Governor Jim Justice has begun to roll out details of a scandal within the West Virginia State Police that has been the subject of reporting and rumors for weeks. Here are a few things we learned from Justice’s press briefing Monday:
–A State Trooper placed a video camera in the women’s locker room at State Police Academy at Institute. That trooper has since died, and several other troopers destroyed the evidence. It is believed that happened prior to 2017.
Justice said he was appalled by the incident. “If there is anything on the planet that is despicable beyond belief it is this right here,” Justice said.
–A State Trooper found an envelope containing cash at the Mardi Gras Casino at Cross Lanes. Instead of turning it in, he took the money. Justice described the actions by the trooper as “flat out stealing.”
–A Maryland man died during a struggle with State Police along I-81 in Berkeley County earlier this year. State Police have refused to release the dash camera footage to the public, but Justice has seen it and he called it “a very concerning situation.”
–The West Virginia Department of Homeland Security conducted the investigation, but the information gathered has been turned over to federal investigators to determine if any charges should be filed. “We should at least uncover as much as we can get to,” Justice said.
Justice’s statements provide the first on-the-record details about the swirling allegations, but he stopped short of providing additional information. That is probably because Justice simply wasn’t ready to release the results.
However, Monday morning Justice had a hastily arranged meeting with State Police Superintendent Jan Cahill where Cahill said he had resigned. That prompted Justice to at least begin releasing a few details of the investigation.
Cahill has not been implicated in any wrongdoing, but Justice held him responsible as the individual in charge of the State Police. “He has served us as colonel for the last six-and-a-half years. He has done a lot of good,” Justice said. “While there was good, there was also bad judgement at this point in time… bad judgement leads to bad things.”
Justice told Cahill there was “no pathway” for him to continue in the job. The Governor has appointed law enforcement veteran Jack Chambers as acting superintendent.
The months-long investigation was triggered by a whistleblower letter from an anonymous individual who appeared to have firsthand knowledge of the behind-the-scenes actions at the highest levels of the State Police.
The whistleblower also alleged a series of financial improprieties within the upper management of the State Police, and trysts involving male and female troopers. Justice did not address those during his Monday briefing, but he added, “There will be much, much more.”
“The more we dug, the worse it stunk,” Justice said.
If that is the case, then the few revelations so far are just the tip of the iceberg, and that is dispiriting. The State Police are the gold standard for law enforcement in West Virginia, but we are learning that a few in the highest levels of the department have failed to adhere to that standard and violated the public trust.
Justice’s release of a few of the findings in the investigation is a start, but we need to know the rest of the story to fully clear the air.