MONTGOMERY, W.Va. -- Montgomery officials and state Sen. Bill Laird, D-Fayette, swore in five people to serve on a new oversight commission for the town's police department Tuesday evening.
Laird, who plans to introduce a bill next year that would require West Virginia police departments to report problem officers and give a state panel the power to investigate them, congratulated town leaders for creating the commission.
"This could someday serve as a model for other communities," said Laird, who served as Fayette County sheriff for a 16 years.
He said that police stand as a "thin blue line between lawlessness and disorder," and a small minority of problem officers can taint the integrity of the majority.
Police have to make quick decisions, and Laird cautioned the commission to take into account the circumstances surrounding an officers' actions.
"The world is full of Monday-morning quarterbacks who are quick to criticize actions ... without looking at the context in which the behavior occurred," he said.
The board is made up of Kevin Lohan, human resources director at the West Virginia University Institute of Technology; Gene Lopez, human resources director of Bridgemont Community College; Ruby Price, a former nurse and head of the emergency room at Montgomery General Hospital; John McGinnis, former principal at Valley High School; and Terrance Hamm, a city councilman and pastor.
"This commission is something that's been needed in the state of West Virginia for a very long time," Price said. "The past is the past and we want to look to the future. We want to show people that what we were not aware of in the past won't happen in the present."
Montgomery has had problems with its police officers in recent years.
In September 2008, then-Montgomery officers Matthew Leavitt and Shawn Hutchinson assaulted Twan and Lauren Reynolds outside the city's 7-Eleven.
Leavitt hit Twan Reynolds over the head with a blackjack, kicked him in the back and sprayed his eyes with pepper spray. He also used a racial epithet and licked Lauren Reynolds on the neck during an interrogation. Their 4-year-old daughter witnessed much of the assault.
Leavitt, who faced accusations of misconduct from several other people, is serving a two-year prison sentence for federal civil rights violations.