CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A Princeton police officer and West Virginia State Police Academy basic-class student says he nearly died of a blood clot in his brain after being beaten by two of his instructors during a training session at the academy in Institute.
Christopher Winkler, 23, said the alleged beating at the hands of two trainers, which he said happened during baton training on April 5, left him unconscious.
His mother, Pamela McPeak, said an instructor told her that he saved her son's life by pulling two other instructors off Winkler when they continued to beat him while he was unconscious.
Maj. K.J. Foreman, chief of staff services for the State Police, confirmed that Winkler was injured during physical training and then taken to the hospital and spent three days there. Foreman said he didn't believe that Winkler continued to be struck once unconscious.
"I don't believe that's true. . . . We certainly are not there to hurt anyone. This is a training facility. The last thing we want to do is injure anyone," Foreman said. "This is the first I've heard anyone saying he was mistreated or abused.
"We have not had any other reports or any other students saying they were abused. On the contrary, we've interviewed everyone we knew who saw what went on that day, and no one indicated anything of that nature to us."
According to McPeak, her son was singled out by several of the training officers.
Winkler was not cleared by his doctors to return to work on Friday and will be out at least for several more weeks.
"He's a good person with good morals, good values," McPeak said. "I don't know why they did this. We need an answer."
Instructors vs. student
Winkler said that, by April 5, the two black eyes an academy instructor allegedly had given him in an earlier training session were healed. It was a good thing, too: April 5 was the day the basic students took their class photo.
Winkler was in the academy's 141st Basic Police Training Class, which is for law enforcement officers other than the State Police. New law enforcement officers in departments throughout West Virginia must attend basic classes to get certified as a police officer in the state. The training lasts 16 weeks and differs from the State Police Cadet classes, which last for 30 weeks.
During that earlier training session, the basic students had to box each other in one-minute rounds as part of their training. Winkler says an instructor didn't think he was boxing another student hard enough and made Winkler box him.
Winkler said he received a concussion during the fight, in addition to two black eyes.
"He beat the hell out of me," Winkler said.
After the class photo on April 5, instructors started taking the students one by one for their baton training inside a gym converted from the old State Police helicopter hangar, Winkler said.
Inside the room, there were mats on the floor. Several of the instructors stood around in protective padding. The training was to simulate a situation where the student officers are attacked by multiple assailants at once. The instructors were to fight the cadets two-at-a-time. When one instructor got tired, there were others there to jump in, Winkler said.
The simulated fights were supposed to last three minutes.
Winkler said he was given a baton made out of foam rubber to use in the exercise. The trainers had no weapons but their fists, he said.
Winkler said he was asked if there was any physical condition they should know about before the exercise began.
He said he told them he had scoliosis, or curvature of the spine, and that striking him in the back of the head or neck could potentially paralyze him.
The instructors also had known about this prior to the training, Winkler said, because he had gone to routine chiropractic appointments during his time at the academy.
"I was supposed to strike them with the baton, and they were to go down on one knee," he said. "They never played by those rules. They never went down on one knee. That's what caused my injuries."
Winkler said that when the trainers came at him, they started punching him in the head until he was unconscious.
McPeak provided a hospital transfer form to the Sunday Gazette-Mail. The transfer is from Thomas Memorial Hospital to Cabell-Huntington Hospital. In it, attending physician Philip T. Berry wrote that Winkler had a subdural hematoma, or brain bruise, and that there was bleeding inside his brain.
Winkler said he was told at Cabell-Huntington that he had a blood clot in his brain. He said he was given medicine to dissolve the clot. Doctors said, if that didn't work, he would need surgery. Winkler had medical tests Friday, and he said doctors told him he still might need brain surgery.
'Keep this from happening'
Maj. Foreman said the State Police is investigating what happened during Winkler's training and is taking statements from everyone involved.
"We hate that this happened," Foreman said. "We have a large number of students over there, and we don't have any other injuries of this nature. We certainly don't abuse anyone."
Foreman said State Police leaders understand that something out of the ordinary happened and are reviewing it to see if anything could have changed the situation.
"We need to see if there is anything that could keep this from happening in the future," he said.
Foreman said none of the statements taken so far indicate that Winkler was struck after he was unconscious. Foreman said he wanted to know the name of the officer who told Pamela McPeak that had happened.
"I've talked to Mrs. McPeak personally," Foreman said, "and she had not mentioned that to me."
McPeak said the conversation with Foreman was short and that she didn't get a chance to tell him the name. With McPeak's consent, the name of that officer was provided by the Gazette-Mail to State Police spokesman Sgt. Michael Baylous.