About johnbryanlaw

John H. Bryan is a West Virginia criminal defense and civil rights attorney practicing out of Union, and Lewisburg, West Virginia. For more information, visit his website at www.johnbryanlaw.com.

Federal civil rights lawsuit filed against Mercer County Deputies for excessive force during “domestic disturbance” call

Today we filed a federal Section 1983 civil rights lawsuit alleging multiple counts of civil rights violations related to allegations of excessive force which occurred during a “domestic disturbance” call involving my client, Melvin Sargent. Following a non-violent argument with his wife, deputies from the Mercer County Sheriff’s Department arrived at his home.

Due to the fact that he was open-carrying a pistol in a retention holster, as he usually did, and as he was legally entitled to do, Mr. Sargent went out of his way to raise his hands in the air and allow the officers to disarm him, following their arrival. However, as the complaint alleges, after being disarmed, he was punched in the face with a closed fist, and subjected to violence from there. His hand was boot-stomped, which resulted in a fractured hand.

After handcuffs were applied behind his back and placed in the rear of the police cruiser, his hand began to swell and cause severe pain. When he complained about the pain, the deputy violently pushed him and began punching him again. He then sprays pepper spray in his eyes for 3 to 5 seconds, and then shuts him inside the police cruiser. Afterwards the deputy walks over to Mr. Sargent’s significant other, who was filming video, where you can see his black armored knuckle gloves, covered with my client’s blood.

Here’s the filed complaint:

WV Supreme Court Censures Family Court Judge Goldston for Illegal Search

Just a few minutes ago, the West Virginia Supreme Court issued their opinion in the Family Court Judge search case, censuring Judge Louise Goldston for performing an illegal search at the home of a litigant – my client, Matt Gibson. Though the Court elected not to raise the recommended fine of $1,000, the Court declined to opt for the less-serious written “reprimand.” Thankfully, the Court dismissed the Family Court Judicial Association’s arguments that Family Court judge have the power to engage in home searches disguised as “home views”:

We begin with a threshold question: Did Judge Goldston view the ex-husband’s home, or did she search it? We find that she searched it. A “view” is “the act or proceeding by which a tribunal goes to observe an object that cannot be produced in court because it is immovable or inconvenient to remove….”

We agree that the ex-husband’s home was “immovable” and certainly “inconvenient” to produce in court. View, BLACK’S LAW DICTIONARY (11th ed. 2019). However, Judge Goldston did not go to the property to observe the ex-husband’s house; she went there to locate and seize certain of its contents—pictures, DVDs, and other items of personal property. These items of personal property were not “immovable or inconvenient to remove” from the home. Ibid. In fact, the ex-wife removed many of these items during the so-called “view.” Accordingly, we find that Judge Goldston’s actions at the residence were not a view.

On the contrary, the record is clear that Judge Goldston went to the property to locate things, not simply to observe them. Her own words support this conclusion. When the ex-husband demanded a list of what she was seeking, she appeared to reply, “[y]ou have a list of everything [unintelligible] attached to the order.” When the ex- husband professed not to “know where some of it’s at[,]” she replied, “Well, we’re gonna find it.”

Looking for things is a “search” by any sensible definition of the term. As the United States Supreme Court stated in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 16 (1968), “it is nothing less than sheer torture of the English language to suggest that a careful exploration of the outer surfaces of a person’s clothing all over his or her body in an attempt to find weapons is not a ‘search’”.

Searches are an activity of the executive department. State ex rel. Parma Cmty. Gen. Hosp. v. O’Donnell, 2013-Ohio-2923, ¶ 7 (stating that “searches are executive in nature.”). “Indeed, searches are so quintessentially executive in nature that even a judge who participates in one acts ‘not * * * as a judicial officer, but as an adjunct law enforcement officer.’” State ex rel. Hensley v. Nowak, 52 Ohio St. 3d 98, 99, 556 N.E.2d 171, 173 (1990)….

In light of these clear prohibitions, we hold that the West Virginia Constitution forbids a judicial officer to participate in a search because a search is an exercise of executive power. W. Va. Const. art. 5, § 1. Because Judge Goldston plainly engaged in such a search, we find that the so- called “view” was improper.

Body Cam shows Judge flip out at Traffic Stop – now charged with abusing authority

A West Virginia Circuit Court judge has been charged with violating the rules of judicial conduct after he verbally accosted a young police officer in his jurisdiction who had pulled him over for allegedly using his cell phone while driving and abusing his power. I obtained the raw body cam footage. This happened in Moorefield, West Virginia. During the stop, the judge calls the officer’s supervisor and allegedly attempts to stop the issuance of a ticket. After the stop he makes even more phone calls, and even shows up at the mayor’s house later that evening. He was investigated and charged by judicial disciplinary authorities.

Here’s the body cam footage:

Here’s the Statement of Charges:

Here’s a media report from the West Virginia Record detailing the matter: https://wvrecord.com/stories/611358165-circuit-judge-charged-with-verbally-attacking-officer-after-traffic-stop-abusing-his-power

Rittenhouse Trial Closing Arguments Post-Trial Analysis

Closing arguments today in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial. Post-trial legal analysis, Live at 7pm ET. Also, the firearms possession count – count 6 – was dismissed by the judge prior to closing arguments beginning. The evidence is closed and attorneys for each side gets to make their arguments to the jury. Here’s my take…. Join me Live at 7:00 p.m. ET. Freedom is Scary – Ep. 83.

Kyle Rittenhouse Trial Day 8 Analysis

Some armchair legal quarterbacking following day 8 of the Kyle Rittenhouse self defense trial in Wisconsin. This is an important firearms related self defense case which illustrates the importance of attorney skill and tactics in jury trial advocacy. There’s been some surprising events so far in the trial, including the testimony of the defendant himself today. In fact, something shocking happened during Kyle’s cross examination which may itself be a constitutional violation. Join me to watch some of it and discuss…… Freedom is Scary Episode 80:

Federal Court Allows Lawsuit Against Putnam County for Illegal Task Force Searches to Proceed

This morning a federal judge denied the motion to dismiss filed by Putnam County, who had asked the Court to dismiss the first of several lawsuits filed against Putnam County for a pattern and practice of illegal searches by their “Special Enforcement Unit,” who were caught on video searching the inside of my client Dustin Elswick’s home, which you may have seen on Youtube.

Usually in federal civil rights lawsuit, you are required to sue the individual government employee or officer who engaged in the violation. However, under the Supreme Court’s ruling in Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978), counties and cities (i.e., political subdivisions) may be sued directly when they have adopted some policy or practice which authorizes a constitutional violation against citizens by police officers. These are known as “Monell Claims” and they are very difficult to prove, generally. So they are pretty routinely dismissed. I’m happy this one wasn’t. Presumably the other two cases just like it will also be allowed to proceed…..

The Complaint’s other allegations include that PCC purposely established and operated the the SEU and knew of and condoned the SEU officers repeated constitutional violations. Id. ¶ 51. This alleges that the PCC was the “moving force” behind the constitutional violations where it deliberately created a unit of officers who did not comply with procedural safeguards and engaged in constitutional violations. See Bd. of Ctny. Comm’rs of Bryan Cnty. v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 404 (quoting Monell, 436 U.S. at 694).

Here’s the Court’s memorandum order and opinion allowing the case to proceed:

West Virginia Attorney General Joins Lawsuit in Georgia Challenging Mandate’s Application to Federal Contractors

West Virginia Attorney General, Patrick Morrisey, filed a lawsuit last week, along with six other states, in federal court in Georgia, challenging Biden’s mandate on behalf of federal contractors. It asserts procedural deficiencies in the federal swamp process, as well as more important constitutional violations, such as violations of separation of powers and principles of federalism. Here is the full lawsuit:

Today Morrissey is expected to file yet another lawsuit challenging the actual OSHA rule created pursuant to Biden’s executive order. I don’t have a copy of it yet, but as soon as I do, I’ll post it here….

Florida sues Biden Administration over mandate for federal contractors

The Biden Administration executive order mandate states that all federal contractors must be fully vaccinated by Dec. 8. The administration also mandated that all businesses with more than 100 employees mandate COVID-19 vaccinations. Now the State of Florida has sued the Administration in federal court to invalidate the mandate’s application to the numerous federal contractors in the State of Florida. West Virginia can, and should, file a similar lawsuit. I’m told that this is in the works.

The lawsuit challenges the procedural manner in which the mandate was issued, and also asserts several different constitutional violations, including separation of powers, since the mandate didn’t issue from Congress. Here’s the full lawsuit:

SCOTUS Issues Two Qualified Immunity Opinions this Week

This week the Supreme Court issued two separate rulings in qualified immunity cases involving allegations of excessive use of force by police officers. One out of the 9th circuit, involving an officer placing a knee on a suspect’s back for 8 seconds, and a second one involving a suspect who was shot and killed by police officers while charging at an officer with a hammer.

You may have seen the headlines around the interwebs about the SCOTUS strengthening qualified immunity in these two cases, or somehow changing the law in favor of the police. Is this the case? Since excessive force cases are my favorite, let’s go through these together. #QualifiedImmunity #ExcessiveForce #SCOTUS Freedom is Scary Ep. No. 78 (prerecorded, but scheduled to play at 10/20 at 8:00 p.m. ET)

Current Status of Exemption Requests for Employer Mandates

We’re getting a huge volume of calls and emails on exemptions to employer mandates. This is the current general information we’ve been providing, which again, is general information. This is all based on federal law. State laws around the country may provide for different, possibly better, protections. We are currently on taking cases in West Virginia. If you’re in Kentucky, you should contact Attorney Chris Wiest, from whom I hijacked some of the below Q&As.

1. Exemption requests: Yes, you need to submit the requests to trigger legal protections.  The only legal exemptions are for medical or religious exemptions.  Yes, you need to make the request even if your employer says they are not taking or accepting them.  Yes you should do so even if your employer is requiring a pastor note and you cannot get one.  The buzz word is that you have a “sincerely held religious belief.”  You should document the what and why of that belief.  The employer can require you to answer questions about the request to determine if it is sincere.  Including asking questions about prior vaccines (if your request is based on aborted fetal cells, be prepared to answer the question on your having received prior vaccines — and answering it that you didn’t know when you received them but now do is an acceptable answer).

You can learn more about the basis for a religious exception, based on the Thomas More Society litigation in New York, here: https://thecivilrightslawyer.com/2021/09/25/religious-exemptions-for-vaccines-under-title-7-and-private-employers-in-the-health-care-field/

You can learn more about the issue of whether an employer gets to question your religious beliefs here: https://thecivilrightslawyer.com/2021/10/07/employers-do-not-get-to-define-religion-in-exemption-applications/


You should also document prior exposure, infection, and any antibody tests.  And send that to the employer to document the fact that giving you an exemption cannot possibly burden the employer.For medical exemptions, you need a doctors note.  It should document your particular medical condition and indicate the threat the vaccine poses to you.  These are going to be the rare exception.


2. They denied my exemption: Ask them to explain what burdens, if any, they expect to suffer from the grant of exemption.


3. What next?: As a practical matter: you are left with two choices after a denial: (a) get fired and pursue a wrongful discharge lawsuit; or (b) get the vaccine. Injunctive relief actions prior to firing may be available if your employer is a governmental entity but these are tricky unless there are blanket denials. We may be able to help in these situations.


If you are FIRED from either a private and government employer and (I) you requested a religious exemption; (II) you documented prior infection and antibodies; and (III) the employer denied the exemption, we may be able to help.


If you’re in West Virginia, the State Legislature just tentatively passed legislation created three state-law based exceptions to both public and private employer mandates. It provides for medical, religious and natural immunity exceptions. It hasn’t yet been signed by the Governor. However, since he proposed the legislation, he is expected to sign it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t become effective law until 90 days after it’s signed (because there wasn’t 2/3 majority vote).

The new law provides that:

(a) A covered employer, as defined in this section, that requires as a condition of continued employment or as a condition of hiring an individual for employment that such person receive a COVID-19 immunization or present documentation of immunization from COVID-19, shall exempt current or prospective employees from such immunization requirements upon the presentation of one of the following certifications:

(1) A certification presented to the covered employer, signed by a physician licensed pursuant to the provisions of §30-3-1 et seq. or §30-14-1 et seq. of this code or an advanced practice registered nurse licensed pursuant to the provisions of §30-7-1 et seq. of this code who has conducted an in person examination of the employee or prospective employee, stating that the physical condition of the current or prospective employee is such that a COVID-19 immunization is contraindicated, there exists a specific precaution to the mandated vaccine, or the current or prospective employee has developed COVID-19 antibodies from being exposed to the COVID-19 virus or suffered from and has recovered from the COVID-19 virus; or

(2) A notarized certification executed by the employee or prospective employee that is presented to the covered employer by the current or prospective employee that he or she has religious beliefs that prevent the current or prospective employee from taking the COVID-19 immunization.

So, in other words, the employer will not have discretion to question the religious sincerity of the employee, which is currently occurring on a wide basis. Therefore, any current religious applications being asserted might as well include a notarized certificate tracking this statutory language. E.g., “I, John Doe hereby certify that I have religious beliefs that prevent me from taking the COVID-19 immunization.” Additionally, any medical exemptions being asserted might as well include a physician’s certification that the employee has antibodies and/or has already suffered from and recovered from the virus.

Many have asked whether this will be applicable to federal employees. This new law applies to “covered employers,” who are defined as follows:

(A) The State of West Virginia, including any department, division, agency, bureau, board, commission, office or authority thereof, any political subdivision of the State of West Virginia including, but not limited to, any county, municipality or school district; or

(B) A business entity, including without limitation any individual, firm, partnership, joint venture, association, corporation, company, estate, trust, business trust, receiver, syndicate, club, society, or other group or combination acting as a unit, engaged in any business activity in this state, including for-profit or not-for-profit activity, that has employees.

So, no it doesn’t appear to apply to federal employees, which would probably be unconstitutional for a couple of reasons. I see no reason why employees of business entities who are federal contractors wouldn’t be covered, to the extent said employees are based in West Virginia and the business activity is based in West Virginia. As for independent federal contractors who are being subjected to the federal mandate, there would be no applicability if they don’t have a business entity as an employer who is engaging in business activity in West Virginia.