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Charleston officer sues Huntington police over alleged attack

By Kate White, Staff writer

A Charleston police officer says a Huntington police officer attacked him in downtown Huntington -- pepper-spraying him, smashing his face into concrete and punching him in the head.

Charleston Police Cpl. Steven Matthew Webb has sued Patrolman Richard Kern, the city of Huntington and the Huntington Police Department. Webb claims in the lawsuit, filed Friday in federal court in Huntington, that his civil rights were violated.

The alleged incident is the latest in a pattern of civil rights violations for the Huntington department, Webb’s attorneys, Richard Weston and Courtenay Craig, wrote in the complaint.

No one at the Huntington Police Department or the city was immediately available for comment Monday.

On June 2, 2012, Webb, a Cabell County resident who has been a Charleston police officer for 15 years, was walking down 4th Avenue in Huntington with several friends when he saw Huntington police signal a car playing loud music to pull over.

Webb and his friends stopped about 20 yards away from the traffic stop in order to watch “and provide assistance to a brother police officer if needed,” the complaint states. Webb had assisted Huntington police in the past, according to the lawsuit.

While Webb was standing on the sidewalk “doing nothing else,” Kern began walking quickly toward him, yelled a profanity and told him to keep walking down the street, the complaint states.

“Before, Corporal Webb could react to Kern’s unlawful command to leave the area, Kern maced Mr. Webb with his pepper spray,” the lawsuit states.

Webb, disoriented but alert, according to the complaint, identified himself as a police officer and asked Kern “what in the world he was doing.”

Kern grabbed Webb’s arm, as Webb began pulling out his photo identification and police badge.

“You’re going to badge me? You’re going to badge me? You’re not a police officer any longer!” the lawsuit claims Kern told Webb.

Webb pulled away and told Kern he was one of the “good guys” and simply watching the traffic stop.

That’s when other Huntington police officers rushed to aid Kern, the complaint states.

“Before he realized what had happened, the gang of officers slammed Corporal Webb to the pavement smashing his face into the concrete causing a bleeding wound,” the lawsuit states. “Patrolman Richard Kern also punched Corporal Webb int he head with a closed fist during this altercation.”

Huntington police realized they had no reason to arrest Webb and scattered, but an officer still took him to their headquarters and placed him in a holding cell, the lawsuit says.

After some time, Kern’s supervisor came to Webb and said “if he was in Charleston, and Webb asked him to move along, he would do so,” the complaint states. Webb replied he was never given the chance to move along before he was maced. Webb was then allowed to leave.

Not long after the alleged incident, during a Fraternal Order of Police convention, the lawsuit states, Kern approached a ranking Charleston Police officer and repeatedly apologized. Kern told the Charleston officer that he had “blacked out” during the incident, according to the complaint.

Several months later, Webb was pulled over by police in Huntington. Fifteen minutes later, Kern showed up at the scene, the lawsuit states, and arrested Webb for DUI. Webb was found not guilty of the charge after a trial, according to the suit.

Webb is suing for medical expenses and lost wages. He also wants a judge to award punitive damages.

The lawsuit claims that the Huntington Police Department “has engaged in a patter and practice of civil rights violations and retaliates against those that watch them perform their job functions.”

The department suppresses hides its transgressions “through a systematic plan of citizen intimidation, censorship and secrecy, the lawsuit states.

“Corporal Webb was simply watching HPD officers perform a traffic stop and was prepared to offer backup if needed. Instead, he was treated as a

criminal and had his civil rights violated by patrolman Richard Kern,” the complaint states.

Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.


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