Departments won't give up information about internal investigations of an officer without a subpoena because they're afraid of getting sued, he said.
The past two years, legislation has been introduced that would increase the role and power of the subcommittee to allow it to decertify more officers, but both times it failed.
"We don't have the ability to investigate. We aren't charged with investigating whether something did or didn't happen, he said. "We deal with incidents where we are certain something did happen."
Wrong, but not always a crime
If anyone brings a complaint of wrongdoing by a police officer to the attention of the FBI or U.S. Attorney, they will investigate it, said Booth Goodwin, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia.
The investigation has one purpose: to find out whether the officer committed a violation under the federal civil-rights statute, Goodwin said.
"It's an issue that deserves notoriety," Goodwin said. "It's about abuse of public trust. We take these cases incredibly seriously. ... Often, police are just doing their jobs to the best of their abilities. They walk into a situation with an individual not of the highest character. The situation lends itself to complaints."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Chuck Miller, who handles the cases for the Southern District of West Virginia has been busy. The Gazette-Mail has reported on four FBI investigations into police officers' actions this year alone.
Each case is investigated by the FBI, and its investigation is reviewed by the U.S. Attorney's Office in West Virginia, as well as by the office's civil rights branch in D.C., Miller said.
It's important to note that the U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI are required to investigate each case, said Goodwin. They're also the only cases they can confirm are being investigating, so that the public knows allegations against law enforcement are being looked into, he said.
"We really want to make sure, if there are bad [police], we address the problem," Goodwin said. "Or the public's confidence in law enforcement diminishes."
Last year, former Dunbar Officer Raymond O. "Dale" Conley pleaded guilty to a civil-rights violation in federal court for forcing a woman to have sex with him while on duty.
Also in 2009, Matthew Leavitt pleaded guilty to two civil-rights violations for beating Twan Reynolds and illegally charging his wife, Lauren Reynolds, with driving under the influence.
The U.S. Attorney's Office is not prosecuting Johnny Walls for the incident with Robert McCombs, nor any of the West Virginia State Police involved in the 2007 beating of Charleston lawyer Roger Wolfe, Miller said.
But just because there's not enough evidence to prosecute a civil rights violation under federal law, it doesn't mean that something didn't happen, Miller said of police investigations in general.
"I don't want to say we are the last resort, but there are other remedies," said Joe Ciccarelli, FBI supervisory senior resident agent in Charleston.
The FBI is not designed to be police oversight for other agencies, he said. Those agencies need another mechanism to review allegations, he said.
"Our primary focus is not to settle disputes," he said.
Not every abuse of authority or overstepping of boundaries by police is a civil-rights violation.
"It may be wrong," he said, "but it's not a federal crime."
'Lives on the line'
After he realized the process wasn't automatic, Miller said plea agreements in civil-rights cases now include the stipulation that officers must surrender their police certification.
Leavitt's and Conley's pleas included the agreement.
In the case of Johnny Walls, Miller said there is video from his cruiser that shows McComb getting stopped by the officer. McComb didn't have his license on him and when Walls walked back to his cruiser, McComb drove off. The camera shows Walls chase him down in the cruiser, but it doesn't show how McComb ended up on the ground.
In his complaint, Walls said McComb wouldn't follow his instructions and tripped getting off the ATV. Attempts to talk to Walls for this report were unsuccessful.
According to witnesses contacted by the Gazette-Mail, Walls grabbed McComb, pulled him off the side of the ATV and slammed him to the concrete.
Miller said emergency officials said McComb was belligerent and refused treatment at the scene. The evidence before him didn't put McComb in the best light and he didn't believe he could prove Walls violated his civil rights beyond a reasonable doubt.
Robert McComb's daughter, Karen McComb, didn't expect the FBI to prosecute the case, but she wants something done about Walls and officers like him.
Karen is a licensed independent clinical social worker, a position that has put her in contact with many victims of trauma and with many police officers. She was at the scene of the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007 shortly after it happened. In 2009, she was brought in by the Charleston Police Department after Officer Jerry Jones was killed by friendly fire.
"I don't want to get down on those guys," she said of police. "It's disheartening to me, because you have people out there like this guy [Walls], and then officers that truly put their lives on the line get a bad reputation."
In Monday's Charleston Gazette: Problems with the West Virginia State Police dating back 30 years.
Reach Gary Harki at gha...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5163.