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.

WV prison guard stops our client at gunpoint in Doddridge County, WV

Check out this new case. Police officer impersonation incident by a WV Division of Corrections CO / Parole officer. We met with investigators already, who were extremely concerned about what they saw here….

If you have any information, please contact us.

Open-Carry of Firearms in WV in 2019: “Am I being detained?”

This is the current state of open-carry law in West Virginia (in my opinion), and it’s tricky relationship with a police officer’s right to do a “Terry” frisk under certain instances, as of February of 2019. Note: government lawyers do, and will, disagree with my analysis.  But mine’s supported by the law. However, proceed at your own risk, and the law may change after I write this, especially since litigation is ongoing….

1. If you’re in a vehicle, and an officer has a suspicion you may be armed, or sees that you’re open-carrying, you may be frisked and temporarily disarmed; 

2. If you’re not in a vehicle subject to a traffic stop, a police officer must have some reasonable articulable suspicion that you are engaged in criminal activity in order to seize and disarm you. Open-carrying a firearm alone is not justifiable suspicion to perform an investigative detention, unless the officer has information that you are a prohibited person unable to possess a firearm.

91063853-D5A6-44CD-B396-8E75736D5093

Many of you have probably seen the recent lawsuit I’ve been involved with in the Michael Walker v. Putnam County case where we sued over the violation of Mr. Walker’s right to open carry a firearm in West Virginia.

The defense from the government so far is that they are allowed to perform what’s called a “Terry” stop and frisk when they see someone with a gun.  Just to clarify the law, since they obviously misunderstood then, and continue to misunderstand.

A person’s Fourth Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution to be free from unreasonable search and seizure are triggered whenever a “seizure” occurs.

When does a seizure occur?

A person is “seized” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment if, “ ‘in view of all [of] the circumstances surrounding the incident, a reasonable person would have believed that he was not free to leave.” United States v. Gray, 883 F.2d 320, 322 (4th Cir.1989) (quoting United States v. Mendenhall, 446 U.S. 544, 554, 100 S.Ct. 1870, 64 L.Ed.2d 497 (1980)). Specific factors to consider in determining whether a reasonable person would feel free to leave include: (i) the number of police officers present at the scene; (ii) whether the police officers were in uniform; (iii) whether the police officers displayed their weapons; (iv) whether they “touched the defendant or made any attempt to physically block his departure or restrain his movement”; (v) “the use of language or tone of voice indicating that compliance with the officer’s request might be compelled”; (vi) whether the officers informed the defendant that they suspected him of “illegal activity rather than treating the encounter as ‘routine’ in nature”; and (vii) “whether, if the officer requested from the defendant … some form of official identification, the officer promptly returned it.” Mendenhall, 446 U.S. at 554, 100 S.Ct. 1870; Gray, 883 F.2d at 322–23.

The Fourth Circuit has noted that though not dispositive, “the retention of a citizen’s identification or other personal property or effects is highly material under the totality of the circumstances analysis.” United States v. Black, 707 F.3d 531, 538 (2013) (citing Weaver, 282 F.3d at 310 (emphasis added)). In Black, the Court found that, “[i]t is clear that when Officer Zastrow expressly told Black he could not leave, Black was already seized for purposes of the Fourth Amendment.” Black at 538 (emphasis original).

When can a “seizure” be legal as a justified “Terry” Stop and Frisk under Terry v. Ohio?

Federal case law has long been clear that the police officers cannot perform a “Terry stop” of a person lawfully open-carrying a firearm for the purposes of checking his ID and running a background check to determine whether the person is a prohibited person, or to otherwise disarm him, without more.  Although brief encounters between police and citizens require no objective justification, United States v. Weaver, 282 F.3d 302, 309 (4th Cir. 2002), it is clearly established that an investigatory detention of a citizen by an officer must be supported by reasonable articulable suspicion that the individual is engaged in criminal activity. Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. at 21, 88 S.Ct. 1868 (1968). 

To be lawful, a Terry stop “must be supported at least by a reasonable and articulable suspicion that the person seized is engaged in criminal activity.” Reid v. Georgia, 448 U.S. 438, 440, 100 S. Ct. 2752 (1980).  The level of suspicion must be a “particularized and objective basis for suspecting the particular person stopped of criminal activity.” United States v. Griffin, 589 F.3d 148, 152 (4th Cir. 2009).  As such, “the officer must be able to point to specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant that intrusion.” Terry, 392 U.S. at 21, 88 S. Ct. 1868. Moreover, the Fourth Circuit has already made it very clear that in states where open carry is legal, such as West Virginia, if officers have no individualized information that a particular individual who is lawfully open-carrying is a prohibited person, the mere exercise of their rights by open-carrying “cannot justify an investigatory detention.”  Indeed, the Court held that “Permitting such a justification would eviscerate Fourth Amendment protections for lawfully armed individuals in those states.” United States v. Black, 707 F.3d 531, 540 (2013) (quoting United States v. King, 990 F.2d 1552, 1559 (10th Cir. 1993)).

Occupants of a vehicle subject to a lawful traffic stop are a different analysis altogether, and are more likely to be subject to a Terry seizure.  An officer who makes a lawful traffic stop and who has a reasonable suspicion that one of the automobile’s occupants is armed may frisk that individual for the officer’s protection and the safety of everyone on the scene. Robinson at 696 (2017 case) (citing Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 434 U.S. 106, 112, 98 S.Ct. 330, 54 L.Ed.2d 331 (1977).

The importance of the Black case to open-carry rights in our circuit:

In 2013, Judge Gregory of the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, whom I have had the honor of appearing in front of, issued an opinion in the case of United States v. Black, 707 F.3d 531, 540 (2013), which is central to the rights of West Virginians to open carry firearms.  Although that case was from North Carolina, it applies equally here.  In his opinion, he admonished law enforcement for regularly abusing the Terry Stop procedure to violate the rights of lawful gun owners:

At least four times in 2011, we admonished against the Government’s misuse of innocent facts as indicia of suspicious activity. See United States v. Powell, 666 F.3d 180 (4th Cir.2011); Massenburg, 654 F.3d 480;United States v. Digiovanni, 650 F.3d 498 (4th Cir.2011); and United States v. Foster, 634 F.3d 243 (4th Cir.2011). Although factors “susceptible of innocent explanation,” when taken together, may “form a particularized and objective basis” for reasonable suspicion for a Terry stop, United States v. Arvizu, 534 U.S. 266, 277–78, 122 S.Ct. 744, 151 L.Ed.2d 740 (2002), this is not such a case. Instead, we encounter yet another situation where the Government attempts to meet its Terry burden by patching together a set of innocent, suspicion-free facts, which cannot rationally be relied on to establish reasonable suspicion. 

Second, Gates’ prior arrest history cannot be a logical basis for a reasonable, particularized suspicion as to Black. Without more, Gates’ prior arrest history in itself is insufficient to support reasonable suspicion as to Gates, much less Black. See Powell, 666 F.3d at 188 (“[A] prior criminal record is not, standing alone, sufficient to create reasonable suspicion.” (citation omitted)). Moreover, we “ha[ve] repeatedly emphasized that to be reasonable under the Fourth Amendment, a search ordinarily must be based on individualized suspicion of wrongdoing.” DesRoches v. Caprio, 156 F.3d 571, 574 (4th Cir.1998) (quotation marks and alterations omitted) (emphasis added). In other words, the suspicious facts must be specific and particular to the individual seized. Exceptions to the individualized suspicion requirement “have been upheld only in ‘certain limited circumstances,’ where the search is justified by ‘special needs’ ”—that is, concerns other than crime detection—and must be justified by balancing the individual’s privacy expectations against the government interests. Id. (quoting Chandler v. Miller, 520 U.S. 305, 308, 313, 117 S.Ct. 1295, 137 L.Ed.2d 513 (1997)); see Treasury Employees v. Von Raab, 489 U.S. 656, 665–66, 109 S.Ct. 1384, 103 L.Ed.2d 685 (1989). Here, the Government has not identified any substantial interests that override Black’s interest in privacy or that suppress the normal requirement of individualized suspicion. 

Third, it is undisputed that under the laws of North Carolina, which permit its residents to openly carry firearms, see generally N.C. Gen.Stat. §§ 14–415.10 to 14– 415.23, Troupe’s gun was legally possessed and displayed. The Government contends that because other laws prevent convicted felons from possessing guns, the officers could not know whether Troupe was lawfully in possession of the gun until they performed a records check. Additionally, the Government avers it would be “foolhardy” for the officers to “go about their business while allowing a stranger in their midst to possess a firearm.” We are not persuaded. 

Being a felon in possession of a firearm is not the default status. More importantly, where a state permits individuals to openly carry firearms, the exercise of this right, without more, cannot justify an investigatory detention. Permitting such a justification would eviscerate Fourth Amendment protections for lawfully armed individuals in those states. United States v. King, 990 F.2d 1552, 1559 (10th Cir.1993) (emphasis added). Here, Troupe’s lawful display of his lawfully possessed firearm cannot be the justification for Troupe’s detention. See St. John v. McColley, 653 F.Supp.2d 1155, 1161 (D.N.M.2009) (finding no reasonable suspicion where the plaintiff arrived at a movie theater openly carrying a holstered handgun, an act which is legal in the State of New Mexico.) That the officer had never seen anyone in this particular division openly carry a weapon also fails to justify reasonable suspicion. From our understanding of the laws of North Carolina, its laws apply uniformly and without exception in every single division, and every part of the state. Thus, the officer’s observation is irrational and fails to give rise to reasonable suspicion. To hold otherwise would be to give the judicial imprimatur to the dichotomy in the intrusion of constitutional protections. 

United States v. Black, 707 F.3d 531, 540 (2013).

 

West Virginia State Police and asset forfeiture in the news this weekend. The ugly truth.

The Charleston Gazette-Mail had an article this weekend on a New Jersey couple who were pulled over by a West Virginia State Trooper on their way to a casino.  They had $10,000.00 with them.  The state trooper took all but $2.00 and sent them on their way.  He also took their cell phone (presumably to search it for evidence of a crime, such as drug dealing).

This highlights what is perhaps the ugliest, most unconstitutional, most nazi-ish, thuggish, and un-American behavior engaged-in by the government at the present time: asset forfeiture.  This is the way it works.  You get pulled over for a traffic offense.  You have cash on you, or in the vehicle.  The officer seizes the cash, because they consider the cash itself to constitute evidence of being a drug dealer.  They don’t have to charge you criminally whatsoever.  They then serve you with a notice that, if you want to redeem your cash, you have to contact the court and the prosecuting attorney, and formally claim the cash.  In so doing, the process implies that have to explain to the court, and the prosecutor, where you obtained the money, etc.  The theory is, that drug dealers are not going to claim the money.  The the law enforcement agency gets to keep it, and the prosecutor’s office gets 10%.  Talk about a conflict of interest . . . .

In reality, the law provides that in order to keep the currency which was seized from the citizens, the State, pursuant to W. Va. Code § 60A-7-703(a)(6) (1988), is required to demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence that there is a substantial connection between the property seized and an illegal drug transaction.  This finding is in addition to the initial finding of probable cause that an illegal act under the drug law has occurred. See Syllabus Point 4 of State v. Forty-Three Thousand Dollars, No. 31224 (W. Va. 11/26/2003) (W. Va. 2003).

Only after the State has filed a civil forfeiture petition, and met its’ burden of proof by a preponderance is the citizen required to prove how he/she/they came into ownership of the currency. Id. at 6.

In the case of the couple in the Gazette article, Dimities Patlias and  Tonya Smith, they got nowhere until they contacted the media.  The reporter, Jake Zuckerman, started making some phone calls, including to the prosecuting attorney, and voila, their money was returned in full.  Now the couple is rightly pissed off, and much of the public is learning about this un-American scheme for the first time.

The Prosecuting Attorney of Jefferson County, who returned the money is a good guy.  Kudos to him for doing the right thing after looking into it.  I actually had an asset forfeiture case with him previously, and he returned the money in that case as well.  I also represented some of his family members in a real estate related jury trial, which we won, thankfully.  This is a problem in a national scale.  This occurs everywhere, and is practiced by the federal government as well.

Summersville Speed Trap/Scam on Route 19 in West Virginia Claims an Innocent Disabled Man

UPDATE 8/20/18:  Our FaceBook post on the topic.

UPDATE 8/17/18: I obtained the Criminal Complaint from the incident.  It is indeed signed by both the sheriff’s deputy who was the arresting officer, as well as the Summersville PD officer.  It’s not a notarization, but it is a signature.  While it doesn’t make sense as to why they did it that way, that process would be legal.  The following is the full text of the narrative, which is sworn under oath as the probable cause basis for the arrest:

ON THE ABOVE DATE IN SUMMERSVILLE NICHOLAS COUNTY, WV, I CONDUCTED A TRAFFIC STOP ON A MAROON CHEVY COLORADO BEARING WV REG. XXXXXX FOR NO BRAKE LIGHTS.  THE DRIVER WAS IDENTIFIED AS JEFFREY JONES.  WHILE SPEAKING TO THE DRIVER I OBSERVED HIM TO BE DISORIENTED, DROWSINESS, CONFUSED, BLOOD SHOT EYES, AND HE DID HAVE SLURRED SPEECH.  MY FIRST OBSERVATION HE WAS SWEATING PROFUSELY AND DID HAVE HIS HEAT ON IN HIS TRUCK. HE WAS ALSO FUMBLING HIS ITEMS AND DROPPING MONEY OUT OF HIS WALLET.  I PERFORMED THE HGN TEST ON JEFFREY AND WHILE ADMINISTERING THIS TEST HE DID SHOW IMPAIRMENT. JEFFREY WAS TAKEN TO SRMC FOR A BLOOD DRAW.  WHILE UNDER MIRANDA, JEFFREY DID ADMIT THAT HIS BROTHER KENNY HAD GIVEN HIM A PILL THAT HIS WIFE TAKES FOR ARTHRITIS AND PAIN. A DRE EVALUATION WAS DONE ON JEFFREY. THE INFORMATION PROVIDED IN THIS COMPLAINT IS BASED ON THIS OFFICERS INVESTIGATION.

According to Mr. Jones’ brother, they picked his truck up later that same day/night at the local impound for the exorbitant sum of $350.00, and it was driven home, with a vehicle following behind.  The brake lights worked just fine.  The narrative included no allegations of improper driving.  That means, the only basis for the stop was for a improper equipment violation which didn’t exist.  In other words, it appears to be a lie.  Without improper driving, what other information did this deputy have to want to stop Mr. Jones?  The only information he had was the color of Mr. Jones’ skin.  This is unfortunate, but not unheard of.  The same basis was used to stop my client Antonio Tolliver.  That state trooper is now a former state trooper.

What does that mean?  If the State/Prosecutor can’t prove that the vehicle had no brake lights, in light of testimony and evidence from Mr. Jones’ family and friends that the car’s brake lights worked just fine, the stop will have been illegal.  Under the “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine, everything that happened subsequently, is inadmissible in court.  Even assuming the blood draw was legal, which is a big “if,” and the supposed statement about the pill for arthritis and pain was legal, they cannot be used against Mr. Jones.  The arrest, and everything which happened afterwards,  is unconstitutional and illegal.

So he’s driving perfectly normal, gets pulled over for an equipment violation which doesn’t exist, gets put through field sobriety tests and supposedly fails.  So why at that point didn’t they give him a breathalyzer?  Instead they call Deputy Junk Science to arrive, who took a class on recognizing people who had taken prescription drugs?  Then forcibly taken to a hospital and forcibly withdraw blood from his body? He was driving normally, and wasn’t bothering anyone.  The only thing he did wrong was drive into a notorious speed trap, where officers are itching to pull over someone who looks like they’re coming down from one of the rust belt cities with a load of heroin.  Which brings us back to racial profiling.  It would be interesting to look at some of the other cases of stops on Route 19 in Summersville over the past few years.


Yesterday, WVVA ran a story about Jeffrey Jones, a man local to Greenbrier County, who had an unfortunate encounter with the police in Summersville, West Virginia – a place with the reputation as a well known speed trap extortion racket.  As a disclaimer, I don’t represent him in any way, but I do know the man since he works at my local Kroger.  He is the nicest guy, always smiling, and always helpful.  Everyone loves him.  What other grocery store employee has customers that take photos such as these?

 

These photos speak for themselves, which were posted on the WVVA website.  From the article:

SUMMERSVILLE, W.Va. (WVVA) Jeffrey Jones of Lewisburg is no stranger to hard knocks. As a child, he battled Spinal Meningitis, a condition that left him 90 percent deaf and with one leg longer than the other.

“Growing up, I had Meningitis. Everyone always thought I was stupid because I couldn’t hear. And because I was the smallest in the class, everyone picked on me.”

Despite the physical limitations, Jones said he never misses at day of work keeping track of the carts at the Ronceverte Kroger; the same place where his family said he was hit by a car a couple years ago and broke a hip.

“He stops and checks on everyone everywhere he goes,” said his friend Brianna Barkley. “There’s not a person that’s a stranger. He spreads happiness and friendship to everyone he sees.”

That job may be in jeopardy after Jones said he was unlawfully stopped by a Nicholas County Sheriff’s deputy on Sunday, August 5th, for a broken brake light. He was arrested and charged with Driving Under the Influence (DUI).

Then there was a phone call from a local legislator, to the Attorney General’s Office on his behalf:

Through his work at Kroger over the years, Jones has made friends from all walks of life, including Greenbrier County Del. Jeff Campbell, (D) 42nd Dist., who on Tuesday, personally requested the West Virginia Attorney General’s Office for an investigation.

“I would like to see the charges dismissed. I would like to see the $350 he spent to get his truck out of impound reimbursed. I think his wages should be reimbursed. And I’d like to see an apology.”

Oops.  So the Summersville Chief of Police contacts the news station and makes a stunning denial:

UPDATE: Summersville Police Chief John Nowak said Thursday his officers did not participate in the arrest of Jeffrey Jones on Sunday, August 5th.

Although Patrolman R.L. McClung with the Summersville Police Dept. signed both pages of the criminal complaint, the chief said the officer merely notarized the document for the arresting officer, Deputy J.D. Ellison with the Nicholas County Sheriff’s Dept.

Ok, say what?  Your officer “notarized” a criminal complaint?  Here is a sample Criminal Complaint, which is actually a form provided by the West Virginia Supreme Court, from a recent case of mine (which resulted in a large settlement and an officer being fired):

ExampleCriminalComplaint

As you can see, there is no signature block for a “notarization.”  Criminal Complaints, which are standardized forms meant to comply with state and federal constitutional requirements applicable to the process of putting a person temporarily behind bars, are signed by the “Complainant,” who is almost always a sworn law enforcement officer.

The Criminal Complaint notes that the complainant must be present in person before the Magistrate, who will authorize the arrest and subsequent incarceration, assuming the Magistrate believes probable cause exists based on the sworn written testimony/explanation offered by the Complainant/Police Officer.

In my 12 years of experience practicing law around the State of West Virginia, I have never heard of a police officer “notarizing” the Criminal Complaint of another police officer.  And being a civil rights lawyer, I have examined probably thousands of Criminal Complaints.  It would be understandable for one officer to draft and sign the complaint where there were multiple officers involved.  They don’t all have to sign their name to the complaint.  But I’ve never heard of another officer, from an entirely different agency, who wasn’t even present at the incident/arrest, to apply under oath for the signature of the Magistrate, which is effectively an arrest warrant.  That would be hearsay, and would not establish probable cause.  No competent Magistrate would sign such a Criminal Complaint.  The only exception would be, if the Magistrate did not know because that fact was concealed.

I’m not posting Mr. Jones’ Criminal Complaint, but somebody has some explaining to do in Summersville.  I wonder how many other arrests/tickets given by the county sheriff’s department were actually signed by a city police officer in Summersville, given their reputation as a well known speed trap extortion operation?  Hmmm.  Like all the old ways in West Virginia, it all comes down to money.  Maybe when the legislature finishes cleaning up the Supreme Court mess, they can come follow this money trail in Summersville.  I’m sure he isn’t the only victim – just one innocent enough to have people stand behind him.

Anti Texting and Driving Ban Legislation

A form of the proposed anti texting and driving ban passed the West Virginia House of Delegates.  A few days ago I posted about the West Virginia texting and driving laws on the West Virginia Car Accident Law Blog, noting that this legislation was coming up for a vote.  It still has to pass the senate.  It only allows for officers to cite motorists for texting and driving as a “secondary” offense rather than a “primary” offense.  This means that cops cannot pull someone over just because they see someone texting and driving.  There has to be some primary infraction or other reason to make the stop.  Only then can the person be ticketed for texting and driving.

Honestly, even if it was a primary offense under the statute, it wouldn’t stop anybody.  Who is going to be texting with a police cruiser right next to them?  Most idiots who do this aren’t that stupid.  The best enforcement for the texting and driving problem is civil trial attorneys who sue persons who injure others due to texting and driving.  We can easily find out if someone had been texting at the time of, or immediately before, the collision.

See Charleston Gazette article today on the legislation.

A WV Criminal Defense Attorney’s advice on how not to handle a traffic stop

Sometimes I give out free advice, such as my lecture on keeping one’s mouth shut.  Here is another.  At some point in your life you are going to be pulled over by a cop who treats you like crap.  He will either be really young, or will be older and act like a Marine drill sergeant.  He will talk down to you.  He will talk really loudly.  He may ask you personal questions.  You may feel provoked to run your mouth, or to insert a snide comment.

Although he may deserve it, do not say what you want to say.  Do not ask for his badge number (you can find that out after the fact if necessary – his identity will almost never be a mystery).  Do not ask for a supervisor.  Just say, “yes sir” and be polite and cooperative – even if he is not.  And then drive off as soon as he lets you.

Chances are, if he is being a jerk to you, he is capable of arresting you illegally.  They can arrest you for obstruction and/or resisting arrest merely by claiming that you refused to obey his lawful orders.  Then it is up to you after-the-fact to try and fight your way out of it.  Worse yet, maybe he says you took a swing at him.  Then you get charged with assault or battery on an officer.   It’s your word versus his, and his dash cam was conveniently inoperable.  At the very best you end up having to pay a criminal defense attorney to get you out of the mess, and a year later, get it expunged.  At worse, you end up at trial, and potentially get convicted.  Then maybe you appeal, etc.  It all could have been avoided.

Of course, if you have already done this and now have to pay huge sums of money to a West Virginia criminal defense attorney, it might as well be me (1-888-54-JBLAW – available statewide [shameless plug]).

Prosecuted in retaliation for videotaping police misconduct

ABC News ran a story on the growing number of prosecutions for private citizens videotaping police misconduct.  The main story highlighted in the article was a guy who had a helmet mounted video camera, which taped a plain-clothes police officer swerving in front of the motorcyclist, slamming on his brakes, and jumping out with his gun in hand.

Was the officer disciplined for this act of cowboyism?  I don’t think so.  Instead the motorcyclist is being prosecuted for videotaping the officer without his consent.  The state police in Maryland actually busted into the guy’s house, searched it, and confiscated his computer and hard drive, and then indicted him for a felony violation of Maryland’s wiretapping laws.

Okay, arrest the guy for reckless driving.  I don’t have any problem with that.  But give me a break.  This is a bunch of garbage.  Our only means of protecting ourselves from cowboy cops is the video camera.  Almost every police prosecution that you see was forced due to the cop’s actions being caught on tape.  The cops know this, and they try their best to keep citizens from filming them.  The newspapers are full of people being arrested for “obstruction” or whatever, for filming cops.

The motorcyclist had a camera on his helmet.  He didn’t know that this cowboy was going to jump out at him waving his gun.  I am assuming cops in Maryland have dash mounted video cameras (although I am sure they are not on when it suits them not to be on).  Does that mean that every cop in Maryland with a dash cam is guilty of felony violations of Maryland wiretapping laws?  Don’t hold your breath for those prosecutions.

Obviously there is a double standard out there.  And people are getting tired of it.  I had a client who videotaped police shooting tear gas through his windows and them busting in with gas masks, AR-15,s and taser guns, then tasing him, and probably ended with them dragging him out of the picture.  What happened to the video?  It was confiscated by the police and never returned.  When I was finally able to see it, it conveniently “ended” before the gas grenades were shot into the house.

Gestapo tactics.  The ironic thing is, you see this sort of stuff from cops in suburbia, or other areas where there is very little real crime.  Just ask a real cop who has worked in the trenches – NYPD, LAPD, Charlotte PD, Atlanta PD, who deal with all sorts of crap and scumbags – they rarely engage in cowboyism, they have enough to worry about.

New West Virginia Search and Seizure Statute

New legislation has been passed in West Virginia dealing with search and seizure.  It was pushed by the ACLU, who of course were only concerned for minorities having their rights disregarded.  But the fact is that everyone, across the board, has had their rights trampled when it comes to traffic searches and seizures.

It essentially provides that no longer can law enforcement merely testify after-the-fact that the vehicle owner consented to a search of his or her vehicle.  This, by the way, is pretty much the foundation for 80% of criminal prosecutions.  Either people are too dumb/ignorant/naive  to realize that they can say “no” to the officer who is asking to search their vehicle, or the cop just “testi-lies” after-the-fact that consent was given, when in fact it was not.  Who do you think the judge is going to believe, the law enforcement officer, or the guy who had marijuana/concealed weapon, etc. in his car?

Pursuant to this new statute, consent must now be recorded, either in writing through an approved form, or through an audio/video recording.  It must be communicated to the suspect that he or she has the right to refuse the search.  It also provides that he or she can revoke their consent at any time.  Though this may be dicey, because the revocation would not be recorded unless there was a dash cam, or other recorder, recording the audio.  The one exception for the recordation of consent is if there is an issue of officer safety.  Basically, if the cop can articulate some justification for believing there may be some weapon that could potentially harm him or her, then the statute flies out the window.

Remember, states are generally free to provide greater protection of civil liberties than is provided for in the U.S. Constitution (i.e., the US Supreme Court), which West Virginia has done here.  However, states are not free to provide less protection.  Hence, West Virginia could not pass a statute (that would be constitutional) which would allow officers to search vehicles without probable cause or consent.

The statute will take effect January 11, 2011.

Here is the statute:

A BILL to amend of the Code of West Virginia, 1931, as amended, by adding thereto two new sections, designated §62-1A-10 and §62- 1A-11, all relating to searches of motor vehicles by law- enforcement officers; establishing criteria; and requiring rules.

Be it enacted by the Legislature of West Virginia:

That the Code of West Virginia, 1931, as amended, be amended by adding thereto two new sections, designated §62-1A-10 and §62- 1A-11, all to read as follows:

ARTICLE 1A. SEARCH AND SEIZURE.
§62-1A-10. Motor vehicle searches.

(a) A law-enforcement officer who stops a motor vehicle for an alleged violation of a law or ordinance regulating traffic may not search the vehicle unless the law-enforcement officer:
(1) Has probable cause or another legal basis for the search;
(2) Conducts a search for weapons based on an articulation of a reasonable fear for the officer’s safety or the safety of others;
(3) Obtains the written consent of the operator of the vehicle on a form that complies with subsection (b), section eleven of this article; or
(4) Obtains the oral consent of the operator of the vehicle and ensures that the oral consent is evidenced by an audio and video recording that complies with subsection (c), section eleven of this article.
(b) This section takes effect on January 1, 2011.

§62-1A-11. Rules for certain evidence of consent to vehicle search.

(a) To facilitate the implementation of section ten of this article the Director of the Governor’s Committee on Crime, Delinquency and Corrections, in consultation with the Division of Motor Vehicles, shall propose emergency and legislative rules in accordance with article three, chapter twenty-nine-a of this code to establish the requirements for:
(1) A form used to obtain the written consent of the operator of a motor vehicle under section ten of this article; and
(2) An audio and video recording used as evidence of the oral consent of the operator of a motor vehicle under section ten of this article.
(b) At a minimum, the rules adopted under subsection (a) of this section must require the form to contain:
(1) A statement that the operator of the motor vehicle fully understands that the operator may refuse to give the law- enforcement officer consent to search the motor vehicle;
(2) A statement that the operator of the motor vehicle is freely and voluntarily giving the law-enforcement officer consent to search the motor vehicle;
(3) A statement that the operator of the motor vehicle may withdraw the consent at any time during the search;
(4) The time and date of the stop giving rise to the search;
(5) A description of the motor vehicle to be searched; and
(6) The name of each law-enforcement officer conducting the stop or search.
(c) At a minimum, the rules adopted under subdivision (2), subsection (a) of this section must require the audio and video recording to reflect an affirmative statement made by the operator that:
(1) The operator of the motor vehicle understands that the operator may refuse to give the law-enforcement officer consent to search the motor vehicle;
(2) The operator of the motor vehicle is voluntarily giving the law-enforcement officer consent to search the motor vehicle; and
(3) The operator of the motor vehicle was informed that the operator may withdraw the consent at any time during the search.
(d) The Director of the Governor’s Committee on Crime, Delinquency and Corrections shall adopt the rules required by this section no later than December 31, 2010.

NOTE: The purpose of this bill is to provide procedures to protect motor vehicle operators with regard to searches of their motor vehicles by law-enforcement officers.

§§62-1A-10 and 62-1A-11 are new; therefore, strike-throughs and underscoring have been omitted.

It’s not our fault…. Civil Liability of West Virginia Police Officers/Departments in Pursuit Situations

In this morning’s Beckley Register-Herald, there was an article about a West Virginia State Police pursuit involving an ATV.  Apparently there was undisputedly a pursuit of an officer in a cruiser, chasing a man on an ATV.  Also undisputed, at some point the ATV wrecked and the man was killed.  Where the issue lies is, did the wreck occur during the pursuit, or had the officer abandoned the pursuit, after which the man wrecked on down the road?  And could the West Virginia State Police be liable for a man fleeing on an ATV only to accidentally kill himself in the process?

The important fact is that the driver of the ATV was killed.  He had apparently stolen the vehicle, and thus had fled.  The end result is that this case is much, much different from a scenario in which a passenger on the ATV was killed, or some other potentially innocent third party.  I’m not going to comment on whether I think there is a case there or not for the deceased’ driver’s estate, but here is some helpful information for cases where the facts are slightly different:

This is a portion of the materials I prepared for a continuing legal education seminar that I presented in Charleston, West Virginia earlier this year which specifically deals with situations where innocent third parties are injured in car accidents resulting from police pursuit situations in West Virginia.  This deals with the liability aspects of the state or political subdivision rather than the liability of the fleeing suspect:

Most civil liability cases arising out of a pursuit situation involve collisions between the suspect and a third party.  It is well-settled in West Virginia that “[w]here the police are engaged in a vehicular pursuit of a known or suspected law violator, and the pursued vehicle collides with the vehicle of a third party, under W. Va. Code, 17C-2-5 (1971) (rules, privileges and immunities of authorized emergency vehicles), the pursuing officer is not liable for injuries to the third party arising out of the collision unless the officer’s conduct in the pursuit amounted to reckless conduct or gross negligence and was a substantial factor in bringing about the collision.” Syl. Pt. 5 Peak v. Ratliff, 185 W. Va. 548 (1991); See also Sergent v. City of Charleston, 209 W. Va. 437 (2001).

As with other types of police liability cases, employees of political subdivisions are individually liable for their grossly negligent or bad faith conduct.  However, there’s no need to name them personally, because pursuant to the West Virginia Governmental Tort Claims and Insurance Reform Act, their employer political subdivisions are already liable for damages due to the “negligent operation of any vehicle by their employees when engaged and within the scope of their authority,” W. Va. Code § 29-12A-4(c)(1) and (2), which encapsulates conduct in violation of the the Peak Criteria balancing test described below – which the Court describes as “negligent, wanton, or reckless.”  Note that if a political subdivision employee officer is named personally in the complaint, there may be a circumstantial argument that the plaintiff believes the officer was acting outside the scope of employment – leading the insurer to potentially issue a reservation of rights.  With respect to state employees, i.e., troopers, they may be named personally without the same limitations, and their conduct will be governed by the Peak Criteria discussed below.

Therefore, with respect to state employees, such as State Police officers, the applicable standard of care is W. Va. § 17C-2-5 and it’s interpretation in the Peak Critera.  The standard of care with respect to deputy sheriffs and municipal officers is both the West Virginia Governmental Tort Claims and Insurance Reform Act and W. Va. Code § 17C-2-5.  For these purposes, the phrase “reckless disregard for the safety of others, as used in W. Va. Code § 17C-2-5, is synonymous with gross negligence.” Peak, 185 W. Va. at 552.

West Virginia Code § 17C-2-5 governs the privileges and immunities of police officers who are driving authorized emergency vehicles in pursuit of actual or suspected violators of the law, which provides:

(a) The driver of an authorized emergency vehicle . . . when in the pursuit of an actual or suspected violator of the law . . . may exercise the privileges set forth in this section, but subject to the conditions herein stated.

(b) The driver of an authorized emergency vehicle may:

(1)      Park or stand, irrespective of the provisions of this chapter;

(2)     Proceed past a red or stop signal or stop sign, but only after slowing down as may be necessary for safe operation;

(3)     Exceed the speed limits so long as he does not endanger life or  property;

(4)     Disregard regulations governing the direction of movement of [or]  turning in specified directions.

(c)     The exemptions herein granted to an authorized emergency vehicle shall apply only when the driver of any said vehicle while in motion sounds audible          signal by bell, siren, or exhaust whistle as may be reasonably necessary, and when the vehicle is equipped with at least one lighted flashing lamp as authorized by section twenty-six [§ 17C-15-26], article fifteen of this chapter which is visible under normal atmospheric conditions from a distance of five hundred feet to the front of such vehicle, except that an authorized emergency vehicle operated as a police vehicle need not be equipped with or display a warning light visible from in front of the vehicle.

(d)      The foregoing provisions shall not relieve the driver of an authorized emergency vehicle from the duty to drive with due regard for the safety of all persons, nor shall these provisions protect the driver from the consequences of his reckless disregard for the safety of others.

In interpreting W. Va. Code § 17C-2-5, the West Virginia Supreme Court adopted the following factors to consider in analyzing whether the pursing officer’s conduct was negligent, wanton, or reckless (“The Peak Criteria”): seriousness of the law violation, whether the suspect escaped during a previous pursuit, whether weapons, drugs, stolen property, or kidnap victims could be present, whether the pursued vehicle is stolen, whether the officer is familiar with the road and its attributes, the weather conditions and visibility, the officer’s degree of caution in relation to the speed of the pursuit, whether pedestrians are present, the amount of traffic, the length of the pursuit, whether the officer “forced the pursuit” by attempting to overtake the suspect or force the suspect off the road, whether the officer fired a weapon and caused the suspect to panic.  Specifically, the Peak Court reasoned:

Trooper Ratliff and Corporal Fulknier were confronted with a serious law violator who had escaped capture in a vehicular pursuit the previous evening. The officers knew of Mr. Akers’ past record and the fact that the vehicle he abandoned on September 14, 1987, contained a weapon and drugs. Both vehicles driven by Mr. Akers on these two days were stolen. The officers were familiar with the road on which the pursuit was conducted. There was good visibility during the chase and no inclement weather which would make the road hazardous. Even though the speed was estimated at between 60 and 100 miles per hour, the officers were careful to slow down when passing cars. There were no pedestrians, and the traffic was moderate. The pursuit lasted only a brief period of time. It does not appear that the officers forced the pursuit by attempting to overtake Mr. Akers or by forcing him off the roadway. Neither officer attempted to fire his weapon, an act which might cause a fleeing suspect to panic. When Mr. Akers crossed the center line and drove into the filling station where the collision occurred, the officers were not in sight.

Peak, 185 W.Va. at 558, 408 S.E.2d at 310.

There also may be a proximate cause issue to deal with where you have a collision caused by the criminal behavior of the pursued suspect.  This issue was discussed by the West Virginia Supreme Court in Sergent v. City of Charleston, 209 W. Va. 437, 549 S.E.2d 311, where the Court noted that, given that proximate cause must be proven in a personal injury negligence action, “[t]he proximate cause of an injury is the last negligent act contributing to the injury and without which the injury would not have occurred.” Id. (citing Syl. Pt. 5 Hartley v. Crede, 140 W. Va. 133 (1954), overruled on other grounds).  But, “a tortfeasor whose negligence is a substantial factor in bringing about injuries is not relieved from liability by the intervening acts of third persons if those acts were reasonably foreseeable by the original tortfeasor at the time of his negligent conduct.” Syl. Pt. 13, Anderson v. Moulder, 183 W. Va. 77 (1990).  But, “generally, a willful, malicious, or criminal act breaks the chain of causation.” Yourtee v. Hubbard, 196 W. Va. 683, 690 (1996).

In the Sergent case, the Court held that the intervening criminal acts of “pursuing undercover officers, firing at them, fleeing from the police at high speed, and swerving off the road and onto the berm” were intervening acts which were not foreseeable by the officers involved, thereby “breaking the chain of causation which originally began with their arguably negligent conduct and relieving them, and their employers, of any liability.” Sergent, at S.E. Page 320-21.

Note, in the Sergent case, the plaintiff had proffered an affidavit written by a Maryland State Police officer giving an opinion that, based upon his professional experience, that the actions of the defendant officers

“departed from the standard of professional police conduct, so as to constitute gross negligence, and wanton and reckless conduct on their part, which proximately contributed to the incident causing the death of David Sergent, to include, but not necessarily limited to . . . their high speed pursuit . . . without breaking off the same prior to reaching the congested area; and by otherwise failing to utilize accepted national standards for bringing a fleeing suspect’s vehicle to stop . . . [f]ailing to abide by the Charleston Police Department’s own policies and procedures pertinent to: a. Planning and executing their apprehension of the suspect Jerome Thomas; b. The protection of life during vehicular pursuit; c. Breaking off vehicular pursuit for the public safety; and d. Rendering aid to an injured pedestrian . . . 6. Their failure to abide by and adhere to standards of professional police conduct, such as those contained in the International Association of Chiefs of Police, Inc., Model Policy on Vehicular Pursuits.”

The Court held that no rational jury could find that the conduct of [the officers] . . . was wanton or reckless.  Regarding Sergeant Miller’s affidavit, the Court noted that:

The bulk of Sergeant Miller’s affidavit concerning the officers’ conduct during the vehicular pursuit amounts to nothing more than mere allegations. The affidavit opines that the officers failed to follow applicable local, national and international police standards and failed to protect life during the vehicular pursuit. But without pointing to specific tortious conduct and showing how this conduct caused the suspects’ collision with the decedent, these allegations are wholly insufficient to support a negligence action. Stripped of these allegations, the appellant’s claim is essentially that it was negligence for the officers not to terminate their pursuit prior to the decedent’s death. We reject this claim as being contrary to our law.

Sergent, at S.E. Page 320-21.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney