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Charleston P.D. clears itself in West Liberty arrests

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Charleston Police Chief Brent Webster said officers did not use excessive force when they responded to an incident involving West Liberty University athletes and fans at the Embassy Suites in March.

The internal investigation was concluded this week and Webster released his final decision Friday.

On March 2, more than a dozen officers from the patrol division responded to what police called an "out-of-control situation."

The incident happened after the Hilltoppers' third-straight title in the West Virginia Conference men's basketball tournament at the Charleston Civic Center. Those arrested included two students, West Liberty Athletic Director James Watson and his 28-year-old son, Brian.

"The Professional Standards Division conducted an internal evaluation looking into allegations of excessive force and they forwarded me the report with their findings," Webster said. "It said the force we used was not excessive and all the officers involved should be exonerated."

Webster reviewed the evidence and agreed with the report. Internal evaluations are not public, but Webster said he announced his findings in response to a complaint filed by Charles Haggerty, the father of a university cheerleader.

Haggerty sent an email to Webster alleging that Charleston police brandished batons, used profanities and "slammed" a female basketball player. The complaint was forwarded anonymously to the Gazette-Mail.

Capt. Cathy Peal and members of the Professional Standards Division interviewed the officers involved and multiple people called police to give witness statements, Webster said.

Webster agreed with evidence that the crowd was aggressive toward police, highly intoxicated and belligerent.

Hotel security called police for backup after they reportedly lost control of the situation. About 15 officers arrived to find a crowd of nearly 200 in the hotel lobby, police said.

Webster said no security footage exists of the crowd. Haggerty hinted at owning cellphone footage of the incident, but Webster said he never produced it.

"With all the media surrounding this, we were hoping to get our hands on some video," Webster said. "A video doesn't lie."

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

Senior Patrolman M.Z. Blackledge wrote in a complaint that Brian Watson had an alcohol beverage in his hand, screamed profanities at hotel patrons and ran from police.

James Watson, 66, was charged with obstructing an officer and battery on an officer. Brian Watson was charged with public intoxication, disorderly conduct, fleeing on foot and obstructing an officer.

Police also said Tyler Tucci, 22, and Gabrielle Davis, 19, both West Liberty volleyball players, resisted arrest and were charged with obstruction. Officers used pepper spray on Tucci before placing him under arrest.

The four have separate hearings in Kanawha County Magistrate Court on May 17.

Reach Travis Crum at travis.crum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5163.


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