CHARLESTON — The superintendent of West Virginia’s State Police says he was disturbed by what he saw in the video of an altercation between police and a 16-year-old.
“Five officers come onto the video. The juvenile is taken out from the vehicle. At that point, it almost looks like the vehicle is on fire; it’s smoking,” State Police Superintendent Jan Cahill described today.
“He’s placed on the road. At that point, he’s trying to be handcuffed. It goes on for probably a minute, and that’s when you see a series of blows and resistance.
Cahill continued, “At one point near the end you’ll see a body toss, where a person is picked up and thrown. I worry about gaining control of people, not throwing them away from us.”
Trooper First Class Derek Walker and Trooper First Class Michael Kennedy have been suspended without pay.
On Friday, the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Department announced that yet another police officer was being suspended, Deputy Austin Ennis, who was at the scene.
Three separate investigations are now delving into the incident that took place shortly after midnight Nov. 19.
A 16-year-old reportedly struck a parked Berkeley County Sheriff’s Department cruiser, took off and was pursued by officers. The teen then crossed the centerline, went off the road and hit a utility pole.
What happened then is the focus of investigators.
A statement from Gov. Jim Justice on Thursday first publicly disclosed the incident in Martinsburg.
Justice said “dashcam video taken at the scene shows the suspect being beaten by the two troopers.”
A later, separate statement from the State Police stopped short of describing a beating.
“It was during the apprehension process, where response to resistance/aggression actions of the troopers came into question and led to the suspensions,” State Police stated.
Cahill, who first saw the video late Wednesday afternoon, said it calls the officers’ actions into question.
“The video immediately raised excessive force questions with us,” he said today on MetroNews’ “Talkline.” “I feel like we took immediate and prompt action on this.”
The superintendent said officers regularly come into contact with people who resist, who are belligerent or who are under the influence of a behavior-altering substance.
But he said officers have to keep their own actions under control.
Cahill said he viewed the video with an eye toward whether the teen was resisting.
“When you watch a video and you just don’t see a level of resistance much, that’s where we’re at,” he said.
A cruiser with the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Department captured the video, said Brian Abraham, general counsel for Governor Justice. It was not immediately clear whether it was the cruiser in the crash.
Abraham, speaking Friday, said there was a delay in publicly-disclosing the incident because the video wasn’t viewed right away.
When someone with the sheriff’s department saw it, the video raised red flags.
“Somebody higher ranking in sheriff’s department reviewed it,” Abraham said. “They became concerned.”
From there, the video was handed off to senior officers at the Martinsburg detachment, then brought to the attention of the State Police main office in Charleston.
That’s where State Police Superintendent Cahill saw it. He decided the Governor’s Office should be looped in and called Abraham about 8 p.m. Wednesday.
“The day the colonel got to see it is the day he called me,” Abraham said. “He decided the governor’s office needed to know about it.”
Abraham said the Governor’s Office would not push for immediate public release of the video. Abraham, a former Logan County prosecutor, worried about jeopardizing a possible criminal case.
“I’m not going to ask the State Police to release it contrary to their policy during the pendency of their investigation,” Abraham said.
“Being a former prosecutor, I think that’s something a prosecutor needs to decide. We don’t want to do anything to compromise a potential prosecution.”
Cahill agreed that the video would not be released right away, but he said it will become public as the investigation is completed.
“We’re not saying it’s not going to come out,” Cahill said.