CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The FBI is investigating the Wood County Sheriff's Department over an October 2009 video that shows a deputy hitting and choking a suspect in the department's holding facility.
The suspect in the video, Brian Timothy Sawyer, 30, filed a lawsuit against the department in U.S. District Court on Tuesday.
Joe Ciccarelli, FBI supervisory senior resident agent in Charleston, confirmed that the FBI has started a civil rights investigation.
In a separate lawsuit, Wood County Sheriff's Sgt. David Westfall claims the department is unfairly firing him after he gave the FBI a copy of the video. Westfall also accuses other department officers of wrongdoing in the "whistleblower" lawsuit.
The Charleston Gazette obtained copies of the video from Westfall and Wood County Prosecutor Jason Wharton.
The videos show Sawyer sitting in front of then-Deputy Jim Asbury and gesturing at him. There is no sound. Sawyer holds his hand in front of Asbury, who appears to lunge at Sawyer, choke him and punch him.
Other deputies then surround the two men. Sawyer appears to stand on the bench as Asbury attacks him. Asbury then pulls him to the ground.
The incident was presented to a Wood County grand jury, which did not indict Asbury.
Asbury resigned from the department in June, Wood County Sheriff Jeff Sandy said.
The sheriff said his department has nothing to hide. "We welcome any federal, state or grand jury investigation on any and all matters," he said. "We will cooperate with any of those entities."
On Oct. 29, 2009, Sawyer allegedly hit his girlfriend on the butt with a broom handle, according to a criminal complaint filed in Wood County Magistrate Court.
Asbury wrote in the complaint that after he placed Sawyer in handcuffs, Sawyer started kicking his legs, broke the antenna on Asbury's portable radio and had to be dragged to a police car. He was charged with domestic assault, public intoxication, destruction of property, assault on a police officer and three counts of obstruction.
In the complaint, Asbury also says that he and several other deputies had to forcibly restrain Sawyer when he became combative again at the holding facility.
Sawyer was also charged with disorderly conduct for cursing at Asbury and calling him and another officer "butt buddies" when he was taken to the hospital after the incident in the holding facility.
Sawyer's attorney, John Bryan, said the charges against Sawyer have since been resolved, though he doesn't know their exact disposition.
Sawyer is in prison on an unrelated felony charge, after he forged his brother's signature on a fingerprint card, Bryan said.
The lawyer said the FBI contacted him in the last week and asked to speak to Sawyer.
Wharton, the Wood County prosecutor, said last month the sheriff's department gave him a copy of the video from the incident on Aug. 11 -- nine months after it happened. He said he showed the tape to a grand jury, which did not indict Asbury.
Bryan said that Westfall, who investigated the incident for the sheriff's department, wasn't called at the grand jury.
"He was kept in the dark about it," Bryan said.