CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- On May 6, West Virginia State Trooper J.R. Martin went missing while on duty. By all accounts, the Preston County 911 center lost contact with him for several hours that day.
He was eventually found in the Bruceton-Brandonville fire hall at about 11 p.m. He told a State Police investigator he consumed alcohol after arriving at the firehouse, according to the State Police traffic report of the incident. His cruiser bore scrapes from a guardrail, according to the report.
He has not been charged with any crime. The investigator said he was unable to determine when the trooper consumed alcohol.
Aside from the traffic report, the State Police has conducted an internal investigation into the incident -- an investigation agency officials say they can't release to the public.
Whether Martin is punished for the incident -- whether he even did anything wrong -- is something the State Police says the public doesn't have a right to know.
"You will never know the conclusion of this or what occurs," Capt. Gordon Ingold, head of the State Police professional standards section, recently told a Dominion Post reporter in Morgantown.
Based on the legislative rules that govern the State Police, Ingold said Thursday, there is simply no way to release any information from an internal investigation.
"It puts us in a position of not necessarily being able to defend ourselves," he said, "and people assume we are not telling arbitrarily, that we are withholding information."
There are many incidents where State Police officers have been accused of abuses of power and violent acts and the public has not found out whether they really happened.
"Any wrongdoing will not be tolerated," said Jama Jarrett, spokeswoman for Gov. Joe Manchin's office. "If and when investigations reveal criminal activity or incompliance, then such cases will be taken to the next level of prosecution."
Five alleged beatings, two alleged sex crimes, the alleged beating of a cadet at the State Police Academy and the incident with Martin have lingering questions about what happened, although some of the incidents have been taken to a prosecutor or grand jury.
A source familiar with State Police internal affairs investigations says there are situations where troopers aren't telling the truth and that fact has been overlooked by State Police administrations.
The Gazette-Mail agreed to publish the person's comments without using their name because the source feared retribution from the State Police if their identity were known.
"If a complaint is sustained, then the department looks bad. Then one of the guys did something wrong. That is the best reason it may be overlooked," the source said. "I don't want to say [that happens] a lot. I don't think it's very common -- but if it happens once, it's too much."
'We live in a litigious society'
Allegations of beatings by State Police troopers have occurred with some frequency in recent years, although in none of the cases has an officer been charged with a crime.
In April, Princeton police officer and West Virginia State Police Academy basic class student Christopher Winkler said he nearly died of a blood clot on his brain after being beaten by two of his instructors during a training session at the academy.
Winkler's 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.
After the incident was reported by the Gazette-Mail, Gov. Joe Manchin and Kanawha County prosecutor Mark Plants called for separate investigations into the incident -- in addition to the internal investigation by the State Police.
Winkler confirmed last week that he had talked to investigators from the state Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety and from the Legislature's Commission on Special Investigations.
Sgt. Michael Baylous, spokesman for the State Police, confirmed that the internal investigation into Winkler's allegations was complete, but Winkler says investigators from State Police internal affairs did not contact him.
In October, the State Police agreed to pay $200,000 to Charleston lawyer Roger Wolfe, who sued after he said he was beaten so badly that spinal fluid came out of his nose. A federal grand jury launched an inquiry into the incident in April 2009. No troopers have been indicted.
Baylous said there have been instances where the State Police has settled lawsuits for financial reasons.
"I think that shows a flaw in the civil court system," he said. "We live in a litigious society."
Baylous said he would like to see lawyers taken to task for frivolous lawsuits.
"But this isn't about what I want to see happen," he said. "It's about financial decisions."
In Logan County, there have been at least four allegations of police brutality since 2006. The State Police has spent more than $91,000 defending itself in lawsuits stemming from those cases but has not had to pay out any money to the defendants.
Several of the troopers appear to be involved in more than one alleged incident.