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.