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Westover Police Chief does not believe arson at predominantly African-American church was racially motivated

WESTOVER, W.Va. — Three men are facing charges after a fire at a predominantly African-American church in Monongalia County, but the local Chief of Police does not believe the crime to be racially motivated.

“If I found it, I would throw it out there,” said Rick Panico, Westover Chief of Police. “But, I have nothing to lead me to believe that outside of somebody that came by this place like a thrill, type of a thrill thing.”

Joseph Wilson Jr., 21, address unknown; Jordan Lipscomb, 18, address unknown; and Michael Pyles, 20, address unknown, are each facing charges connected to the fire set at Destiny Deliverance Ministries Church on March 17.

In fact, Panico said the way they came to a conclusion on who to charge is one of the key reasons they don’t believe the crime to be racially motivated.

“We had a couple people of interest, and after a couple of days with the Fire Marshal in tow doing an investigation, we pretty much got it narrowed down to the guys that called it in,” he said.

Much of the damage was smoke related, Panico said. There was also a brick thrown through the front plate glass doors.

“I mean, you try to go into the state of mind of why somebody would start a fire and why somebody would call it in,” Panico said. “It’s beyond me.”

Wilson and Lipscomb are each charged with arson. Pyles is charged as an accessory. On the arson investigation, Panico said they don’t need a motive to file charges.

“Arson does have a lot of parts to it,” he said. “But the bottom line is arson, even if it’s a mistake, it’s a strict liability crime, which means you don’t need motive.”

Despite the suspicious circumstances, Panico said he didn’t feel a federal hate crime investigation would be necessary, saying their investigation didn’t reveal if the three accused even knew that the building was a church, let alone a predominantly African-American church.

“It appeared to be on the face of it just a random act of vandalism on the front.”

“We don’t have anything to support that that would be the reason,” he added.

WAJR could not reach Pastor Shirley D. Robinson for comment Friday afternoon.

Destiny Deliverance Ministries, headquartered in North Carolina, could also not be reached for comment.

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