"Although we have had several incidents recently in the news, when it comes to revoking an officer's certification, I believe we've done a fair and equitable job of doing that," Tilley said. "If an officer is doing something outside the normal guidelines, it falls within that agency to correct that through their own internal affairs and investigation."
The committee drew the line at criminal convictions because it can get information on officers from court documents, he said. It is difficult, if not impossible, for the committee to get information about officers in other circumstances, he said.
"Where we have an issue is that we have no authority to ask an agency to provide internal information. And on the other hand there are certain legal guidelines that prevent that agency from turning the information over. It's a catch-22 in that sense," Tilley said.
Departments won't give up their internal affairs investigations without a subpoena for fear of being sued by the officer, he said.
A 'toothless process'
West Virginia's law is sufficiently broad enough to decertify officers who cause problems said Roger Goldman, professor at the St. Louis University School of Law and an expert on police certification. But the process in which the state goes about decertifying officers is lacking, he said.
West Virginia State Code 30-29-5 sets the state's certification requirements. Legislative rules clarify the code, stating that the LET subcommittee "may suspend, revoke, or deny the certification of a law enforcement officer or, if applicable, deny admission to a basic entry-level training program for conduct or a pattern of conduct unbecoming to an officer or activities that would tend to disrupt, diminish, or otherwise jeopardize public trust and fidelity in law enforcement."
But it's the implementation of the code and rules, and perhaps a lack of funding where West Virginia has a problem, Goldman said.
"It sounds like West Virginia has set up a process that is really toothless," he said. "The state agency should have sufficient staff and subpoena power to investigate. And it should set a reasonable standard for revoking someone's certification. It shouldn't just be convictions."
There are 44 states that have some form of decertification for police officers, Goldman said. Of those, fewer than half decertify only those officers who have been convicted of a crime.
"That's a pretty low standard. It should be any termination or if some officer is under investigation by internal affairs and then resigns. That's essentially a plea bargain," Goldman said. "They should be required to file notification so someone can look into it. ... There are ways for the Legislature to remedy that."
During the 2009 legislative session, Tilley said the committee asked state lawmakers to give the Director of Criminal Justice Services, which the committee falls under, subpoena power. The request didn't make it into law, he said.
In 2008, an agency came to the subcommittee and said that an officer resigned because he'd had severe problems with the department and probably shouldn't be certified as a police officer. But the department said it couldn't legally give up its internal records, and the committee had no way to subpoena the records.
"So how do we go about reviewing the individual?" Tilley said. "Basically, there was no way. I mean, the agency was trying to do the right thing, but there was no way we could learn the information because it was an internal matter. ... This is why we need a rule change."
That's not the case in Florida, where the Florida Department of Law Enforcement regularly decertifies officers, said Kristen Chernosky, spokeswoman for the department.
"If there is a verifiable complaint, we'll open up a case," she said. "If an officer does something bad, the employing agency first has to conduct an internal investigation of what happened. Then they send the findings to us and we review it."
There is a process set up to both punish and decertify officers, she said.
Changing of the guard
A look at police officers in four West Virginia counties that have gotten in trouble in one department and found police work elsewhere:
Then-Charleston police officer Brandon Tagayun pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors for slamming into Patsy Sizemore's pickup truck and killing her in 2005. Now he's an officer in St. Albans.
In 2002, a Summersville woman told the Gazette-Mail that then-Summersville officers Heath A. and L. Shawn Whipkey were suspended after city officials learned both officers engaged in inappropriate behavior with her in a police car. Now they write tickets as officers in Gauley Bridge.
In December 2007, then-Charleston police officers Conrad M. Carpenter and Cpl. James E. White Jr. illegally shot a deer in Putnam County. After pleading to misdemeanors, both found work as police officers again. In October 2008, White got a job as a Marmet police officer. He left that department in April. Carpenter continues to work as an officer in Montgomery, where he was hired in November 2008
Derek S. Snavely was accused of raping a woman while on duty as a West Virginia State Police trooper last year. Now he is police chief in Hinton.
Robert Alkire II resigned from his job as a Pocahontas County sheriff's deputy after firing his gun at his girlfriend's house. Now he's a police officer in Ronceverte in Greenbrier County.
Eric Eagle pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of obtaining money under false pretenses for doing security work at the Charleston Town Center while still on the clock at the Charleston Police Department. Now he's the police chief in Pratt.
Carl Wayne Young was fired as a conservation officer from the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources for stalking an ex-girlfriend who worked there and for providing false information during an internal investigation. A West Virginia Public Employees Grievance Board decision said the woman's claim that Young stalked her wasn't credible, but found that he had provided false information during the investigation. Young is now an officer in Ansted.
In October, Matthew Leavitt was sentenced to two years in federal prison for violating Twan and Lauren Reynolds' civil rights while working as a police officer in Montgomery. In September 2008, Leavitt hit Twan over the head with a blackjack, kicked him in the back and sprayed his eyes with pepper spray at close range. He also used a racial epithet. Since March 2005, Leavitt had worked as a police officer in six different area police departments.
Leavitt's partner that evening, Shawn Hutchinson, threatened to arrest his superior officer for trying to stop Leavitt. Federal prosecutors decided not to prosecute Hutchinson, as long as he stays out of trouble for one year, according to a deposition in the case. He now works as an officer in Chesapeake.
Reach staff writer Gary A. Harki at gha...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5163.