virginia?”

[66] Staples testimony, Charleston Transcript, p. 65.

[67] St. Clair testimony, Charleston Transcript, pp. 154–57.

[68] Ibid., p. 155.

[69] Ibid., pp. 157–58.

[70] Pollard testimony, Logan Transcript, pp. 150–51.

[71] Miller testimony, Charleston Transcript, pp. 98–100.

[72] Public defenders are prohibited by law from representing defendants on countercharges of use of excessive force. Chiz testimony, Logan Transcript, pp. 15–17.

[73] Hill testimony, Logan Transcript, pp. 35–36.

[74] Chiz testimony, Logan Transcript, pp. 20–21.

[75] Johnson testimony, Charleston Transcript, p. 67.

[76] Riffe testimony, Charleston Transcript, pp. 128–29.

[77] Johnson testimony, Charleston Transcript, pp. 66–67.

[78] Staples testimony, Charleston Transcript, p. 88.

[79] Ibid., pp. 36–37, 88.

[80] Murray testimony, Charleston Transcript, p. 81.

[81] Huber testimony, Charleston Transcript, p. 25.

[82] Cogar testimony, Charleston Transcript, pp. 103–04.

[83] Ibid., pp. 103–06. Captain Cogar recently informed the Committee that the West Virginia State Police Academy received grant funding through the Violence Against Women Act to create a training facility to teach problem solving through role playing, coaching, and videotape review. With a focus on domestic violence scenarios, the program is designed to teach officers to interact with diverse populations by using role players representing diverse ethnic groups, people with disabilities, and relationships with multiple sexual preferences. Stephen Cogar, Steptoe & Johnson, letter to Marc Pentino, Eastern Regional Office, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Feb. 25, 2002, in response to affected agency review request.

[84] Riffe testimony, Charleston Transcript, p. 125.

[85] Ibid., p. 141.

[86] Johnson testimony, Charleston Transcript, p. 44.

[87] Huber testimony, Charleston Transcript, p. 27.

[88] Manns v. City of Charleston Police Dep’t, 550 S.E.2d 598 (W. Va. 2001). See also Lawrence Messina, “Court Rejects FOIA Request; Release of Police Complaints Would Be ‘Invasion of Privacy,’ ” Charleston Gazette, May 17, 2001.

[89] Lt. Mike Davis, Planning and Research Division, Huntington Police Department, letter to Marc Pentino, Eastern Regional Office, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, June 11, 2002, in response to affected agency review request.

[90] Williams testimony, Charleston Transcript, p. 198.

[91] Kelly testimony, Logan Transcript, pp. 83–84.

[92] Hill testimony, Logan Transcript, pp. 29–30.

[93] Huber testimony, Charleston Transcript, p. 28.