As soon as next week, West Virginia delegates could consider the removal of a newly-sworn in lawmaker who surged into a U.S. Capitol riot.
New Delegate Derrick Evans, R-Wayne, is already subject of a public petition for removal, which has thousands of signatures.
In a statement issued Thursday evening, a lawyer for Evans said he will not voluntarily give up the elected position.
“Delegate Derrick Evans will not be resigning his public ofﬁce,” stated attorney John H. Bryan of Union.
The three-page statement described Evans as an activist and “journalist” who was documenting the day’s events while being swept along in a crowd.
“Given the sheer size of the group walking in, Evans had no choice but to enter,” Bryan wrote. “Evans continued to film once inside. His footage showed that members of the public were already inside the Capitol by the time he entered. Evans’ footage shows no riotous behavior taking place at that time. Protesters can be seen calmly walking around.”
West Virginia lawmakers have started saying Evans should resign or be prepared for expulsion.
Delegate Ben Queen, R-Harrison, said there’s no place in the House for a lawmaker who acted as Evans has. In a statement Thursday, Queen said Evans should resign.
“Today, I am respectfully calling on Delegate Evans to resign his seat in the WV House of Delegates,” Queen said as part of a longer post. “His actions do not reflect the West Virginia values that so many of us share and work so hard to defend.”
Delegate Joshua Higginbotham, R-Putnam, urged Evans to resign or be removed.
“Domestic terrorism is not acceptable. Storming the US Capitol is not acceptable. Violence against law enforcement and members of Congress is not acceptable. If West Virginia Delegate Derrick Evans does not resign for his illegal and treasonous actions I and many other Republican lawmakers will vote to have him removed from the West Virginia House of Delegates,” Higginbotham said on social media.
“I swore to uphold the Constitution and it is quite evident that this elected official does not care about the oath he supposedly took.”
Delegate Steve Westfall, R-Jackson, said on WMOV Radio that he was “very, very disturbed” that a fellow delegate joined the mob at the U.S. Capitol.
State Senator-elect Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha, suggested Evans should resign or be removed by delegates.
“As a former member of the House of Delegates, I hope Delegate Evans accepts responsibility for his actions and chooses to resign. Should he not do so, I urge the House to take disciplinary action against him, including expelling him from the body,” Nelson said in a statement issued Thursday afternoon.
The mob storming the Capitol disrupted the constitutional duty of counting Electoral College votes and prompted the evacuations of representatives, senators and Vice President Mike Pence. One woman was fatally shot while trying to climb into the chambers, three others died from “medical emergencies” and 50 police officers were injured.
Evans, R-Wayne, livestreamed and then deleted videos from inside the Capitol, but others took screenshots and videos of his original .
The video shows a crowd surging through a Capitol door, past security, while an alarm repeatedly blares. As Evans enters an area called National Statuary Hall he celebrates and states his own name: “We’re in! We’re in! Derrick Evans is in the Capitol!” At another point, he turns the camera on himself, wearing a motorcycle helmet.
In a Facebook post on his “Derrick Evans — The Activist” page, Evans said he was on a bus traveling home to West Virginia after the event and said he had acted as “an independent member of the media to film history.”
“I want to assure you all that I did not have any negative interactions with law enforcement nor did I participate in any destruction that may have occurred,” he stated.
Evans is a first-time officeholder. He placed first in a two-member district in the most recent General Election, with 8,227 votes.
Evans swore to uphold the Constitution last month. All delegates state this oath: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the Constitution of the United States, and the Constitution of the State of West Virginia, and faithfully discharge the duties of Senator (or Delegate) according to the best of my ability.”
House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, stated he was appalled by the events at the U.S. Capitol this week and is still examining the specifics of what Evans did.
“I have not spoken to Delegate Evans about today’s events, I don’t know the specifics of his involvement, I have only seen what has been posted on social media so far, and I’m sure more details may come out soon,” Hanshaw stated Wednesday evening.
“He will need to answer to his constituents and colleagues regarding his involvement in what has occurred today.”
The Legislature is set to convene next Wednesday for a one-day session to select leadership and set rules.
“I believe the first order of business after that is there will be a motion made to remove Derrick Evans as a member of the House,” said Delegate Steve Westfall, R-Jackson, in an interview with WMOV Radio.
“And there’ll be debate on it up and down, and there’ll be a vote.”
Westfall said he was disturbed to learn of Evans’ actions at the U.S. Capitol, alluding to the oath of office for delegates to uphold the Constitution.
“I do not believe Mr. Evans did that when he broke into the Capitol of the United States,” Westfall said. “If there is a vote, I will vote to remove him. I just think he let us all down. He made us look bad.”
Other state officials agreed with the outline of that process.
“The Speaker does not have unilateral power to remove a member from office. Speaking in general terms, a Speaker interested in disciplining a member could only do such things as stripping a member of committee assignments, office arrangements or a parking space,” House spokesman Jared Hunt stated in response to questions from MetroNews.
“Article Six, Section 25 of the state Constitution does allow the full House to punish members for disorderly behavior. This would require a vote of two-thirds of members to approve expulsion. That would be done through a resolution that could be introduced once the legislative session begins.”
Deak Kersey, elections director for the Secretary of State’s Office, agreed with those steps.
“A motion would be made on the floor, the House would vote to take up the motion, there would likely be debate, and then a final vote,” Kersey said.
House Democrats have expressed support for punishment, starting with Evans’ suspension. One was first-term Delegate Kayla Young, D-Kanawha.
To clarify, I support Speaker Hanshaw’s stance and look forward to holding my WV House colleague accountable for sedition and insurrection on my first day in the House Chamber next week. ☺️
— Kayla Young (@kaylayoungforwv) January 7, 2021
Delegate Doug Skaff, the incoming House Minority Leader, said the punishment should begin right away for Evans.
“I am calling on Speaker Hanshaw to suspend Delegate Derrick Evans’ rights, privileges and access to West Virginia State Capitol Building, immediately and indefinitely, to allow for investigation into this incident,” Skaff stated Wednesday evening.
“Delegate Derrick Evans has made threats on social media directed at other West Virginians, including threats directed at other legislators. Those comments, coupled with his most recent actions at the U.S. Capitol, are cause for alarm and a real safety concern for all those who work at our State Capitol Complex.”
By Thursday evening, Skaff had submitted an official request to keep Evans from being seated at all.
My request to Speaker Hanshaw on behalf of the Minority Caucus is that Derrick Evans not be seated as a member of the House of Delegates, effective immediately. pic.twitter.com/qbOAmnKuhP
— dougskaff (@dougskaff) January 8, 2021
Another, less certain path, would be using part of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to remove the delegate.
That would require taking the position that the delegate’s actions engaged in insurrection or rebellion.
“No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any state, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any state legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any state, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.”
Hunt, the West Virginia House spokesman, said that possibility would require more research.
“I know there has been some talk on social media regarding the insurrection provision of the 14th Amendment in the U.S. Constitution, as well as other legal options for disqualifying or removing an official from office, but I wouldn’t want to say how those could apply without a more thorough analysis from legal counsel,” Hunt stated.