CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A traffic stop video in which Democrat gubernatorial candidate Jim Justice calls a Lewisburg police officer “a total lunatic” is causing a dustup among political circles in West Virginia.
Filmed from the dashboard camera of a police cruiser, the video captures dialogue after Justice was pulled over for speeding by Lewisburg police Sgt. J.A.Vance.
“I am a long ways from being too big for the law, but you have got to be a total lunatic,” Justice can be heard telling the officer.
When the officer asked if an explanation of the citation was necessary, Justice replied: “I don’t want you to explain anything, you can explain it to your boss.”
The encounter happened on Dec 5, 2014, at 10:15 p.m. and resulted in a speeding citation for Justice, who owns the Greenbrier resort in nearby White Sulphur Springs. The video became public after the Bluefield Daily Telegraph obtained it through a Freedom of Information Act request from the Lewisburg Police Department.
Justice’s campaign spokesman Grant Herring released a statement in response to the video:
“When this happened last year, Jim said that night that no one is above the law. He called the Chief of Police to apologize and let him know he thought he was pulled over outside of the city limits. Jim was with his wife and, like any of us, got frustrated during a long traffic stop at night. This is just D.C. style politics from Bill Cole who dug up a year-old video and who’s campaign promised this election would be the ‘nastiest’ in state history. These political games won’t create jobs, fix our roads, or educate our kids.”
However, the Cole campaign was incensed at the suggestion they were behind the video’s release. Campaign spokesman Kent Gates denied Cole or anyone in his campaign had anything to do with publicizing the video. Gates claimed they learned about it through the story in the Daily Telegraph.
“For Jim Justice to avoid taking responsibility for his unacceptable behavior in a video taken before either he or Bill Cole announced their campaigns for governor is beyond belief, even for Jim Justice,” Gates said. “Jim Justice has been caught verbally abusing a police officer for doing his job. Instead of taking responsibility and apologizing to the officer he blames someone else. That calls into question his character, temperament and leadership.”
Lewisburg police chief Tim Stover and Mayor John Manchester confirmed for MetroNews that Justice called the police department within a few hours of the incident and apologized for his behavior.
“He was apologetic about what had happened and how he spoke to Sgt. Vance and apologetic for the whole situation,” said Stover.
Stover said at no time did Justice ever ask for the ticket to be dismissed, though, eventually the speeding ticket was dropped. Stover and Manchester said the decision to drop the citation was made believing Justice had “gotten the message.” They indicated mitigating circumstances to Justice’s reaction—it was late at night, he was headed out of town, and the speeding infraction occurred on a stretch of road near where the speed limit was about to increase.
“All of us from time to time have said things we regret and done things we regret and have handled ourselves poorly,” said longtime Democrat campaign consultant Mike Plante, who is not currently involved in the West Virginia governor’s race. “I don’t think any reasonable person would say he handled himself well in this case, but I think this becomes a more serious problem if there are other examples of this kind of behavior.”
Justice’s opponent in the Democrat primary, Jeff Kessler, was less forgiving about the billionaire businessman’s behavior during the traffic stop.
“He may have given a call to the chief later and apologized, but he berated the officer who was just doing his job,” Kessler told MetroNews “Talkline” on Monday morning. “That’s who he owes the apology to.”