Abandoned on Train Tracks by Police | Qualified Immunity? | State-Created Danger Theory

By now we’ve all seen the footage of the train in Colorado hitting the police car stopped on the tracks, severely injuring a woman in police custody who was placed handcuffed in the rear of the police cruiser. My immediate thought was qualified immunity. There can be no doubt that the police officer was directly at fault in causing the severe injuries to the woman in his custody. No doubt about it. But unlike a doctor who negligently injures someone, a police officer get to assert qualified immunity. 

Here’s the 8 minute clip showing the train hit the cruiser:

Qualified immunity is unfair and needs to be abolished. A lawyer representing this woman, if a lawsuit is filed, is going to have the legal requirement to point to some past clearly established case law describing the officer’s conduct as a civil rights violation. Well, how many cases have there been in any particular jurisdiction where police officers let people in their custody get hit by trains? Moreover, as I’ve explained before, to establish section 1983 liability, you have to allege intentional conduct – not negligence or incompetence. Some intentional or purposeful conduct. For this reason, when one police officer accidentally shoots their partner, there’s generally no liability. I did a video on that one already

I took a quick look at the case law in the jurisdiction where this train incident happened, which is Colorado, which is in the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. So that’s where you want to look first for federal civil rights case law. I have a theory of liability here. First, take a look at some of the new footage released, from another angle.

There’s a legal doctrine under section 1983 called the state-created danger theory. Basically, it allows a pathway for a plaintiff to establish section 1983 liability for a civil rights violation where the government may not have directly or intentionally caused the injury to the plaintiff, but created the possibility or likelihood that it would occur. This theory has been adopted in the 10th Circuit. Here’s what a plaintiff would have to prove: 

  1. the charged state … actor[ ] created the danger or increased plaintiff’s vulnerability to the danger in some way; 
  2. plaintiff was a member of a limited and specifically definable group; 
  3. defendant[‘s] conduct put plaintiff at substantial risk of serious, immediate, and proximate harm; 
  4. the risk was obvious or known; 
  5. defendants acted recklessly in conscious disregard of that risk; and 
  6. such conduct, when viewed in total, is conscience shocking.

Estate of Reat v. Rodriguez, 824 F.3d 960 (10th Cir. 2016)

But to defeat qualified immunity, you still have to point to a prior case with a similar fact pattern. Again, a non-exhaustive review of 10th Circuit case law shows that the state-created danger doctrine has been applied: 

Off-duty police officer on personal business who crashed his police vehicle;

On-duty police officer who engaged in a high-speed chase;

Firefighter who crashed his truck into a car;

Police officer who caused the death of a bystander by instructing him to help physically subdue a suspect, who then shot the civilian; 

Social worker who removed a child from his mother’s home and placed him with his father, who killed him;

School official who suspended and sent home a special education student who subsequently killed himself;

State mental health administrators who eliminated a special unit for the criminally insane, causing the transfer of a murderer to the general hospital, where he killed his therapist. 

The common theme for liability in the 10th Circuit under the state-created danger theory is that the victims were unable to care for themselves or had limitations imposed on their freedom by state actors. This is very much like the deliberate indifference standard imposed on correctional officers entrusted with the care of inmates. The arrestee is unable to act herself. She can’t get out of the way of the train. Likewise, if a prison catches fire, inmates locked in their cells can’t get out on their own. 

I can think of a few other arguments and theories for liability. But this is an often-overlooked one, and popped into my head first. It seems to match our facts here. Watching the footage establishes, without much potential for dispute, that the arresting officer created the danger; that he rendered the victim incapable of helping herself; that he put her into harm’s way, and that the risk was obvious. You can see the fact that he had parked on the train tracks. No doubt the evidence would show that he was aware of the fact that these tracks were frequented by trains. You can actually hear the train coming in the body cam footage. 

If this woman is left with no justice due to qualified immunity, hopefully people will start paying attention. Qualified immunity serves no legitimate purpose. It’s the very definition of judicial activism. I’ll be watching this one to see what happens. 

“White Male or Black Male?” | Cops Assume Citizens on Porch Are Criminals – Part 2 Body Cam

Here is part 2 of the body cam footage from the arrest of Jason Tartt by Deputy Dalton Martin of the McDowell County, West Virginia Sheriff’s Department. The part 1 video and lawsuit is posted here.

Charges Dropped in the Mount Hope PD Traffic Stop Case

This week, following public release of the footage showing the arrest of Brian Beckett by Officer Aaron Shrewsbury, of the Mount Hope WV Police Department, the prosecutor on the case filed a motion requesting dismissal of all of the charges, which was granted by the Court. The pending charges of obstruction, disorderly conduct, speeding, and reckless driving were all dismissed and Mr. Beckett was released from bond.

The prosecutor noted in his motion that, “A review of the evidence does not support prosecution of the case.”

This is great news. Many thanks to Mr. Beckett’s criminal defense attorney on the case, Jody Wooten, for a successful conclusion. This doesn’t automatically create civil liability in a federal civil rights lawsuit, but it does foreclose the defense from using the criminal charges, or any criminal conviction, against us in a civil lawsuit. It was also the right thing to do. Our investigation continues in the meantime, both in regards to this incident, as well as into the Nathan Nelson case, where my client had his jaw fractured in two places by the same police officer. Many questions still remain, and information received is still being examined and sorted out.

One of the interesting things I’ve learned is that the police department in this tiny West Virginia town apparently takes up around 50% of the town’s budget. I’ve received lots of tips from credible sources about multiple allegations of corruption surrounding this. So I’ll be taking a deep dive into these issues.

Here’s the dismissal motion and ensuing orders from the Court:

New Bluefield Police Department Footage Shows Arrest of Hiram Tolliver

For some unknown reason, following police vehicle pursuits, the suspects rarely make it to jail without suffering violent injuries. They always tend to resist, or get accidentally injured in some way. I’m about to show you brand new footage showing my client, Hiram Tolliver being taken into custody by the Bluefield, West Virginia Police, after leading them on a brief chase. It’s not all that clear why he was fleeing, or why they were chasing him. Other than an allegations of hearing screeching tires, he wasn’t suspected of committing any prior crime. On May 5, 2022, Bluefield Police Department Officer D.R. Barker was assisting the city manager at an intersection in Bluefield, West Virginia. He claims that he heard a vehicle traveling at a high rate of speed. He claims that he heard the screeching of tires “where the vehicle was taking turns too fast.” Once the vehicle came into view he pulled in behind it and tried to stop it, but the driver fled.

According to the police reports, the pursuit began at 9:29 p.m. Body cam footage shows that the pursuit ended at around 9:36 p.m. – so roughly 5 or 6 minutes – at which time the driver, Hiram Tolliver, was violently taken into custody on the dead end street in front of his parents home. By around 9:48 p.m., Mr. Tolliver would end up falling off the roof of the local fire department building. That’s right, this story doesn’t end with the arrest itself. 

See the footage for yourself:

Does what we saw on the video line up with the police reports? Officer Barker wrote the following:

The vehicle then came to a stop at the dead end. The driver was then ordered out of the vehicle and to get on the ground. The driver went to the ground. When he was ordered to give us his hands, he resisted arrest. Detective K.L. Ross could not bring his hands together to effect the arrest. Defensive tactics were used to apprehend the suspect in order to effect the arrest. I was finally able to cuff the driver of the fleeing vehicle.

Patrolman Barker’s report.

Officer Barker mentioned in his report that he sustained an injury to his right hand. In fact, we can see that injury in his body cam footage. Gee, I wonder what could have inflicted such a brutal injury?

Unfortunately, similar to the missing body cam footage, we have no report from the first officer to make physical contact with Hiram, Detective Ross.

Justifiable force must be reasonable in light of the circumstances. Courts don’t generally second-guess an officer making split second decisions with 20/20 hindsight in a struggle with someone physically resisting or fighting with them. But if the facts show the arrestee has submitted to them, not resisting, and that force is applied unnecessarily, as a punishment or retaliation, rather than in an attempt to gain control or custody of the person, that is always going to be unreasonable. 

Officer Barker didn’t elaborate on what he meant by “defensive tactics” being used on Hiram. There were multiple eyewitness we may hear from later, but what does the video show? Injuries are important evidence in use of force cases, as they can help establish the level of force, and type of force, used. There were several glimpses of Hiram’s face following his arrest. You saw how one side of his face appeared to be bloodied, and the other didn’t. This matches up with subsequent photos from the hospital. You also saw how Detective Ross took Hiram from the first police cruiser all the way back to the last police cruiser, with Hiram limping, in obvious pain. Instead of providing, or making available, medical treatment for his arrestee, Detective Ross instead lectures Hiram, essentially telling him to suffer because of what he had done, endangering police officers during the pursuit. 

Compare the screenshot from the video with the hospital photo. Clearly the facial damage was caused during the initial arrest, not the drop from the roof:

Photo showing the facial injuries in the hospital, which appear to match the injuries seen in the initial arrest footage.

Given everything that just happened, as well as the officers’ allegations that Hiram had almost killed several police officers and resisted arrest, to the extent of requiring “defensive tactics,” they wouldn’t un-handcuff him to walk him into the police department for processing would they? Apparently they did, and according to them, Hiram made a run for it just as they were entering the police department door. He jumped over a guardrail, and onto the roof of the fire department, running across the roof and jumping off the roof onto the asphalt 16 feet below. Here’s the only police report to document the roof incident:

Patrolman Hamm’s report.

The officer who was present for the fire department jump wrote in his report that the first thing he did when he reached Hiram, injured on the asphalt, was handcuff him. Indeed, those handcuffs can be seen in the body cam footage, despite what appears to be a compound fracture of his arm and wrist. There didn’t appear to be much concern by the Bluefield Police Department about the constitutional responsibilities and obligations placed on the government after taking a citizen into custody. Government officials have a duty to provide medical treatment. They have a duty to ensure the safety of their arrestees. 

Hiram was airlifted to Charleston Area Medical Center and underwent extensive surgery, treatment and rehabilitation. Why would Hiram have tried to get away? Perhaps he was scared. You could hear that during his arrest, when it sounded like he was being struck by the officers, he was crying out to his parents, who were eyewitnesses, that he was in fear for his life. If he was really trying to flee, why would he pull onto his parents’ dead end street and stop in front of his parents’ home. Perhaps he was scared that the police were going to hurt him? Perhaps he thought there would be safety in witnesses. It’s not all that far-fetched that the fire department roof jump resulted because Hiram thought he would be killed inside the police department and ran for his life? 

There were indeed multiple eyewitnesses. In the video, you can hear one of the officers threatening them to get back in their home, and to stop watching the use of force being inflicted on Hiram. I’ll continue investigating and will have more on this later, so subscribe to the email updates to follow along.

Charges Dropped Today Against This Perfectly Stable and Trustworthy Off-Duty Police Officer

What you see here is Bluefield West Virginia off duty police officer, James Mullins, on October 24, 2021 physically attacking multiple individuals, including a local business owner, his girlfriend, and multiple coworker police officers. He had just been involved in a shootout with multiple people in this parking lot. There are bullet holes in his car and shell casings laying around on the ground. At the end of the day, nobody was charged for the parking lot shootout, including the off duty officer. In fact, despite all the crimes you are about to see committed, only one misdemeanor charge of domestic violence resulted, for the video taped violent push of the officer’s girlfriend. And today, that charge was supposed to go to trial. Instead it was dismissed without prejudice. My original video on this was pretty long, but take a look at these few snippets, and let me know if you think the off duty officer appears to you to have committed any crimes.

For some reason, the special prosecutor assigned to the case, and the West Virginia state trooper assigned to investigate it, only saw fit to charge one count of domestic violence. Nothing for the shootout; nothing for physically assaulting the bar owner; nothing for physically assaulting the multiple police officers. 

Today that case was scheduled to go to trial. A conviction for domestic battery would have prevented the off duty officer from ever possessing a firearm again legally, and therefore preventing him from ever being employed as a police officer again in the future. But that didn’t happen. The charges have been dropped and he has been released from bond. He’s currently perfectly capable of now possessing a firearm and also to work as a police officer. Unbelievably, as far as I know he’s still certified to be a police officer through West Virginia’s LEPS subcommittee on law enforcement certification. When I previously asked them if they were going to take steps to investigate or decertify Officer Mullins, they responded that he was being prosecuted criminally, so no they weren’t. Oops. Government fails us once again. 

The reason given to the news media regarding the dismissal was that the victim was allegedly “uncooperative.” Okay, that’s common in domestic violence prosecutions. But why is that dispositive here, where the crime was caught on video? Do you even need the victim to testify? What if she doesn’t show up? Who cares. What is she going to show up and say, “nothing happened?” It’s on video. Is justice achieved if violent domestic abusers can persuade their victims to not cooperate? No, of course not. 

Now, to be fair, the dismissal documents did note on them that the charge was being dismissed without prejudice, meaning that they can be refiled at a later date, and also noting that “related” charges are going before a grand jury. So, it’s possible that more charges are coming, including possible felony charges, which require grand jury indictment. However, the expected date for the grand jury decision is October. West Virginia has a one year statute of limitations for misdemeanor crimes. So if they wait until after October 24, 2023, he’s in the clear and cannot be prosecuted for this, or any other misdemeanor arising from this incident. That does not prevent indictment for felony charges, which do not have a statute of limitations in West Virginia. 

Also, I know from past experience that the favorite way of prosecutors generally to coverup acts of police misconduct, especially shootings, is to present it to a secret grand jury where they return a “no true bill,” or a decision not to indict. This would clear the officer, and make it look like it wasn’t the decision of the prosecutor. In reality, we know that prosecutors are known to be able to indict ham sandwiches, controlling the flow of evidence and law to the grand jurors. 

Make sure you subscribe to follow along to see what ends up happening. It would be a travesty of justice, as well as a clear and present danger to the public, to allow this to fade away at this point. The public and politicians should look into West Virginia’s LEPS subcommittee on law enforcement certifications and find out why they haven’t decertified this police officer.

Original full video:

Also, let’s not forget about the fact that he appears to have been drinking from an open container in his car before and during this incident:

Mount Hope WV Officer Part 2 – Breaks a Kid’s Jaw and Abandons Him in Someone Else’s Cruiser

You may have seen the video posted last week about Mount Hope, WV, police department officer Aaron Shrewsbury. Since the video was posted, I’ve received a lot of information from the public, including from other police officers. That’s always an indication, in my experience and opinion, that there’s a real problem there. I was told today by credible sources that Officer Shrewsbury has now been suspended with pay. I have not received verification of this as of yet, however. As you will see below, his supervisor / Chief of Police, had already signed off on the use of force I’m about to discuss, so hopefully he’s not in charge of the internal investigation…. In the video about what happened to Mr. Beckett, I mentioned that kid from Ohio who had his own encounter with Officer Shrewsbury last year. Let me tell you more. 

On August 15, 2021, several police agencies responded to a 911 call from Ace Adventures Complex, a vacation and white water rafting facility located in Minden, Fayette County, West Virginia. There was a verbal altercation that took place at the complex. 20 year old Nathan Nelson, from Ohio, had been visiting his sister, who worked at Ace Adventures Complex. At some point they became involved in some sort of altercation or argument involving multiple other individuals.

Several police agencies arrived, including Officer Shrewsbury from the Mount Hope Police Department. Marijuana was found in the car belonging to Nathan and his sister. Officer Shrewsbury arrested Nathan and placed him in handcuffs. 

According to Shrewsbury’s subsequent police report, he handcuffed Nathan and escorted him to a police cruiser. While standing beside the cruiser, nathan allegedly became angry and asked, “why he was fu&cking being arrested.” Shrewsbury then asked him to stop swearing, and then advised him he was being arrested for disorderly conduct and possession of a controlled substance. Nathan responded, “this was fucking bullshit,” to which Shrewsbury responded, “yeah it is,” and that, “I wasn’t knowledgeable about how things were done in Ohio where he was from, but in West Virginia, possessing marijuana and other illegal and dangerous drugs, using profanity in public and fighting in the streets definitely are all illegal here.” 

Shrewsbury then wrote in his report that, “I turned away from the male subject briefly to get an Oak Hill officers’ attention to unlock the police vehicle, so I could place the male subject safely inside of it,” but that “As I turned back to the male subject, he turned his head toward me and pursed his lips while making a noise as if he were clearing his throat of flem and filling his mouth with it and sputum. He then moved his head towards me in a motion that made me believe that he was going to spit on me. Observing this, I then rapidly used a straight arm with an open palm to divert the male subject’s head away from me, making physical contact with the left side of his head and facial area. The maneuver was abrupt, but did not cause him to fall to the ground.

By all means, review the pertinent portions of Officer Shrewsbury’s report for yourself:

After the strike to Nathan’s face, Shrewsbury then placed Nathan, still handcuffed, in the rear of the Oak Hill police cruiser, essentially abandoning him there for the Oak Hill officers to find.

Ultimately, Nathan was only charged with misdemeanor possession of marijuana. Nathan maintains that he wasn’t resisting Shrewsbury in any way. And contrary to what Officer Shrewsbury wrote in his police report, Nathan maintains that it went down a little differently. Nathan says that he was told by Shrewsbury, “if you don’t shut up, I’m gonna take these handcuffs off and do one of those old West Virginia ass whoopins.” After apparently not liking Nathan’s response, Nathan states that Officer Shrewsbury, who started to walk away, quickly turned around and punched him in the face with a close fist right hook, with Nathan still handcuffed and not physically resisting in any way.

I discussed in the previous video about Officer Shrewsbury that he had been decertified as a police officer while working at the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office in 2015, for lying and dishonesty as a police officer. The next year, Shrewsbury ran for the position of Magistrate Judge in Fayette County, touting his law enforcement experience – not mentioning his decertification – and also bragging that he was a professional boxer.

Excerpt, Fayette Magistrate Division 2 and 3 Candidates, May 8, 2016, The Register-Herald, https://www.register-herald.com/news/fayette-magistrate-division-2-and-3-candidates/article_ef029a2c-fd78-5bed-9473-88b362722a2c.html

A review of old social media also reveals at least one past boxing photo of Officer Shrewsbury.

The physical trauma inflicted to Nathan corroborates that, and corroborates Nathan’s recollection of being punched with a closed-fist right hook, rather than the word salad written by Officer Shrewsbury.

Nathan was discovered by other police officers, sitting in the back of a police cruiser, covered with blood, with his tooth laying in his lap, his shirt covered with blood, suffering in severe pain. These other officers took Nathan into their custody and transported him to a nearby hospital, where he underwent emergency treatment. Nathan’s jaw was broken in two different places. He was going to require immediate surgery. He ended up being transported all the way back to Ohio to a specialist surgeon at Ohio State University, for the necessary surgery on his jaw. 

Excerpts of Nathan’s medical records from Plateau Medical Center Emergency Room:

So you have a 20 year old kid, handcuffed, charged only with misdemeanor possession of marijuana, punched in the face by a police officer claiming to have experience as a professional boxer, knocking out at least one tooth, and fracturing his jaw in two places, requiring transport by ambulance, all the way to Ohio for surgery, where he spent four days hospitalized.

One of the police officers from the nearby Oak Hill Police Department who discovered Nathan injured and bleeding in the back of the police cruiser, and who transported him to the emergency room of the nearby hospital, noted in her report that she didn’t even know who had arrested and handcuffed Nathan, even identifying the design of the handcuffs she removed from him at the hospital. 

Excerpt of the police report by OHPD Officer Kennedy.

Another Oak Hill officer noted in his report that he was “made aware that an officer had punched the male” [arrestee] and placed him in into the other Oak Hill officer’s car, basically abandoning him there with no information or documentation.

Excerpt of the police report by OHPD Officer Jones.

Laughably, in his subsequent written police report, Officer Shrewsbury filled out a use of force report that contained almost no information about the force that he used, or the reason for using it. Mind you, I don’t believe his report even alleged that Nathan spit at him, just that he allegedly heard sounds that he alleges were leading up to a spit. Importantly, Nathan wasn’t charged with spitting, or attempting to spit on any police officer. 

Officer Shrewsbury’s Use of Force Report, dated August 16, 2021, which was even signed by his supervisor, the Chief of Police, Jack Brown.

Police use of force incidents are judged by the federal courts using the Graham Factors, which are going to easily show that this was an unreasonable and excessive use of force. Here you have an individual charged with an extremely minor crime, who is handcuffed, who is not physically resisting, but rather only running his mouth, expressing criticism, who is punched in the face with tremendous force, by a large police officer who claims to be a boxer. 

While that police officer claims he heard pre-spit sounds, that same police officer has already been decertified for lying as a police officer. Thus, it’s probably for the best if Officer Shrewsbury is suspended. All of this begs the question about why the town of Mount Hope, West Virginia hired him in the first place, and why they appear to have let him escape real supervision. 

Make sure you subscribe and follow-along to hear what’s happening next, because we’re learning more by the day, and lawsuits are looming.

Local Town Victimizes Innocent Motorists with Officer Perjury Pottymouth

On January 31, 2022, Brian Beckett was traveling home from work, driving Northbound on WV Route 19 in Mount Hope, West Virginia. It was around 5:45 p.m. He ended up getting pulled over for speeding by Mount Hope Police Department officer Aaron Shrewsbury. Instead of getting a speeding ticket, or even a warning, Mr. Beckett ended up being pulled out of his car and arrested for obstructing an officer, disorderly conduct, speeding, and reckless driving.

Mr. Beckett was driving home from an industrial work site in a nearby county. He’s not a criminal – not out selling drugs or committing crimes – just trying to drive down the road. He had a dash camera recording, which appears to show that he was driving safely. It doesn’t indicate his speed, but that’s not what this video is about. Officer Shrewsbury would subsequently swear under oath in his criminal complaint affidavit, seeking court authorization for Mr. Beckett’s arrest, that not only did he radar Mr. Beckett speeding, but that “as I was catching up to the vehicle, I noticed the vehicle weaving through traffic recklessly” but that “I was able to pull behind the vehicle and get it stopped….” Take a look at the dash cam footage from Mr. Beckett’s car just prior to the traffic stop, and see if that statement appears to you to be true.

Mr. Beckett used his personal cell phone to record his interaction with Officer Shrewsbury. Despite the officer stopping the video and attempting to delete the recording from Mr. Beckett’s phone, the officer couldn’t access it. During arrest processing, the officer was placing the phone in front of Mr. Beckett’s face in order to attempt to unlock the phone using facial recognition, to no avail. So he was unable to delete this footage, which shows the encounter, what led to Mr. Beckett’s arrest, and the fact that Officer Shrewsbury stopped the recording.

So Officer Shrewsbury immediately arrested Mr. Beckett for obstruction for not rolling his window down all the way. He never bothered to ask Mr. Beckett for his license, registration, proof of insurance, or even his name. He just demanded that the window be rolled down all the way, not providing a reason – just because he demanded it. Then immediately removed him from the car and arrested him. The officer never even identified himself, the reason he pulled him over, or explained any legitimate reason he required the window rolled down. 

In the subsequent criminal complaint, no allegation was made or charged that it is illegal in West Virginia to not roll one’s window down completely during a traffic stop. He was merely charged with obstruction. Under West Virginia’s obstruction statute, the plain language of the statute establishes that a person is guilty of obstruction when he, “by threats, menaces, acts or otherwise forcibly or illegally hinders or obstructs or attempts to hinder or obstruct a law-enforcement officer, probation officer or parole officer acting in his or her official capacity.” The Fourth Circuit recently examined the statute:

As West Virginia’s high court has “succinct[ly]” explained, to secure a conviction under section 61-5-17(a), the State must show “forcible or illegal conduct that interferes with a police officer’s discharge of official duties.” State v. Davis, 229 W.Va. 695, 735 S.E.2d 570, 573 (2012) (quoting State v. Carney, 222 W.Va. 152, 663 S.E.2d 606, 611 (2008) ). Because conduct can obstruct an officer if it is either forcible or illegal, a person may be guilty of obstruction “whether or not force be actually present.” Johnson , 59 S.E.2d at 487. However, where “force is not involved to effect an obstruction,” the resulting obstruction itself is insufficient to establish the illegality required by section 61-5-17. Carney , 663 S.E.2d at 611. That is, when force is not used, obstruction lies only where an illegal act is performed. This is because “lawful conduct is not sufficient to establish the statutory offense.” Id. 

Of particular relevance to our inquiry here, West Virginia courts have held that “when done in an orderly manner, merely questioning or remonstrating with an officer while he or she is performing his or her duty, does not ordinarily constitute the offense of obstructing an officer.” State v. Srnsky, 213 W.Va. 412, 582 S.E.2d 859, 867 (2003) (quoting State ex rel. Wilmoth v. Gustke, 179 W.Va. 771, 373 S.E.2d 484, 486 (W. Va. 1988)). 

Hupp v. State Trooper Seth Cook, 931 F.3d 307 (4th Cir. 2019).

At no point did Mr. Beckett refuse to participate in the traffic stop being conducted by Officer Shrewsbury. He rolled the window down partially. He was clearly visible through the non-tinted glass, his hands were visible and non-threatening; he hadn’t refused to provide his license, registration and proof of insurance. He hadn’t refused to identify himself, or to do any act he was required by law to perform. Moreover, I’m aware of no State law, nor did Officer Shrewsbury identify one in the charging documents, requiring motorists who are subjected to traffic stops in West Virginia to roll their windows completely down as a matter of routine. 

It appears that this arrest occurred in the absence of probable cause, and therefore in violation of the Fourth Amendment. But it didn’t stop there. 

Officer Shrewsbury also alleged that, after pulling Mr. Beckett from the vehicle and placing him in handcuffs, while walking Mr. Beckett to the police cruiser, that Mr. Beckett remarked that “this was bullshit.” Officer Shrewsbury wrote in his criminal complaint affidavit that, “I then informed Mr. Beckett to stop cussing and placed him inside my vehicle.”

Under West Virginia’s disorderly conduct statute, no probable cause could exist for a warrantless arrest for disorderly conduct by virtue of saying, “this was bullshit.” First of all, if that were possible, such would be a First Amendment violation, as the West Virginia Supreme Court warned law enforcement back ini 1988:

“The freedom of individuals verbally to oppose or challenge police action without thereby risking arrest is one of the principal characteristics by which we distinguish a free nation from a police state.”  

State ex rel. Wilmoth v. Gustke, 179 W.Va. 771, 773-74 373 S.E.2d 484, 486-87 (1988).

First Amendment issues aside, merely using bad language in the presence of a supposedly-sensitive police officer, cannot violate West Virginia’s disorderly conduct statute. Not that I expect law enforcement to actually learn the law, but there is a 2015 West Virginia Supreme Court case directly on point. In Maston v. Wagner, 781 S.E.2d 936 (W. Va. 2015), the West Virginia Supreme Court held specifically that the WV disorderly conduct statute, while potentially criminalizing profane language under some circumstances, in public and in front of other people who complain, does not criminalize profane language used by a citizen during their interaction with law enforcement.

If that’s not enough, the U.S. Supreme Court has sent a clear message through its rulings, such as in Cohen v. California (1971) and Lewis v. City of New Orleans (1974) that free speech, however offensive or controversial to sensitive virgin-eared police officers, is afforded a high level of protection. 

Officer Shrewsbury didn’t even allege in his criminal complaint affidavit that a third party had overheard Mr. Beckett’s alleged use of the word bullshit, or complained about it. Nevertheless, the local magistrate signed off on it, approving it as probable cause under West Virginia law. Which is a disgrace, given the fact that the State Supreme Court clearly warned otherwise about seven years earlier.

Also a disgrace to our Constitution, is the fact that these charges are still pending against Mr. Beckett. The individual police officers like this you see in these videos never do it alone. Behind the scenes are politicians and prosecutors. 

In fact, the politicians and prosecutors behind the scenes of this Officer Aaron Shrewsbury should explain why this police officer is allowed to victimize citizens in the first place, given the fact that he had previously lost his certification to be a police officer in West Virginia while working at the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office for “Dishonesty – willful falsification of information.” No, unfortunately I’m not making that up. That’s right – the same police officer who filed false and incorrect charges against Mr. Beckett, has somehow in the past managed to screw up his job so badly that he lost his certification to be a police officer, for lying as a police officer. Truly unbelievable. But also not unbelievable. 

Also not surprisingly, other complaints have surfaced about Officer Shrewbury. This one may sound familiar. August 15, 2021, a few months before Mr. Beckett’s incident, a 20 year old kid from Ohio was driving through this same area, and ends up getting arrested by Officer Shrewsbury for misdemeanor possession of marijuana. And listen to this, the kid says, according to Shrewsbury’s report, “this is fucking bullshit.” That incident ended in Officer Shrewsbury punching that kid in the face, and then placing him handcuffed, in the back of a police cruiser, with a blood covered face and broken jaw, which required surgery to fix. 

The kid was finally able to get help from another police officer at the scene. He said hey, I need help. When asked why he needed help, the kid said, “my tooth is in my lap.” The officer then looked at him and saw a large amount of blood coming from his face and on his shirt. That officer then promptly took the kid to the hospital, which began a long period of medical treatment to fix the damage caused by Officer Shrewsbury.

More about this incident shortly, but the question begs, why do the politicians and prosecutors turn this man loose on the public. You can see from this video the way in which he appears to hold regular citizens in contempt, treating them like garbage to be discarded.

If you have any information about Officer Shrewsbury, who as far as I know is still out there interacting with the public, please reach out.

Small Town Cops Exposed on Video and Held Accountable in Court

The small town police department in Westover, West Virginia was recently exposed for their corruption and misconduct. Take a look at this dash cam video featuring two police officers who won the town a 1.1 million dollar settlement in two lawsuits, including the brutal use of force captured in this disgraceful body cam footage.

Here’s the text of the lawsuit itself, with all of the allegations:

But there’s more…. Accusations of corruption surfaced, which is shocking, I know.

The over 90-minute meeting that involved former Westover Police Chief Rick Panico, Lt. John Morgan, Westover city attorney Tim Stranko and Westover City Councilman Steve Andryzcik took place in September 2020. The meeting came on the heels of Panico’s resignation and the release of a letter signed by 11 Westover Police officers calling for the removal of Officer Aaron Dalton for a number of abuses of power….

The conversation during the meeting was mostly focused on the conduct of Mayor Johnson and his relationship with Officer Aaron Dalton. Pancio and Morgan described concerns that Mayor Johnson subverted the chain of command within the police department and created an environment that made it impossible to hold Dalton accountable for his actions.

Dalton is facing multiple lawsuits over civil rights violations and more accusations came to light in the meeting, including claims that Dalton had sexual intercourse with a woman while on duty and later was harassing her. Pancio claimed in the meeting that Mayor Johnson told him to “make it go away.”

This reminds me of the time I spent in Parkersburg, West Virginia years ago, where the mayor held an excessive force planning meeting with all the local police officers, resulting in at least one blowing the whistle on him….

Pro-Federal Law Enforcement Civil Rights Rulings This Week from SCOTUS and the First Circuit

The SCOTUS issued an opinion in Egbert v. Boule this week, which made clear that it’s close to impossible to sue federal law enforcement officers for civil rights violations. They essentially declared that border patrol agents have absolute immunity from civil liability due to “national security” grounds. There is some traditional basis of “Bivens” liability still in existence for non-border related law enforcement police-type activities, but for reasons I’ve explained before, it’s hardly worth pursuing anyways….

Also, more shockingly, the First Circuit issued an opinion en banc in U.S. v. Moore-Bush, which found that it probably was not a “search” under the Fourth Amendment for ATF agents to set up a 24/7 live feed camera on a utility pole outside a suspect’s home for a period of 8 months. This was a criminal case dispute over suppression issues.

Raleigh County Deputies Continue to Enable the Family Court Search Judge in Defiance of the Supreme Court

The Raleigh County Sheriff’s Deputy defendants in the Family Court Judge Search case have requested qualified immunity from the federal court in their motion for summary judgment in the pending civil lawsuit. Unfortunately for them, they can’t claim judicial immunity, as the judge has, even where following orders of a judge. So they’re stuck with qualified immunity. But will they get it? Their depositions have been taken, and frankly, their testimony was quite shocking. Despite the fact that the WV Supreme Court declared in no certain terms that judges do not search homes, and that the March 4, 2020 search of Mr. Gibson’s house was unconstitutional and “serious misconduct,” both the defendant judge, as well as her current and former bailiffs, continue to defy the Supreme Court, even threatening to do it again.

Here’s Raleigh County’s motion, in full. The gist of their argument is that, even if they participated in a civil rights violation, they should be dismissed from liability, because it was a reasonable mistake of law, which is the basic argument for qualified immunity. Moreover, the department itself claims they didn’t have a formal policy which caused, or substantially contributed to, the civil rights violation. As you’ll see below, the arguments of their lawyers don’t match the testimony of the actual officers, who clearly admit to an ongoing policy of illegal judicial searches, and who apparently have no respect for the law whatsoever.

Posted below is our response to Raleigh County’s motion, which highlights the extremely troubling deposition testimony of two of the deputy defendants, Bobby Stump and Jeff McPeake, both current or former bailiffs of the defendant judge. Here’s a couple of highlights describing their deposition testimony:

Defendant Bobby Stump, who arrived shortly after the search and seizure began, testified that he served as Defendant Goldston’s bailiff for approximately ten years, and that during that time, he went with her to the homes of litigants “numerous times.” (Stump at 6:12-14, 19-24; 7:1-4). When asked to estimate the number, Stump stated, “There’s no way I could – over thousands of divorce cases . . . . There’s no way I could give you an accurate number. I mean, I have no idea.” (Stump at 7:19-24; 8:1)….

According to Defendant Stump, the arrest powers were utilized often while serving as Defendant Goldston’s bailiff. Stump testified that he’s arrested “dozens and dozens and dozens of people with Ms. Goldston.” (Stump at 13:22-24; 14:1-5)…. Stump testified that he personally looked for items in the home of a litigant “numerous times,” explaining, “[a]ll the judges sent me out to look for items” and that, “[i]n the middle of a court hearing they would send me out to look for items at a home.” Stump estimated this occurred dozens of times. (Stump 16:4-12)…. In fact, Stump described that he and Judge Goldston knew each other so well, that when they went into the homes of litigants, “she didn’t have to tell me anything . . . she could just give  a look and I would know what to do.” (Stump 51:4-12)….

Defendant Stump remains employed as a police officer with the Raleigh County Sheriff’s Office. He noted that, even after the March 4, 2020 incident, there has been no policy change within the department about bailiffs going to the homes of litigants. Indeed, Stump asserts that, “if Judge Goldston told me today to go to the house, I’d be the first one there.” (Stump 56:1-6). Even after the WVSCA declared that Judge Goldston engaged in an unlawful search of Plaintiff’s residence on March 4, 2020, Defendant Stump boldly declared, “I’ve never had a judge to ask me to come remotely [close] to breaking the law.” When asked whether he would violate the Constitution, if asked to do so by a judge, Stump responded, “I know without a doubt, no judge that I ever worked for would ever ask me to violate the law, so I’ve never been in that predicament and I can safely say I never will.” (Stump 58:19-23).

Even in the context of a criminal case, Defendant Stump testified that he would perform a warrantless search of a defendant’s home, if asked to do so by a judge, despite his decades of knowledge and experience with the search warrant requirement under the Fourth Amendment. This same blind allegiance, or ignorance, is what guided Stump on March 4, 2020. (Stump 60:2-21). McPeake likewise subjectively believes that a warrant is not required in order to perform a search of a litigant’s home, at the direction of a family court judge, based on the fact that the judge is personally present and directing their conduct. (McPeake 22:18-24; 23:1-4; 24:5-14, 22-24; 25:1-3).

The judge’s current bailiff, Jeff McPeake, likewise testified that he was specifically told that he was allowed to participate in home searches with judges, and that there has been no policy change since then – even after the WV Supreme Court formally censured the judge for the behavior, calling it “serious misconduct,” unconstitutional, and an “egregious abuse of process” which violated the privacy and sanctity of the victim’s home.

McPeake testified that he believed the search was authorized under department policy due to a conversation with a supervisor, Sergeant Lilly, who told him that it was fine to do so, because “we do do that from time to time.” Thereafter, no supervisor ever told McPeake not to do so. Moreover, as of the date of his deposition, he wasn’t aware of any written policy changes pertaining to bailiffs or deputies going to the home of a litigant with a judge. Nor have any of his supervisors proactively told him not to engage in similar conduct in the future, even though they’re aware that he continues to serve as a bailiff for Judge Goldston. Nevertheless, McPeake noted that his own common sense tells him he shouldn’t do it again. (McPeake 13:10-13; 40:11-24; 64:2-23; 65:9-17). It appeared to McPeake, after getting express authorization from a supervisor to participate in his first home search with a family court judge, that it seemed to be something that occurred on a regular basis. (McPeake 13:7-13; 15:3-8).

Thus, the sheriff’s department authorized the home search practice by judges, and apparently continues to authorize the unconstitutional practice, in total disregard of West Virginia law, not to mention the U.S. Constitution. If only the voters of Raleigh County had some way of holding their government officials accountable…..

Here are the deposition transcripts for both deputies: