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Complaint filed over Embassy Suites incident

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The father of a West Liberty University cheerleader filed a complaint with the Charleston police chief, accusing officers of using excessive force when they responded to an incident at the Embassy Suites hotel earlier this month.

On March 4, Charles Haggerty wrote in an email to Chief Brent Webster that police "entered the hotel brandishing batons ... and wearing leather gloves prepared for an altercation."

"Their use of profanity, especially the 'F' word, the pointing of fingers in peoples chests and threatening people with being 'slammed' was absolutely uncalled for and took the situation to the level it resulted in."

Following the school's West Virginia Conference championship win on March 2, West Liberty Athletic Director James Watson, 66, his son Brian, 28, and two other West Liberty student-athletes were arrested after what one hotel employee described as an "out of control" celebration. Haggerty saw the situation unfold at the hotel.

Haggerty, who wrote that he's been employed with the Ohio Department of Corrections for 22 years, told Webster that police escalated the situation and exaggerated the incident to the media.

Webster told the Gazette on Tuesday that regardless of Haggerty's complaint, the incident was already being investigated. This is the only formal complaint his office has received.

A school official at West Liberty who asked to remain anonymous provided emails to the Gazette.

Webster, who only confirmed that the emails were sent, said he never would have identified Haggerty as a complainant because he would not want to discourage future reports.

"Our policy is pretty clear that whenever we use any kind of force, hands on, pepper spray -- outside of verbal command or simple escort -- that we do an internal investigation," Webster said. "[Haggerty] made a couple other allegations, which makes it also a conduct investigation."

On March 5, Charleston Police Capt. C.A. Peal, commander of the department's Professional Standards Division, responded to Haggerty, according to the emails.

Peal wrote that an investigation was underway into the matter. She also provided her phone number and said she'd like additional information from Haggerty.

"You also mentioned the availability of cellphone video of the incident. I would encourage you and any others that are in possession of any of this video to forward or email it to me as well," Peal wrote.

Webster said police have not received any cellphone video of the incident, but encouraged anyone who might have captured it to give it to police. Charleston Police Lt. Steve Cooper said the incident was not captured on hotel surveillance video.

Cooper said after the incident that hotel security called police for backup after "they had lost control of the situation."

Police were met by nearly 200 people in the hotel lobby, according to Cooper, who said the crowd "smelled of liquor, were belligerent and aggressive toward police."

However, Haggerty wrote that the crowd size was 90 to 110 people, "with 75 [percent] of those individuals ranging in age from 45-70."

"Of the entire group, 50-55 [percent] of the individuals were females. This was hardly a rowdy group. This was a group of people who are respected professionals in their communities."

While trying to stop police from arresting his son, James Watson stepped in front of Cpl. D. Nikocevic and then shoved him with both arms in his chest, according to a criminal complaint filed in Kanawha County Magistrate Court.

Senior Patrolman M.Z. Blackledge wrote in a complaint that Brian Watson had an alcohol beverage in his hand and was screaming profanities at hotel patrons.

Police say Brian Watson tried to flee the area while his dad tried to stop the arrest. Police grabbed him by his arm and eventually got him on the ground, where he was handcuffed, according to the complaint.

Tyler Tucci, 22, who plays football for West Liberty, and Gabrielle Davis, 19, who is a volleyball player, according to the university's website, were both charged with obstructing.

Police used pepper spray on Tucci, who Cooper said resisted arrest. Davis lunged at police and would "have interjected herself physically in the struggle had I not grabbed her prior to her making contact with the officers," CPD Officer J.M. Spurlock wrote.

Haggerty wrote in the email that he watched a female basketball player "moving toward the elevator who was slammed into the floor and one of the borders of the plant beds."

The woman, he wrote, was "not involved in any of this, given that she was not charged with anything."

He wrote that the woman "sustained 2 broken ribs and ligament damage in her shoulder which required an overnight hospital stay."

West Liberty President Robin Capehart released a statement following the incident. "Based on the account of more than two dozen eyewitnesses to whom I've spoken, we look forward to the judicial process with regard to this matter."

Charleston Mayor Danny Jones released a statement defending police after the incident.

Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.


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