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Three defendants cut from fired Sophia cop's lawsuit

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- A federal judge said a former Sophia police officer who says he was fired because he's black can proceed with most of his claims against two Beckley officers in a civil-rights lawsuit against them and his former employers.

U.S. District Judge Irene Berger has dismissed claims against a police investigator, Frank Priddy, and two other unidentified officers also being sued by ex-policeman Damon McDowell. But last week's ruling lets most allegations against Beckley officer Timothy Capehart and another unidentified officer stand.

Because McDowell isn't suing the city of Beckley, Berger ruled, he can't sue the officers in their official capacity. He can, however, sue Capehart and the other officer as individuals.

Berger's ruling also says that McDowell has presented "adequate facts" to suggest that the officers' conduct may have been racially motivated and done in collaboration with his former boss, Sophia Police Chief Tomi Peck.

Peck was an officer in Beckley before she became chief in Sophia. She and all of the other defendants have denied any wrongdoing.

Peck says she fired McDowell after he left an Applebee's in Beckley without paying his bill, but McDowell claims he's the victim of a conspiracy cooked up to force him to resign.

McDowell, the only black officer on the Sophia force, was fired earlier this year after just six months on the job. He contends it was the culmination of harassment schemes that included hiding paperwork so he'd miss court appearances, drawing penises on his papers and telling jokes with a racial epithet in his presence.

The lawsuit also alleges Peck denied McDowell training opportunities in favor of white officers, even when one had already resigned and the other had less seniority.

The two Beckley officers were named as defendants because of several incidents that occurred in their jurisdiction, including: the Applebee's arrest, in which McDowell's white companion was not charged; a vehicle stop in which McDowell claims he was harassed; and an assault on McDowell's daughter by her white boyfriend in which the boyfriend was not charged.

Priddy and Capehart asked the judge to dismiss various counts against them, claiming McDowell failed to prove their actions were "racially motivated and purposefully discriminatory."

Berger, however, said racial motivation "can be inferred by the allegedly discriminatory arrest, the failure to arrest a similarly situated white male, and from the allegation of a racially motivated, unlawful, pretextual stop and unlawful detention."

The officers also argued that the charges against them should be dismissed or delayed until the Applebee's case is resolved. Berger denied that motion too.

But Berger granted a motion to dismiss Priddy from the case, ruling that McDowell has failed to produce any evidence supporting his claim that Priddy was conspiring with Sophia police during the investigation of the assault on McDowell's daughter.

McDowell says Beckley police refused to charge the boyfriend despite his daughter's visible knife wounds.

At best, the judge ruled, it was his daughter's rights that were violated, not McDowell's.


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