CHARLESTON, W.Va. --An attorney said he believes the city of Bluefield hasn't followed through on its promise to establish a civilian review panel to review police misconduct investigations.
In September 1998, Robert Ellison, a 20-year-old black man, filed suit against the city alleging he was beaten and dragged by two white Bluefield police officers outside a nightclub. The incident left him paralyzed below the neck.
The suit was settled in June 2000. The city, while maintaining its officers didn't break the law, agreed to pay Ellison $1 million, increase its efforts to hire more minority police officers and establish a civilian review panel to review police misconduct investigations.
Last September, Charleston attorney Ed Hill, who represented Ellison during the suit, mailed a state Freedom of Information Act and federal Freedom of Information laws request to then Bluefield Mayor Linda Whelen requesting information about what the panel has accomplished since its inception.
"Among other documents evidencing the work of this Citizen Review Panel, please provide all organizational records, identity of members of this Panel, minutes of meetings, and documentation of all action taken as a result of the work of this Panel," Hill's Sept. 10 letter stated.
On Sept. 14, Brian Cochran, an attorney for the city, replied to Hill, scheduling a date and time for him to inspect the documents.
But, on Sept. 20, Cochran filed a motion in U.S. District Court asking Judge David Faber, who presided over the 1999 case, to clarify the terms of the judgment, pointing out the settlement agreement stated all information obtained by the panel is confidential.
Cochran, who has served as Bluefield's attorney since 2008, said last week he filed the motion with the court "out of an abundance of caution."
"I don't have any problem turning [the documents] over if that's what the court decides to do," he said in a telephone interview.