CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Why did a State Police SWAT team fire a fusillade that killed an aging, disabled Clay County man who had no record of crime or violence? West Virginians need trustworthy answers to this question.
At daybreak on June 26, the SWAT team accompanied federal drug agents serving a search warrant at the rural mobile home of Richard Dale Kohler, 65. Officers said Kohler was suspected of trading pain pills for stolen goods.
Police say the ailing man aimed a rifle at them, so they shot him -- so many times that his family couldn't display his mutilated body at his funeral.
However, relatives say Kohler hobbled on a cane, so it seems unlikely that he could wield a rifle. Numerous bullets went through the trailer's front door, which apparently was pried open later.
"How could he be holding a cane in one hand and raising a rifle with the other?" his daughter told police reporter Travis Crum. "Dad wasn't that strong, he was disabled."
Kohler's son-in-law pointed to the bullet-riddled door and said: "This door was never opened. If it was opened, there would be no bullet holes on the outside. They shot Richard dead through the door. It took Richard a while to get up out of bed to answer the door. I believe they shot him dead before he could even open it."
Kohler's daughter said her father had cooperated with troopers on previous occasions and invited them into his home. He never was known to possess a gun, she said.
Reporter Crum discovered that troopers later went to a Clay County magistrate and obtained a separate search warrant for Kohler's trailer -- but it was backdated before 6 a.m., before the shooting occurred. Why? Is that proper?
Clay County prosecutor Jim Samples says Kohler's death is under investigation, but no determination has been reached.
Why was a high-powered SWAT team -- usually assigned to deadly shootouts or hostage crises -- sent on a trivial mission to search the home of an ailing man suspected of pill-trading? That seems like overkill. Why was the raid conducted at daybreak, while the disabled man was asleep?
West Virginia police serve many search warrants without such horrible outcomes. Now the public needs to know whether any misconduct occurred in the Clay County nightmare. High-level state authorities should order an independent, impartial inquiry to get reliable answers.