Federal Judge Finds a Pattern of Illegal Drug Task Force Search Warrants in West Virginia

Reuters reported a few days ago on a recent set of court orders from a federal judge in West Virginia finding a troubling pattern of illegal search warrants obtained by drug task force officers.

In December, Goodwin issued an order suppressing evidence seized from a house in 2021. The judge questioned the accuracy of certain statements made by law enforcement in an affidavit to obtain a search warrant of the defendant’s house. The government has since filed a new indictment.

After the judge issued the suppression order, the U.S. attorney’s office sent two investigators to interview the state magistrate judge who issued the search warrant. Goodwin said it was “improper” for investigators to seek such an interview and for the judge to entertain it.

“It is inherently intimidating to send federal officers to question a state magistrate judge,” Goodwin wrote, “and it is clearly out of bounds for the magistrate judge to provide the interview regarding his judicial decision-making in a matter pending before this court.”

Reuters published yet another article today expanding on the earlier report, noting that more than one federal judge in West Virginia, as well as a unanimous panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals found that this particular drug task force in West Virginia has been engaged in unconstitutional violations pertaining to search warrants.

Goodwin, in fact, has criticized the practices of the Metropolitan Drug Enforcement Network (MDENT) in particular in at least three other decisions since 2017, a review of court records shows. The MDENT is composed of officers from agencies including the Charleston Police and Kanawha County Sheriff’s Office, the Drug Enforcement Agency and the state police.

The judge tossed out evidence in a drug case last year, holding that the Charleston Police, MDENT, and a Kanawha County magistrate had again failed to respect constitutional limits on searches and seizures. The MDENT’s warrant was based on “unsourced and undescribed” information that someone was selling drugs and the discovery of three marijuana stems in the trash from that person’s home – which the judge said was clearly insufficient.

“I fear this is becoming a pattern,” Goodwin wrote on April 28, 2021, pointing to a similar ruling in another MDENT case from a week earlier.

The MDENT has also been admonished for what courts described as open and purposeful disregard of the legal limits on searches and seizures by at least one other judge of the Southern District of West Virginia, and in a unanimous opinion by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

This is the same federal court who presided over the Keith Sizemore case I litigated, where the Court denied a police officer qualified immunity in a civil rights lawsuit for providing false information in a search warrant application.

What you’re about to see, demonstrated in black and white courtesy of the federal judiciary, is proof of a pattern and practice of police misconduct. This is a documented pattern of Fourth Amendment violations, where drug task force officers knowingly violate the Constitution, with the complicity, or ignorance, of multiple state-level magistrate judges, who are not required to have law degrees to hold office, and who generally don’t. Moreover, many times the state-level magistrates, elected in countywide elections, are themselves retired law enforcement officers.

West Virginia is in serious need of search warrant reform. By the way, federal investigators in West Virginia, so I’m told, are required to go to Circuit Court judges, rather than magistrates, in federal criminal investigations in West Virginia.

Here’s the Court’s ruling on the motion for reconsideration in the case of U.S. v. Lark, as cited in the Reuters article:

Here’s the original suppression order which the government was seeking reconsideration in the Lark case. Note that the federal prosecutors here are not interested in actually having the Court reconsider the admissibility of the evidence, but rather solely with the career prospects of the police officer found by the federal judge to have provided false information in a search warrant application:

Here are the other suppression orders to which the Court referred in the Lark orders, of which I’m aware.

Here’s the suppression order from the Keith Sizemore case, to which I referred earlier. This was the criminal case:

And here’s the opinion from the subsequent civil lawsuit. Note that this was a different drug task force than is featured in the other opinions, but same federal Court, and same underlying issues:

It would be interesting to find out if a single one of these police officers who were determined by the federal judiciary to have provided false information in a search warrant application were ever thereafter placed on a “Brady List” for disclosure to criminal defendants in cases involving these officers…..

Update, 3/17/22: The West Virginia Record reported that the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia has an open investigation into the matter.

Deanna Eder, public affairs officer for Thompson, declined to comment in the pending case. But she did issue a statement to The West Virginia Record about Goodwin’s concerns.

“Upon taking office on October 13, 2021, U.S. Will Thompson began a thorough review of all of his office’s policies and procedures to determine what, if any, changes were needed,” Eder told The Record. “The United States Attorney served as a state circuit court judge for almost 15 years prior to his role as U.S. Attorney and brings that experience analyzing constitutional and suppression issues to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“As a result of his review of policies and procedures, and prior to the order in the Lark case, U.S. Attorney Thompson implemented a new process for reviewing search warrant applications. The U.S. Attorney’s Office has reviewed the court’s order in the Lark matter and takes the Court’s concerns seriously.”

Breaking: West Virginia Judge in Trouble Again Over Walmart Allegations

You may recall the West Virginia judge who was featured in traffic stop body cam footage, which resulted in the filing of formal judicial disciplinary charges against him due to his behavior during and after the stop. That judicial disciplinary litigation is apparently ongoing, as it is being contested by the judge. But wait, there’s more…. Believe it or not, the same judge has now had a separate set of formal charges lodged against him by the West Virginia Judicial Investigation Commission. The new Formal Statement of Charges, filed on February 14, 2022, and just released today, contains allegations pertaining to, of all things, the Walmart self checkout process.

To refresh your recollection, the first set of charges were filed on October 25, 2021. After finding out about their existence, I served a FOIA request on the Moorefield Police Department, where the incident occurred, and requested the body cam footage referenced in the charges. I then posted the relevant footage on Youtube, of course, so that the public could see it, which is a necessary component of government accountability. That video, as of this time, has been viewed 270,108 times, has 5.2 thousand likes and 2,452 comments, mostly appearing to be in condemnation and disgust of the judge’s behavior.

The new formal statement of charges alleges that on August 18, 2021, Judge Williams “left the Moorefield Walmart without paying for ten or so items in his shopping cart.” Moorefield Police Chief Stephen Riggleman described the allegations in a police report, where he noted that he arrived at Walmart on September 13, 2021 on an unrelated call and was informed that there was another incident which needed investigating. The chief wrote that the asset protection officer at the store provided him with evidence involving Judge Williams:

[The asset protection associate] provided this officer with a training receipt and still photograph of an individual known to me as Charles “Carter” Williams. This officer then watched video surveillance footage of Williams utilizing a self-check out register where he was observed scanning, bagging and placing the bagged merchandise into his shopping cart.

Williams is then observed pushing his shopping cart out of the store without making any attempts to pay for the items.

Chief Riggleman then wrote in his report that he notified the Hardy County Prosecutor, Lucas See, and reported the incident, given the fact that the suspect was the local circuit court judge, who he noted was already under a judicial disciplinary investigation involving the body-cam incident with the Moorefield police officer. The chief then noted that he decided the best course of action would be to contact Judge Williams and “direct him to pay for the merchandise.” He lamented, however, that this wasn’t the first time:

It should also be noted that approximately one year ago a similar incident occurred with [Judge] Williams at the Moorefield Walmart where he and his wife had pushed out a substantial amount of merchandise without paying. It was determined that neither party realized that the other had not paid for the items.

In fact, as the statement of charges alleges, the shopping buggy pushed out of the Walmart in the earlier incident was “valued at approximately $300.00 and that another individual was with [Judge Williams] when the incident took place.”

Apparently the investigators were aware of the first Walmart mishap, and they asked him about it, during his sworn statement during the body-cam incident investigation. Contrary to evidence later obtained by investigators, the judge sort of laughed it off and said that it was an incident a couple years ago where he forgot to pay for $52.00 worth of goods and that his wife was not present, but that a lady he knew, who worked at Walmart, was present, and that the lady “still works there,” claiming that, “[w]e laugh about it.”

Investigators note in the new statement of charges that the county prosecutor, who initially reported the judge on the body-cam allegations, never disclosed to them that there was actually another Walmart allegation, occurring only three weeks before the judge provided them with a sworn statement about the first Walmart allegation and the body-cam incident allegation. They only found out about the August 18, 2021 Walmart incident after Chief Riggleman disclosed its existence on February 10, 2022.

It also appears that the judge failed to disclose the existence of the second Walmart incident to the appropriate authorities. Paragraphs 19 and 20 from the new charges are redacted, but they do state that the judge “also never disclosed the August 18, 2021 Walmart incident to [somebody]” who is unnamed, claiming that the judge was unaware of the August 18, 2021 allegations until the same day as his February 11, 2022 interview by judicial disciplinary investigators. In other words, nobody advised him that he had failed to pay for the merchandise.

But wait a minute…. The judge apparently claimed during his February 11, 2022 sworn statement that he had no idea that he had left Walmart on August 18, 2021 without paying for merchandise, and only discovered the existence of the allegations on the very day of his questioning by investigators on February 11, 2022. To the contrary however, other local officials say otherwise, for which there appears to be documentation.

Chief Riggleman noted in his September 13, 2021 report that he reviewed video footage of Judge Williams pushing unpaid merchandise in a cart to his vehicle at the Moorefield Walmart, and that he subsequently contacted Judge Williams directly and directed him to pay for the merchandise. Riggleman also wrote in his report that the county prosecutor called him on September 14, 2021 and advised him that he had received a call from Judge Williams advising that he wished to pay for the items; that it was an unintentional mistake. The chief’s report is corroborated by text messages between the judge and the prosecutor, which were obtained by judicial investigators, dated September 16 and 17, 2021 (clearly prior to February 11, 2022):

Judge: If you could get that amount from [the Walmart asset protection associate] tomorrow I’d really appreciate it. Thanks so much.

Prosecutor: Gotcha!! She was supposed to call me yesterday but I guess she forgot. I’ll take care of it first thing in the morning.

Prosecutor: $42.21. Do you want me to stop by your house and get a check?

Judge: I have Covide so I’ll put a check in an envelope on my wall there at my driveway. I’m in a hearing so I probably won’t have it there until around 12:30. If you could take it up there I’d really appreciate it.

Prosecutor: I can do that.

Judge: Ok. It may be in a zip lock bag. I’ll hand sanitize good before I handle any of that. Thanks a lot Lucas.

Prosecutor: No problem!!

The next day, the texts between the judge and the prosecutor continued, even discussing the name of the lady at Walmart. The prosecutor relates that the Walmart asset protection lady wanted to communicate to the judge that she doesn’t want the judge to be “mad at Walmart about it.”

Two sayings come to mind: “where there’s smoke, there’s fire;” and also, “sometimes the cover-up is worse than the crime.” Trial lawyers often leave the the most important question unasked at the end of an important line of questioning. Where the evidence is strong, one need not even ask the ultimate question, because the answer doesn’t matter. It’s obvious. The new statement of charges appears to establish that Judge Williams provided false testimony during his February 11, 2022 sworn statement, claiming to be unaware of the August, 2021 Walmart incident (as being the reason he failed to disclose it to investigators during questioning just three weeks afterwards, on October 6, 2021).

Numerous rules of the West Virginia Code of Judicial Conduct were alleged to have been violated, according to a unanimous vote of the Judicial Investigation Commission, which found probable cause. Judge Williams has been served with the charges and has a right to file responsive pleadings with the West Virginia Supreme Court within 30 days.

Here’s the full statement of charges:

Conspiracy of Family Court Judges EXPOSED

This is absolutely outrageous. Apparently, there’s a secret society style organization of Family Court judges in West Virginia, who held a meeting and signed a resolution asking the West Virginia Supreme Court to fire the judicial disciplinary counsel prosecutors, who are currently engaged in the disciplinary prosecution of Judge Goldston in what has been termed the “Family Court Judge Search Case.” This was then leaked to the media by the judges, none of whom would agree to go on the record, but rather opted to work from the shadows.

The “Outlaw Barber” Arrested for Refusing to Close During the Lockdown Files Civil Rights Lawsuit

Today we filed suit in the case of the “Outlaw Barber,” Winerd “Les” Jenkins, a 73 year old combat veteran and former 27-year Deputy U.S. Marshall, who was arrested for refusing to close his barbershop during the Governor’s lockdown in April of 2020. We filed a Section 1983 civil rights lawsuit in federal court, in the Northern District of West Virginia.

The case was detailed last year in a Federalist article titled, West Virginia Barber’s Arrest Shows Failings Of The Bureaucratic State:

When Winerd “Les” Jenkins first became a barber, Neil Armstrong hadn’t yet set foot on the moon. For over five decades, Jenkins has made a living with his scissors and razor. For the past decade, he’s worked his craft from a storefront in Inwood, West Virginia. At Les’ Place Traditional Barber Shop, you can get a regular men’s haircut for $16 and a shave for $14—but come prepared to pay the old-fashioned way: in cash.

His insistence on “cash only” isn’t the only thing that’s old-school about Jenkins. He lives with his wife of 52 years on a small farm, where the couple raises rescued animals. He believes in paying his bills on time. He doesn’t use the internet, email, or text messaging. And he’s skeptical that his profession can become illegal overnight merely on the governor’s say-so.

He was ultimately arrested by two deputies from the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office, who transported Mr. Jenkins for incarceration and charged him with “obstructing” an officer. The prosecuting attorney’s office of that county then aggressively prosecuted Mr. Jenkins for the better part of a year, until the judge finally dismissed the charge in January of 2021, finding that it would be a violation of Mr. Jenkins’s constitutional rights to prosecute him for violating the governor’s executive order.

We asserted two separate violations of Mr. Jenkins’ Fourth Amendment rights (unreasonable search and seizure and false arrest), as well as a violation of Mr. Jenkins’ First Amendment rights. It’s already been assigned a case number. Read it for yourself:

I’ve already revealed the body cam footage from one of the deputies, which caught much of the interaction on video:

Tonight’s LIVE video: Prosecutors and Liberty – w/ Benjamin Hatfield, Republican Candidate for Prosecutor in Raleigh County

On with me tonight on Freedom is Scary, Episode 18, live, is Benjamin Hatfield, Esq., the Republican Nominee for Prosecuting Attorney of Raleigh County, West Virginia. Most state level prosecutors are elected politicians with party affiliations. They are enormously powerful, as demonstrated by the Rittenhouse and McCloskey cases. You can watch read here on this Youtube link, or on our Facebook page using Facebook Live. It will be simultaneously streamed to both. You can also submit comments and/or questions on both platforms.

In this video we’ll discuss what you need to know before voting for or supporting a prosecutor candidate. There is a reason George Soros is funding radical left-wing prosecutors around the country. Prosecutors hold the keys to the criminal courtrooms, and can design prosecutions to further their social justice and radical anti-gun and anti-freedom agendas – long before they reach the judiciary. Is there a difference between Democrat and Republican prosecutors? I’ll answer that question with another question: is there a difference in the Democrat and Republican platforms in regards to a law abiding citizen defending themselves, or their homes, with firearms?

This is an urgent situation for all of us now. Join me LIVE with special guest, Benjamin Hatfield, Esq., the Republican Nominee for Prosecuting Attorney of Raleigh County, West Virginia (Beckley, WV), who is running against a career Democrat prosecutor, who hasn’t had a contested election in over a decade, and who has been a prosecutor there since 1983. The law abiding citizens there are suffering.

Hatfield is a former assistant prosecutor in that county, and currently works as a civil litigation attorney at a private law firm. If you’re in West Virginia, and if you’re anywhere near Raleigh County, you may have seen some of the issues occurring there recently. You want to pay close attention to this race, and I encourage you to take a hard look at Mr. Hatfield, and then do whatever you can to help him. Because your liberty may count on it. Tune in to see why and to ask questions.

If you can send any financial help his way, donations can be sent to the “Committee to Elect Benjamin Hatfield,” PO Box 5241, Beckley, WV 25801.

Update: Here’s the article on Soros funding the Trojan Horse prosecutors I referenced in the video:

Beware Of George Soros’ Trojan Horse Prosecutors, by Pat Nolan, 9/11/20, The American Conservative

After St. Louis erupted in violence, arson, and looting, Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner ($307,000) dismissed all charges against the 36 people arrested for that violence. In the last few days eight St. Louis police officers have been shot.

At the same time, Gardner rushed to file charges against Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the homeowners who brandished (but did not use) guns at protestors who had entered the private street where the McCloskeys reside.

In Chicago, Illinois State’s Attorney Kim Foxx ($817,000) refused to prosecute rioters who violated the curfew imposed to quell the violence. “The question it comes down to is, is it a good use of our time and resources? No, it’s not.” What does she think would be a better use of her time and resources?

You probably remember Foxx. She dismissed the charges against Jussie Smollett, the actor who reported a hate crime attack against himself that turned out to be bogus. A judge removed Foxx from the case and assigned a special prosecutor who filed six new charges.

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner ($1.7 Million) announced he won’t prosecute people arrested for the violence that rocked his city for days with widespread looting and many cars torched. His excuse for not holding the mob accountable for their violence was laughable. “Prosecution alone will achieve nothing close to justice—not when power imbalances and lack of accountability make it possible for government actors including police or prosecutors to regularly take life or liberty unjustly and face no criminal or career penalty….” San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin ($620,000) is the beau ideal of the Trojan Horse prosecutors. “The criminal justice system isn’t just massive and brutal, it’s also racist,” according to Boudin…. In Portland, DA Mike Schmidt ($230,000) refuses to prosecute the rioters who have burned and looted his city for over 90 days straight…..

Since 2018, Soros has made Virginia the focus of his efforts. And it has paid dividends. Trojan Horse candidates have taken over five of the largest prosecutor’s offices in the Commonwealth:  Fairfax, Arlington, Alexandria, Albemarle, Portsmouth, and Loudoun.

To find systematic injustice and inequality, look no further than the prosecutors and the criminal laws

Kamala Harris is now the VP candidate. You may have heard her bring up the topic of systematic inequality, or injustice. Look no further than her achievements as a career prosecutor, and many others like her across the nation, to find evidence that those things indeed exist. They really do.

PODCAST version: https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-izu7k-e9f1fe

Harris was a district attorney in San Fransisco from 2004 to 2011. She stood out there by being tough on crime in the form of prosecuting truant school children, sending letters to San Fransisco parents each year, threatening them with citations. She sponsored a 2010 law making it a misdemeanor crime for parents whose children miss 10 percent of a school year without an excuse the State deemed acceptable. She opposed efforts to reduce mandatory minimum prison sentences. She opposed the effort to legalize marijuana in California.

She served California Attorney General from 2011 to 2017, where at least 1,560 people were incarcerated for marijuana related offenses in those years. She fought against new DNA testing in order to determine whether death row inmate, Kevin Cooper, who many believed had been wrongfully convicted. If there’s any chance at all that he is actually innocent, what is the harm in checking the DNA? According to the New York Times, over 600 criminal cases had to be dismissed over a corrupt laboratory technician who had been accused of “intentionally sabotaging” results in criminal prosecutions. Harris and her prosecutors tried to withhold this evidence from defense lawyers – and got caught.

In 2014, she declined to take a position on a ballot initiative to reduce certain low-level felonies to misdemeanors and laughed at a reporter who asked if she would support the legalization of marijuana.

That case is not an outlier. Ms. Harris also fought to keep Daniel Larsen in prison on a 28-year-to-life sentence for possession of a concealed weapon even though his trial lawyer was incompetent and there was compelling evidence of his innocence. Relying on a technicality again, Ms. Harris argued that Mr. Larsen failed to raise his legal arguments in a timely fashion. (This time, she lost.)

She also defended Johnny Baca’s conviction for murder even though judges found a prosecutor presented false testimony at the trial. She relented only after a video of the oral argument received national attention and embarrassed her office.  And then there’s Kevin Cooper, the death row inmate whose trial was infected by racism and corruption. He sought advanced DNA testing to prove his innocence, but Ms. Harris opposed it. (After The New York Times’s exposé of the case went viral, she reversed her position.)

Kamala Harris Was Not a ‘Progressive Prosecutor’, The New York Times, by Lara Bbazelon, Jan. 17, 2019.

In “The Truths We Hold,” Ms. Harris’s recently published memoir, she writes: “America has a deep and dark history of people using the power of the prosecutor as an instrument of injustice.” She ironically claims in the book, “I know this history well — of innocent men framed, of charges brought against people without sufficient evidence, of prosecutors hiding information that would exonerate defendants, of the disproportionate application of the law.”

Indeed, I have also seen it first hand. The fact is that we have over-criminalized everything in this country. And who has it harmed the most? As I wrote about back in January, it didn’t start out this way. The Constitution was initially ratified in 1788. By 1790, we had only 30 federal crimes in existence, which consisted of the basics: treason, piracy, counterfeiting, murder, and so on. At that time, there was no concept in our law of the possession of an object being illegal in and of itself. That was imported from Sharia Law and Far-East authoritarian regimes, such as you see in the laws of Singapore.

The first modern drug law in the western world was in England in 1868.  The first law against drug possession in the U.S. wasn’t until 1875, from San Francisco, where it was attempted to stop the Chinese immigrants from enjoying their “opium dens.” Politicians will be politicians, and now as of 2015, we now have over 5,000 federal crimes on the books – up quite a ways from the original 30 in the America as created by our founding fathers. In total, that’s 27,000 pages of descriptions of federal crimes in the U.S. code books. Although the U.S. consists of only about 5% of the world population, we incarcerate around 25% of the world’s prisoners. 40% of those are Black Americans. See The Overcriminalization of America, Charles G. Koch and Mark V. Holden, January 7, 2015.

Our laws in America derived from English common law. Courts today still turn to the old English common law to resolve some questions of law. It might surprise you to learn that the prosecution of crimes in our mother country was originally a private matter, rather than public.  There was no real police force anywhere.  Nor an army of prosecutors. The first real police force was created in 1829, and then that was only in London. The criminal justice system itself, was mostly privately operated and funded. So there was no such thing as a police force. And there was no such thing as career prosecutors, such as Kamala Harris.

Under English law, any Englishman could prosecute any crime. In practice, the prosecutor was usually the victim. It was up to him to file charges with the local magistrate, present evidence to the grand jury, and, if the grand jury found a true bill, provide evidence for the trial.

In some ways, their system for criminal prosecution was similar to our system of civil prosecution. Under both, it is the victim who ordinarily initiates and controls the process by which the offender is brought to justice. There is, however, at least one major difference between the two systems. If the victim of a tort succeeds in winning his case, the tortfeasor is required to pay him damages. If the victim of a crime won his case, the criminal was hanged, transported, or possibly pardoned. The damage payment in civil law provides the victim with an incentive to sue. There seems to be no corresponding incentive under the 18th century system of private criminal prosecution.

Making Sense of English Law Enforcement in the 18th Century, Santa Clara University School of Law, 2 U. Chi. L. Sch. Roundtable 475 (1995).

Possession crimes were used against Black Americans, throughout the Jim Crow era, by depriving them of the right to possess firearms.

The anxiety about gun control, i.e., the regulation of gun possession, arises from this tension, this uncertainty amongthose who once clearly identified themselves with the policers in their effort to control undesirables.

Privileged members of thepolitical community are appalled to find themselves treated bythe law, if not necessarily by its enforcers, as presumptively dangerous, and therefore as vagrants, felons, aliens, and “negroes.” Pointing to the Second Amendment, they challenge the state’s claim to original ownership of guns as dangerous instruments,with possession to be delegated to those deemed worthy. Men of “good moral character” balk at the requirement that they demonstrate their moral fitness to a state official.

They are, in short, experiencing the very sense of powerlessness so familiar to the traditional objects of police control. Now, they too are the outsiders who find themselves confronted with the arbitrary discretion of a superior power, the state. And this sense of alienation only grows when these state-defined sources of danger realize that state officials are exempt from the general prohibition of possession.

Making Sense of English Law Enforcement in the 18th Century, Santa Clara University School of Law, 2 U. Chi. L. Sch. Roundtable 475 (1995), at p. 92.

And again, if you want to look at systematic injustice and inequality, look no further than those individuals who have signed their names to the documents charging the people imprisoned across the county, as well as the arguments made in the courtroom to put them there. Somewhere along the way, we decided to over-criminalize America, to the point at which the Government tells us what plants, or even ideas, we can, or cannot possess. Regarding Harris’ statement in her book about the danger of prosecutors, the lady doth protest too much, methinks….

ATV laws in West Virginia and McDowell County, W. Va.

So a few days ago, I represented a guy down in McDowell County, West Virginia, on a misdemeanor charge of driving on a two-lane road in an ATV/UTV/side-by-side. West Virginia law allows you to do this. But apparently there is confusion, or ignorance, in the local sheriff’s department and/or prosecutor’s office. We were forced to have a trial, which resulted in a not guilty verdict. Here’s the actual criminal complaint charging my client with the non-crime of operating an ATV on a two-lane road in West Virginia:

Clearly this police officer was wrong about the law.

W. Va. Code Section 17F-1-1 allows ATVS to:

  1. Operate on any single lane road (most roadways in rural West Virginia).
  2. Operate on a two-lane road for a distance of 10 miles or less, so long as the ATV it is either on the shoulder of the road, or as far to the right on the pavement as possible if there is insufficient shoulder to ride on, and at a speed of 25 mph or less, in order to travel between “a residence or lodging and off-road trails, fields and areas of operation, including stops for food, fuel, supplies and restrooms.” If operated at night, an ATV must be equipped with headlights and taillights, which must be turned on – obviously. Read it for yourself, here: https://www.wvlegislature.gov/WVCODE/Code.cfm?chap=17f&art=1

So, slightly confusing and a few grey areas, but if you’ve been around the Hatfield & McCoy Trails, you know that it’s necessary to use a two-lane road at times to get where you need to go on an ATV. And in other counties, where there are no Hatfield & McCoy Trails, we still need to go down two-lanes at times to get from one place we’re allowed to ride, to another (whether farms/fields/one-lanes/gas stations, etc.)

Me negotiating down a black diamond trail in the Hatfield & McCoy Trail system. Pocahontas Section, I believe.

Unfortunately however, when we arrived to court on this particular case, the prosecutor looked at me in amazement when I told her that the client hadn’t committed a crime, even assuming all the allegations in the criminal complaint are true. She said dismissively that the client could plead guilty and pay the fines. Of course, I said, “no way, Jose.”

So we had a trial. During the trial, the charging police officer testified that no ATVs are ever allowed to be on a two-lane road, and that his supervisor instructed him, in accordance with this, to “clear” ATVs from the roads, because the Hatfield & McCoy system was closed by the Governor due to COVID-19.

But that has nothing to do with the statute. The Governor can’t change the ATV laws by executive order; nor did he attempt to. Accessing the H&M trails isn’t the only reason ATVs are used in West Virginia. The officer cited 17F-1-1 as his legal authority to “clear the roads.” But in reality, the law still says what it says. Therefore, the magistrate judge correctly found my client not guilty.

There had been no allegations of unsafe or improper operation of the ATV – just that he was on a double yellow line. The officer testified that he didn’t know where the client was coming from – nor where he was going. He had no evidence that my client had been illegally operating on the H&M trail system. The complaint itself corroborates this. It didn’t mention anything other than the fact that he caught him on a two-lane.

However, there were facts pertaining to the officer’s conduct. He got angry and took the citation back, after the mayor of the town where this occurred – Northfork – apparently said that ATVs were welcome and allowed in her ATV-friendly town. Muttering the “F word,” the officer left the city hall, confiscated citation in hand. The testimony at trial was that about an hour later, the officer showed up at my client’s residence – the client wasn’t even home at the time – and threw the citation inside the empty, parked ATV in the driveway. That wasn’t the reason for the not guilty verdict, just a bizarre way to re-issue a ticket. But in any event, it was a non-crime, so the verdict was rightly “not guilty.”

Following the trial, I posted on Facebook that my client had been found not guilty, and that the Governor’s tyrannical executive orders had no effect on the state’s ATV laws, and expressed disbelief that the local sheriff’s department and prosecutor’s office would hassle ATV riders, when that’s really the only thing the local economy has going for it at this point. Did I bash a county by saying this? No, facts are facts. I said nothing about the county, unless you’re referring to the sheriff’s department and the prosecutor’s office prosecuting an innocent man for a non-crime.

Let’s look at the facts though…..

To argue that McDowell County doesn’t have a crisis economy is to stick your head in the sand. Pointing this out is not bashing, nor exploiting, the county. Anyone who makes such an accusation, is either ignorant, or a willing propagandist. Hell, in 1963 – I’ll repeat: 1963 – President John F. Kennedy said:

I don’t think any American can be satisfied to find in McDowell County, West Virginia, 20 or 25 percent of the people of that county out of work, not for 6 weeks or 12 weeks, but for a year, 2, 3, or 4 years.

The situation has only worsened there. McDowell County has been classified as a “food desert” by the USDA. In 2017, there were two full-sized grocery stores serving the county’s 535 square miles. The only Walmart super center in the county closed in 2016 Coyne, Caity (April 7, 2018). “In McDowell County ‘food desert,’ concerns about the future”Charleston Gazette-Mail. Retrieved January 19, 2020. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen another closed Walmart anywhere in the country.

Vacant Walmart building in Kimble, W.Va.
CREDIT ROXY TODD/ WVPB; https://www.wvpublic.org/post/what-happens-when-walmart-closes-one-coal-community#stream/0

State officials estimate that there are between 5,000 to 8,000 abandoned homes and buildings in McDowell County alone that need to come down. Legislation was introduced this year to fund the removal of many of these “blight” areas. See https://www.register-herald.com/opinion/editorials/editorial-removing-blight-swope-s-measure-important-to-west-virginia/article_6d4359cf-8b21-5430-9769-2f874e8fee9b.html They’ve been working on this for years. From a newspaper article from 2015:

WELCH — For years, it has been difficult for McDowell County officials to recognize the obvious fact that deserted and dilapidated structures countywide represent a negative image for visitors to the county.

“U.S. Route 52 is the gateway to our county,” Harold McBride, president of the McDowell County Commission said during a press conference Friday morning at the McDowell County Public Library in Welch. “It looks like a Third World country,” he said and added that most of the dilapidated buildings are owned by people who live outside the state and “think they have something.”

https://www.bdtonline.com/news/officials-and-coal-operators-work-to-remove-blighted-structures/article_e4961188-00f9-11e5-86d4-4b27287a4886.html?mode=jqm

From the Charleston Gazette in 2013:

There were 100,000 people in McDowell County in 1950. Today, there are about 22,000 residents,” Altizer said.From 2000 to 2010, McDowell County’s population dropped by nearly 20 percent, from 27,329 people to 22,064 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.”It is so sad we are losing so much population. Half of our homes are on homestead exemption, which lowers property taxes for people who are over 65 or disabled,” Altizer said during a recent interview in the McDowell County Courthouse.Today, Altizer said, most income to county residents come from coal and natural gas jobs, or from checks retired people receive — Social Security, black lung, the Veterans Administration and United Mine Workers.”The monthly West Virginia Economic Survey prepared by Workforce West Virginia recently reported there were about 6,000 people working in the county, many of them with government jobs or fast-food jobs. We have an older population today. And there are not new jobs here,” Altizer said.”Coal and gas are keeping us going. 

https://www.wvgazettemail.com/business/mcdowell-county-fighting-long-term-decline/article_cb381937-e129-59fd-8d7d-f1fb88dbe6a1.html

Here’s an interesting article, with photos from an actual photographer, rather than the few I snapped with my obsolete iPhone. Take a look for yourself and determine if the few pictures I snapped were somehow misleading about the blight in the county:

https://architecturalafterlife.com/2018/01/12/welcome-to-welch/

From the article:

This decline in work lead to the creation of modern era food stamps. The Chloe and Alderson Muncy family of Paynesville, McDowell County were the first recipients of modern day food stamps in America. Their household included 15 people. The city of Welch, and crowds of reporters watched as Secretary of Agriculture Orville Freeman delivered $95 of federal food stamps to Mr. and Mrs. Muncy on May 29, 1961. This was an important moment in history, as it was the first issuance of federal food stamps under the Kennedy Administration. This federal assistance program continued to expand for years to come, and is commonly used across the United States today.

https://architecturalafterlife.com/2018/01/12/welcome-to-welch/

Fortunately for the county, in 2018, the state opened two new trail connections in McDowell County. From a May, 2018 newspaper article:

WELCH — Two new ATV trail connections opening today in McDowell County will give visitors direct access to the city of Welch and the town of Kimball, the Hatfield-McCoy Regional Recreation Authority’s executive director said Tuesday.

“As of in the morning (today), we’ll have the town of Kimball and the city of Welch will be connected to the Hatfield-McCoy Trail in the Indian Ridge system,” Executive Director Jeffrey Lusk said. “This will allow riders of the trails to go into those communities to get food and fuel and to stay. These are two new towns that weren’t on the system. Up until today, the only two towns that were connected were Northfork and Keystone….

The new Warrior Trail will connect with Gary and Welch. ATV riders will be able to travel from the town of Bramwell to the town of War starting on Labor Day, he added. More lodging opportunities are needed to help McDowell County’s communities benefit from the increase ATV tourism traffic.

“We’re opening the Warrior Trail System up on Labor Day Weekend,” Lusk said. “We’re in desperate need of places to stay in War, Gary and Welch come Labor Day Weekend.

Tourism traffic continues to grow on the Hatfield-McCoy Trail’s overall system, Lusk stated. Last year, overall permit sales were up by 15.1 percent, and both Mercer and McDowell Counties had the highest growth in sales. 

https://www.bdtonline.com/news/new-trail-links-opening-on-hatfield-mccoy/article_6d82ce36-5e22-11e8-a13b-a3912708cd04.html

Being an ATV rider myself, I know first hand how the community benefits from the ATV economy. Local entrepreneurs now have opportunities to open ATV resorts, restaurants, and other businesses, which cater to ATV riders. ATV riders bring money. These new ATVs are 15-30k vehicles, each, when it comes to the side-by-sides, and not far off from that for the individual four wheelers. Watch them drive in. They’re driving 70k trucks, pulling 10k trailers, in many instances. They’ve invested heavily in the hobby. They spend money, not only on their equipment, but on food, lodging, gas, and so on. And they come from all over. I’ve even seen guys who drove all the way from Mexico to ride these trails.

Riding somewhere down there….

Some of them even invest in local real estate, such as the client I represented in this case, who loved the community so much, he bought his own place. But go on and attack me for daring to “bash” McDowell County…. So let’s continue with some facts, instead of knee-jerk emotion.

What are some of the side effects of the economic problems?

Of 3,142 counties in the U.S. in 2013, McDowell County, West Virginia ranked 3,142 in the life expectancy of both male and female residents. See http://www.healthdata.org/sites/default/files/files/county_profiles/US/2015/County_Report_McDowell_County_West_Virginia.pdf,; see also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McDowell_County,_West_Virginia

 Males in McDowell County lived an average of 63.5 years and females lived an average of 71.5 years compared to the national average for life expectancy of 76.5 for males and 81.2 for females. Moreover, the average life expectancy in McDowell County declined by 3.2 years for males and 4.1 years for females between 1985 and 2013 compared to a national average for the same period of an increased life span of 5.5 years for men and 3.1 years for women…..

Then there’s the drug problem. In 2015, McDowell County had the highest rate of drug-induced deaths of any county in the U.S., with 141 deaths per 100,000 people. The rate for the U.S. as a whole is only 14.7 deaths per 100,000 people. (Same citation).

So back to my original point. There’s 99 problems there, and ATVs ain’t one of them. So why hassle ATV riders when they’re bringing money, jobs and fun into the local economy?

Again, ATVs are allowed on single lane roads in West Virginia, and are also allowed on two-lane roads, to get from one place they’re allowed to operate, to another place they’re allowed to operate, so long as it’s a distance of 10 miles or less, and so long as they operate on the shoulder, or as far as the right as possible, and under the speed of 25 mph. Counties and cities in West Virginia are granted the authority by the legislature to increase ATV freedoms. Other than interstate highways, they can authorize ATVs to use two lanes within their jurisdictions with no restrictions whatsoever. That would be what signage would refer to as being “ATV Friendly.”

That’s the law anyways. Whether or not law enforcement and prosecutors in any particular county care or not…. well that’s a different issue.

Update regarding the new Senate Bill 690:

Senate Bill 690 is now in effect in West Virginia. ATVs, side by sides, UTVs, can now be made “street legal” in West Virginia. They are calling this group of vehicles with confusing names, “Special Purpose Vehicles.”

SPVs can now be turned into “street legal SPVs.” The following requirements must be met:

(1) One or more headlamps;

(2) One or more tail lamps;

(3) One or more brake lamps;

(4) A tail lamp or other lamp constructed and placed to illuminate the registration plate with a white light;

(5) One or more red reflectors on the rear;

(6) Amber electric turn system, one on each side of the front;

(7) Amber or red electric turn signals;

(8) A braking system, other than a parking brake;

(9) A horn or other warning device;

(10) A muffler and, if required by an applicable federal statute or rule, an emission control system;

(11) Rearview mirrors on the right and left side of the driver;

(12) A windshield, unless the operator wears eye protection while operating the vehicle;

(13) A speedometer, illuminated for nighttime operation;

(14) For vehicles designed by the manufacturer for carrying one or more passengers, a seat designed for passengers; and 

(15) Tires that have at least 2/32 inches or greater tire tread.

Senate Bill 690

Golf carts are being excluded:

(uu) “Low-speed vehicle” means a four-wheeled motor vehicle whose attainable speed in one mile on a paved level surface is more than twenty miles per hour but not more than twenty-five miles per hour.

WV Code §17A-1-1(uu)

A “Special Purpose Vehicle” is defined as:

“Special purpose vehicle” includes all-terrain vehicles, utility terrain vehicles, mini-trucks, pneumatic-tired military vehicles, and full-size special purpose-built vehicles, including those self-constructed or built by the original equipment manufacturer and those that have been modified.

There is a 20 mile limit on the travel on a two-lane road. Controlled-access highways are excluded. That would be interstates and four lanes where there are dedicated access points (on ramps, off ramps, and the like).

Episode 1 of the JOHN BRYAN PODCAST – impeachment, constitutional law, gun laws, self defense laws, and glucose meters are screwed up….

https://www.podbean.com/eu/pb-tqqbg-cb4067

Check out Episode 1 of the John Bryan PODCAST, where I pontificate on several topics, including impeachment evidence we’ve supposedly been hearing about, some search and seizure issues pertaining to the open carry of firearms, some self defense firearms issues, and a really crazy discovery that generic brand blood glucose meters, used by diabetics, are apparently way, way off……

 

Forget what you heard: the reality of the law of self-defense with a firearm in West Virginia. What does “castle doctrine” or “stand your ground” actually mean in WV?

Case studies are important aspect of learning and evaluating the law.  Being a Second Amendment supporting state, most West Virginians have heard one thing or another about the “castle doctrine,” or about what the law is regarding self defense with a firearm in West Virginia.

You can read the statutes, and you can read the case law.  You can read advice from anonymous sources on the internet.  But perhaps the best method is to go directly to a case-in-point.  A true nightmare scenario involving a home invader, a shooting, and a prosecution by overzealous authorities.

This case demonstrates a real life scenario.  It shows how the media and law enforcement can shift the narrative very quickly.  Most importantly, it shows the actual charge to the jurors who decided the man’s fate.  I obtained a copy of the jury charge, including the jury instructions, from the circuit clerk’s office, and have uploaded them to this site.  They are linked at the bottom of the page.  I also am providing a complete narrative showing some of the media reports, and how they shifted very quickly, turning on the homeowner.  It also shows how law enforcement used the media against the homeowner, poisoning the potential jury pool.

In March of 2015, a man intoxicated on various drugs, stripped off his clothes and attempted to forcibly enter the home of a family in Huntington, West Virginia.  The homeowner, Micah LeMaster, shot the intruder three times with his handgun.  He then followed the intruder outside towards the sidewalk, where he fired three more shots, resulting in the death of the home invader.  It was undisputed that this was a home invasion.  However, the media and the police quickly turned on the homeowner, resulting in an arrest, charge of first degree murder and a $700,000.00 bond.  The trial took place in November of 2016, resulting in a complete acquittal following his assertion of self defense and West Virginia’s “castle doctrine” law.  

One particular TV station’s website has their reporting of the incident, which in itself is educational.  From oldest to most recent:

LeMaster Media Narrative

If you really want to educate yourself on self defense law in West Virginia, read the actual law given to the LeMaster jury from the presiding trial judge.

The Actual Charge To the LeMaster Jury

The law given to the LeMaster jury contained the following specific instruction on the law pertaining to the West Virginia “Castle Doctrine,” in part:

An intruder is a person who enters, remains on, uses, or touches land or chattels in another’s possession without the possessor’s consent.

Our society recognizes that the home shelters and is a physical refuge for the basic unit of society, the family.  A man attacked in his own home by an intruder may invoke the law of self-defense without retreating.  The occupant of a dwelling is not limited in using deadly force against an unlawful intruder to the situation where the occupant is threatened with serious bodily injury or death, but he may use deadly force if the unlawful intruder threatens imminent physical violence or the commission of a felony and the occupant reasonably believes deadly force is necessary.

The violent and unlawful entry into a dwelling with intent to injury the occupants or commit a felony carries a common sense conclusion that he may be met with deadly force.

The source for this is the fact that West Virginia is a “stand your ground state,” and does not require a person to retreat before using deadly force:

(a) A lawful occupant within a home or other place of residence is justified in using reasonable and proportionate force, including deadly force, against an intruder or attacker to prevent a forcible entry into the home or residence or to terminate the intruder’s or attacker’s unlawful entry if the occupant reasonably apprehends that the intruder or attacker may kill or inflict serious bodily harm upon the occupant or others in the home or residence or if the occupant reasonably believes that the intruder or attacker intends to commit a felony in the home or residence and the occupant reasonably believes deadly force is necessary. 
(b) A lawful occupant within a home or other place of residence does not have a duty to retreat from an intruder or attacker in the circumstances described in subsection (a) of this section. 
(c) A person not engaged in unlawful activity who is attacked in any place he or she has a legal right to be outside of his or her home or residence may use reasonable and proportionate force against an intruder or attacker: Provided, That such person may use deadly force against an intruder or attacker in a place that is not his or her residence without a duty to retreat if the person reasonably believes that he or she or another is in imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm from which he or she or another can only be saved by the use of deadly force against the intruder or attacker. 
(d) The justified use of reasonable and proportionate force under this section shall constitute a full and complete defense to any civil action brought by an intruder or attacker against a person using such force. 

W. Va. Code § 55-7-22(a)-(d). 

Of course, there are exceptions. The absolute immunity afforded by Section 55-7-22 does not apply in the following circumstances: 

– The person who would invoke Section 55-7-22 was attempting to commit, committing, or escaping from the commission of a felony; 

– The person initially provoked the use of force against himself, herself, or another with the intent to use such force as an excuse to inflict bodily harm upon the assailant; 

– Otherwise initially provokes the use of force against himself, herself, or another, unless the individual withdraws from the physical contact and clearly indicates to the assailant the desire to withdraw, but the assailant continues to use force. 

W. Va. Code § 55-7-22(e)(1)-(3). Case law considering Section 55-7-22 is sparse. See State v. Samuel (No. 13-0273, Mem. Dec.) (Nov. 8, 2013); United States v. Matheny (No. 2:12-CR-00068, S.D. W. Va., May 8, 2012). 

Nothing in Section 55-7-22, however, permits the creation of a hazardous condition on or in real or personal property designed to prevent criminal conduct or cause injury to a person engaging in criminal conduct (e.g., spring-loaded shotguns). Nor does Section 55-7-22 authorize or justify a person to resist or obstruct a law-enforcement officer acting in the course of his or her duty. W. Va. Code § 55-7-22(g). 

[As quoted from the West Virginia Gun Law CLE 2017]

I hope this clears up some of the confusion out there regarding West Virginia’s self defense laws, the practical application of what they mean, and how the “castle doctrine” and “stand your ground” actually work.

 

What kind of paperwork is generated during 40 years of wrongful imprisonment?

This is it.  This is the paperwork generated by the justice system during 40 years of wrongful imprisonment.

IMG_6539.jpg

People assume that people convicted of murder get a large amount of appeals, and have judges looking over their case to make sure everything was constitutional and fair . . . .  Nope.  This folder contains no actual direct appeal of James McClurkin’s murder conviction.

His lawyer who represented him during the 1977 trial which convicted him dropped the ball completely.  He filed the notice of intent to appeal, but never actually followed through.  Apparently he was waiting on payment from Mr. McClurkin’s family prior to filing the appeal.  However, James’ father, who had hired him initially, passed away two weeks prior to the trial, and had spent all he had on James’ trial.  The result was that Mr. McClurkin did not receive a direct appeal for his murder conviction.  The State of South Carolina filed a motion to dismiss the notice of intent to appeal based on the failure to take any action beyond filing the notice.  So the “appeal” was dismissed forever.  What followed is paperwork which mostly discusses legal technicalities such as failure to comply with deadlines, and the discussion of rules which forbid inmates from bringing up old issues.  It doesn’t appear that Mr. McClurkin ever had the assistance of a lawyer at all up until 1992, when the real murderer confessed.  Every document James filed throughout his incarceration always mentioned first that James had exhausted his appeals.  Well, he never got an appeal, and it is a fiction – a lie – that he exhausted his appeals.

The notoriously racist trial judge, Judge Moss, who in 1985 created “controversy” by using the “N word” from the bench (in response to black protestors following the conviction of a black man accused of shooting a white man – ironically similar to James’ conviction).   Here is an article I tracked down from January 28, 1985, as it appeared in the South Carolina Herald-Journal.

IMG_6538.jpg

This file contains almost no discussion of the evidence upon which James’ murder conviction stands.  At one point, a lawyer for the South Carolina Appellate Public Defender’s Office filed a motion to withdraw from representing James due to the case being “without merit.” He didn’t bother to mention the evidence from the 1970’s, or the lack thereof.  He didn’t even look into the 1992 confession and testimony of the real murderer.  This was 2004.  James would spend another 12 years in prison.

This should be a real wake-up call.