MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Environmental activists demanded a federal investigation Thursday into the alleged beating of a mountaintop-removal mining protester by the West Virginia State Police.
Several groups issued a statement asking the U.S. Attorney's Office to investigate a weekend incident involving protester Dustin Steele. They'd initially targeted the West Virginia attorney general, but that office has no criminal investigation or prosecutorial power. It primarily handles consumer protection and fraud cases.
Melvin Smith, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, said the FBI investigates claims of civil-rights violations by public officials, but he was unaware of whether it's received any complaints.
If the FBI were to determine that charges are warranted, they would be pursued in federal court.
Steele, 21, is a Matewan native who now lives in Blair. He and 19 other protesters were arrested Saturday after a demonstration at Patriot Coal's Hobet Mine in Lincoln County.
Steele told The Associated Press that he was dragged across asphalt outside the State Police detachment in Madison, then punched and kicked by several troopers.
Sgt. Michael Baylous said State Police officials have received no complaint from Steele, so they're not doing an internal investigation.
The demonstration was organized by Radical Action for Mountain People's Survival, or RAMPS, which claims that another veteran protester was dragged away from the scene by her hair. A RAMPS spokeswoman said a complaint would be filed on Steele's behalf later Thursday.
Meanwhile, RAMPS posted a 9-minute video on YouTube Wednesday morning that shows protesters being forced to walk for miles to their caravan of vehicles while other motorists are allowed to pass. The "Mountain Mobilization" video also shows counter-protesters in blue mining uniforms with fluorescent stripes lining the road in some places, forming a blockade and following along in vehicles. Protesters interviewed for the video accused the State Police of putting them in an unsafe situation.
Steele, who has been fighting mountaintop removal since he was 13, has been involved in as many as 30 demonstrations but said this is the first time he was seriously roughed up. He said he has abrasions on his back and deep bruises on his ribs and thighs. He said the alleged injuries have only strengthened his commitment.