CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A 16-year-old male was beaten in Martinsburg by two State Police troopers who have been suspended without pay during an investigation, according to a statement by Gov. Jim Justice.
“We have so many brave and respected men and women of law enforcement across West Virginia; all this does is cast a dark shadow on them,” Justice stated.
“If this is the case, it will NOT be tolerated.”
The statement from the Governor’s Office said the incident involved troopers from the Martinsburg detachment of the State Police and a 16-year-old male suspect.
State Police have identified the troopers as Trooper First Class Derek Walker and Trooper First Class Michael Kennedy.
The release from the State Police said the teenager would not be named because of age, privacy issues and ongoing investigation.
The State Police statement did identify the teen’s race as white. He was taken to a local hospital after two crashes and the altercation.
That statement said the incident happened Monday when the 16-year-old was involved in a crash with a sheriff’s department cruiser.
Police then pursued the teen, who crashed again.
As he was apprehended, that’s when the altercation took place. The State Police statement stopped short of calling it a beating.
“It was during the apprehension process, where the response to resistance/aggression actions of the troopers came into question and led to the suspensions,” stated State Police spokesman Reggie Patterson.
Dashcam video taken at the scene shows the suspect being beaten by the two troopers, according to the Governor’s Office statement.
The State Police, in response to a request to have the video released, said there is no such plan while the investigation is ongoing.
Justice stated that he instructed State Police Superintendent Jan Cahill to begin an investigation immediately and to pursue criminal charges if warranted.
The State Police statement describes the investigation as both internal and criminal.
“The State Police cannot make additional statements pertaining to this incident until a thorough and complete investigation has been completed,” according to the statement by Patterson.
The ACLU of West Virginia is keeping an eye on the matter.
“We’re looking into the incident to determine if any of the teenager’s civil liberties were violated,” stated Tim Ward, spokesman for ACLU-West Virginia.
State Senator John Unger, D-Berkeley, wanted to be careful about jumping to conclusions without more information.
“I think we need to be careful doing a witch hunt before we get all the facts,” Unger said.
But, he added, “If the troopers were wrong they need to be punished and prosecuted for these crimes.”
Unger urged looking at the broader picture too.
“I think we need to look at it comprehensively, not just the incident alone,” Unger said.
He cited low staffing and high stress among police officers in the Eastern Panhandle.
“The law enforcement over here is understaffed and it’s getting to the point where it’s going to cause chaos. It is to a critical level that the officers we do have are being overworked,” he said.
“If we don’t get more troopers, this is the kind of stuff that is just going to become worse.”
Berkeley County Prosecutor Catie Wilkes Delligatti told MetroNews affilliate WEPM her office is actively involved in the case.
“As soon as I learned that this was alleged to have occurred, I contacted my office’s investigator and asked him to undertake an independent investigation as is our policy whenever an incident occurs alleging criminal activity by law enforcement.”
A Jefferson County deputy has been assigned to the case to see if charges should be filed. Wilkes Delligatti thanked Jefferson County Sheriff Pete Dougherty for his cooperation.
“I just want to stress that we will ensure that a separate and transparent investigation is done of this,” Wilkes Delligatti added.
The teen’s condition has not been released by authorities.
The chase and crash are being investigated by the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Department.
WEPM’s Mike McCullough contributed to this story.