STATE POLICE ROGUES - Troopers Should Be Stable, Responsible, Mature, Professional, Sober And Honest


The Charleston Gazette

Police Misconduct
Friday May 10, 2002

WEST Virginia taxpayers have been forced to pay $18.3 million in the past 15 years to settle lawsuits alleging brutality and other misconduct by state troopers.

Last week, Bryant Jones of McDowell County collected $187,500. He contended that Iaeger town police charged him in 1999 with driving on a suspended license, handcuffed him to a chair, and watched as five State Police troopers beat him. Later, troopers beat him on two other occasions, his lawsuit said.

The fact that the state's insurance agency coughed up $187,500 of taxpayer money is strong evidence that the man's accusations weren't groundless.

Meanwhile, the Beckley Register-Herald used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain State Police settlements during the past five years. Some outcomes:

Neal Rose of Welch got $1 million because former Trooper Gary Messenger and other officers smashed into his apartment and beat him after he complained about their drunken, noisy party nearby.

The family of Amanda Smailes collected $775,000 because she was killed when Trooper Kevin Plummer took part in a wild chase that was being filmed for a TV show.

James Minghini Jr. of Berkeley County got $60,000 for his allegations that troopers beat him - and the state spent $454,519 on legal defenses in the case.

An unidentified Raleigh County woman collected $75,000 on her claim that former Trooper John Henry Zirkle and two other men had gang sex with her in a park while she was intoxicated.

The family of Melanie Winfree got $1 million because her boyfriend, Trooper Rodney Robinson, shot her to death, then killed himself.

Sandra Basham, a secretary at the Hinton detachment, got $95,000 for her claim that former Capt. Rusty Blankenship made sexual advances toward her.

McCoy Hatcher of Logan County collected $40,000 on his claim that he was battered by Trooper C.J. White.

James Richardson of Kanawha County got $1 million because he was imprisoned through false testimony by former State Police lab chief Fred Zain.

Altogether, the force has incurred $18.3 million in lawsuit costs since 1987 - including $4.5 million paid to victims of Zain's untrue evidence.

The message here is abundantly clear: State officials should be extremely watchful over those the state arms with deadly weapons and authorizes to kill people, if necessary. The job should be reserved for only the most responsible, stable, mature, professional, sober, honest officers. All those with "cowboy" instincts and tendencies to brutality must be weeded out.

If they aren't, the result can be horrible for their victims and expensive for taxpayers.

As we've said before, creation of civilian review boards to hear complaints against officers could reduce part of the problem. If officers knew that their conduct would be judged by a public review board, they would tend to avoid bad behavior.

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