CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The ACLU of West Virginia says the public should be able to see video and documents related to allegations police beat a 16-year-old during a Martinsburg altercation.
“Police have a constitutional responsibility to avoid excessive force, no matter the circumstance,” stated Loree Stark, the legal director for The American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia.
“We are committed to getting to the bottom of this incident to determine if any of the teenager’s civil liberties were violated.”
Two state troopers and one sheriff’s deputy have been suspended without pay pending three separate investigations of a Nov. 19 incident in Berkeley County.
They have been identified Trooper First Class Derek Walker and Trooper First Class Michael Kennedy as well as Deputy Austin Ennis.
The allegations were revealed last Thursday with a statement from Gov. Jim Justice, who alluded to the beating of a 16-year-old white male.
A later statement from the State Police stopped short of describing a beating, claiming “the response to resistance/aggression actions of the troopers came into question.”
Statements have described the 16-year-old crashing into a parked sheriff’s cruiser, fleeing, losing control and crashing into a utility pole.
What happened next was captured on dashcam video from a sheriff’s cruiser and passed up the chain of command until the event was described to the governor.
“What you had is a 16-year-old kid who did something stupid and ran into a sheriff’s cruiser or whatever like that and then took off. And then you had the reaction of people who aren’t 16,” Justice said during a Tuesday press conference.
“They took the job knowing their behavior can’t be 16. And in all honesty you had way beyond necessary force. You had beating of a kid.”
State Police Superintendent Jan Cahill, speaking this week on MetroNews’ “Talkline,” has seen the video and described what happened after the teen left the crashed vehicle.
“He’s placed on the road,” Cahill said. “At that point, he’s trying to be handcuffed. It goes on for probably a minute, and that’s when you see a series of blows and resistance.”
ACLU of West Virginia wants to know more. The organization says in one of its documents requests that it “is encouraged by Governor Justice’s public call for a thorough investigation.”
The organization has requested a range of records, including both text messages and messages sent on social media platforms.
From the Governor’s Office, ACLU of West Virginia has requested:
- Any correspondence relating to the incident involving the two troopers, any other law enforcement and the teen.
- Any and all video, including but not limited to the dashcam video, received or reviewed by any employee of the Governor’s Office.
- Any documents received or reviewed by the Governor’s Office relating to the incident.
From the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office, the ACLU has requested those items plus a couple more:
- The names and badge numbers of all department personnel who were at the scene that night or for the events leading up to it.
- Disciplinary records for any employees of the Sheriff’s Department who were there.
And the organization has requested all those, plus another piece of information, from the State Police. Those are complaints or legal actions for troopers Walker, Kennedy or anyone else at the incident.
Three investigations have been taking place through the State Police, the Berkeley County Prosecutor and the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department.
West Virginia MetroNews, with support from the West Virginia Broadcasters Association, has filed official requests for dashcam video plus any associated correspondence.
State Police officials have not yet responded but earlier stated no video would be released until the investigation’s completion.
The Berkeley County Sheriff’s Department denied the MetroNews request, citing the ongoing investigation:
“It is part of the ongoing investigation of those allegations, the premature disclosure of which would compromise the criminal and administrative investigations.
“The video will be released upon the Prosecuting Attorney’s determination that the investigation is complete.”
Governor Justice was asked during a Tuesday afternoon press conference if he believes the video should be voluntarily, immediately made public.
Justice said he would leave that decision to the investigating authorities.
“I don’t know. I don’t know what the legality is from the standpoint of, everyone deserves a fair trial. We don’t need to be tried by the media,” said Justice, who was first to reveal the incident.
“I am all for complete transparency. I’d give it to you tomorrow, but I don’t know what the legal ramifications are.”