In the video Roger Wolfe talks about the beating he says he took at the hands of State Police. Video by Douglas Imbrogno.
This is the second installment in a three-part series examining the lack of police oversight in West Virginia.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- There's a lot Roger Wolfe doesn't remember about the night in June 2007 when West Virginia State Troopers beat him so bad that cranial fluid leaked from his nose.
The prominent Charleston attorney knows that he had been drinking and shouldn't have been driving.
He remembers being pulled over by State Police in Charleston and being taken to the South Charleston barracks on a drunk driving charge.
And he remembers waking up in a hospital room and seeing his reflection in one of the room's shiny metal instruments.
"It was the first time I'd seen myself and I thought 'Oh my God, what happened to me?'" Wolfe said in an interview with the Gazette.
Wolfe sued the State Police and the troopers who allegedly beat him and tried to cover it up.
He is far from the first person to say troopers from the West Virginia State Police, the largest law enforcement agency in the state, abuse their power and put the public in harm's way. It's a story that's been repeated over and over for the past 30 years. (See timeline on Page 5A).
The State Police investigate other agencies when allegations of abuse arise. And in the Wolfe case -- and all others -- they investigate themselves as well.
There is an inherent flaw in having the same agency that is going to pay out money if abuse occurred also investigate that abuse, said Dan Hedges, executive director of Mountain State Justice, a nonprofit public interest law firm.
Under that system, people won't believe it when an officer is absolved of wrongdoing, Hedges said.
"If it's done internally and there's nothing wrong, people are just going to say there is a cover-up. It ought to have integrity," he said. "That is the saddest thing. It teaches disrespect for law enforcement."
No one from the State Police would agree to be interviewed for this story. Spokesman Sgt. Michael Baylous cited as the reason the Gazette's lawsuit, filed in November, that requests records detailing how the agency handles allegations of abuse and misconduct.
Acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin also declined to be interviewed, citing the lawsuit.
State Police Superintendent Col. Timothy Pack has declined all requests for interviews by Gazette reporters since being appointed superintendent by Gov. Joe Manchin in December 2008.
Investigating each other
State Police troopers from the same detachment used to investigate one another when necessary, until a 1995 Supreme Court ruling forced them to do otherwise.
In 1990, 17-year-old Billy Ray Casto from Harts in Lincoln County said Trooper Joe Parsons beat him with fists and a flashlight.
Casto filed a complaint with the department the following year. A trooper by the name of B.R. Lester, who worked in the same detachment as Parsons, was assigned to the case.
Lester, who soon found Casto's claims unsubstantiated, was no stranger to complaints against State Police troopers.
In April 1980, after a call from Lester, he and about 20 State Police troopers went to the White House Tavern in Lincoln County.
Two biker clubs, the Brothers of the Wheel and The Bootleggers, were camped outside after a night of drinking. Members of the clubs said that the State Police mercilessly beat them with riot batons as they lay in their sleeping bags and tents as their wives, girlfriends and children were forced to stand in front of the bar and watch.
The clubs sued the State Police for $1 million, and got about $24,000 awarded to them by a jury in 1982. It wasn't much money, but it's one of the first, if not the first, time a jury ruled against the agency.
Lester, who is retired and has leukemia, declined to be interviewed for this story.
After Lester dismissed Casto's claims against his fellow trooper, Hedges and Morgantown lawyer Franklin Cleckley went to the state Supreme Court on Casto's behalf.