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Gazette updates request for trooper misconduct reports

By Travis Crum, Staff writer

The Charleston Gazette on Friday resubmitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the State Police seeking information about completed internal investigations involving troopers suspected of misconduct. The State Police has 15 days to respond.

In November, the state Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the State Police cannot keep hidden information from its Professional Standards Section, which handles internal investigations.

Friday’s request was filed for the Gazette by the law firm of DiTrapano, Barrett, DiPiero, McGinley & Simmons. The request seeks data used by the State Police’s internal review board to determine employees or supervisors flagged for frequent misconduct. It also asks for quarterly, semiannual and yearly reports produced by the department’s internal review board for the last five years, with names of employees identified by the early identification system.

The request also seeks copies of the central log of complaints maintained by the State Police’s Professional Standards Division. According to legislative rules, the reports should include information regarding the number of external citizen complaints, internal complaints and use-of-force incidents for each employee.

In 2010, the Gazette sued the State Police after requests for information about officer misconduct were repeatedly denied. In May 2012, Kanawha Circuit Judge Jennifer Bailey sided with State Police in keeping that information hidden. However the state’s high court determined in November that the public interest outweighs any privacy claims the State Police is making in keeping the records hidden, and the case was sent back to Bailey. Once State Police produce the documents, Bailey said, she then will review them or appoint a commissioner to look at them.

The State Police did not have an internal investigations unit until a 1995 state Supreme Court ruling forced them to.

In 1990, Billy Ray Casto, 17, of Harts, Lincoln County, said Trooper Joe Parsons beat him with fists and a flashlight. A trooper in Parsons’ detachment was assigned the case and found Casto’s allegations to be unsubstantiated. Charleston lawyer Dan Hedges and Morgantown lawyer Franklin Cleckley went to the state Supreme Court on Casto’s behalf. The Supreme Court asked a criminal justice professor from Temple University, James J. Fyfe, to review the State Police’s procedures when a trooper is accused of abuse. Fyfe recommended that outside groups and citizens participate in such investigations. Supreme Court justices ignored that recommendation when they ruled on Casto’s petition in 1995. In a unanimous unsigned opinion, they ordered the State Police to ensure a thorough investigation of abuse allegations be conducted by a neutral party. The court refused to require a civilian review panel, saying the State Police superintendent would still make the ultimate decision.

State Police have kept the results of those internal investigations hidden, citing privacy concerns.

Reach Travis Crum at travis.crum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5163.


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