THIS IS THE FIRST of two articles looking at policies and procedures at area police agencies for handling calls where force is necessary. Sunday: Westover, WVU Police, Star City and Granville.
George Floyd was killed May 25, when Derek Chauvin, a former Minneapolis Police Department officer, knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes while Floyd was handcuffed and face-down on the pavement.
Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder. Three officers who watched were fired and are facing criminal charges.
The incident was filmed and set off protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement across all 50 states.
Multiple protests took place in Morgantown with local law enforcement avoiding interaction with the groups.
At a protest June 6, the Morgantown Police Department controlled traffic by blocking roads while the protest marched from the West Virginia University Mountainlair through downtown Morgantown.
The Dominion Post asked the Morgantown Police Department, Westover Police Department, Star City Police Department, Monongalia County Sheriff’s Office, West Virginia University Police Department and Granville Police Department a series of questions, including:
- What steps does your department take to prevent incidents of police brutality?
- In the last five years, have any officers in your department been disciplined or fired for use of force? If so, who and when?
- Does your department approve the “knee on the neck” method of restraining someone, combative or not?
- What kind of training do your officers receive on preventing police brutality? Who leads these sessions? How often are they held? What is covered?
- Do officers in your department have any training on racial sensitivity/equality? How often is such training held?
- Have senior leaders in your department talked to officers about what happened to Floyd? What was said?
- Is your department examining its policies because of what happened to Floyd? Which ones? What changes, if any, are being made?
- How can someone who interacted with your department file an excessive force complaint?
- How does your department deal with those complaints?
- Would your department be opposed to a civilian review board with the power to investigate and, if needed, discipline officers who use excessive force or who are involved in shootings?
- If an officer is suspected of being racially intolerant, how is that handled?
Monongalia County Sheriff’s Office
The department has training in defensive tactics, close supervision of deputies and policies and procedures for guidance, according to Sheriff Perry Palmer. Officer response to resistance and aggression policy is covered with new deputies.
Palmer said officer discipline is an internal matter he can’t comment on. There have been four citizen complaints about use of force in the last five years.
Complaints can be filed in writing on forms provided by the department, Palmer said. They are then assigned for investigation per the West Virginia Civil Service Code.
The department does not approve of the knee on the neck method of restraint.
Deputies go through yearly “in-house” use of force and defensive tactics training, Palmer said. Deputies also go to training through other agencies and outside training. Legal issues are also covered.
Palmer said he has not talked with his deputies about what happened to Floyd.
“No, we expect our officers to follow our written policy/procedures,” he said.
Palmer also is not examining the department’s policies because the techniques used against Floyd are already prohibited by department policy.
Palmer did not say if he was for or against a civilian review board.
“West Virginia Civil Service Code does not address the use of a civilian review board as part of any investigations pertaining to deputy sheriffs,” he said. “However, it does address and authorize the use of a departmental hearing board. Also, the Deputy Sheriff’s Civil Service Commission, as well as circuit court if deemed necessary.”
All officers at the Morgantown Police Department complete annual training, including in implicit bias and de-escalation, Chief Ed Preston said. Those topics were addressed in the past three months through the Police One Academy as part of Lexipol, a comprehensive risk management company.
“Because of the complexity of circumstances that officers may encounter and the options that we provide, regular training and evaluation of the training sessions are necessary,” Preston said.
Officers are equipped and trained on “multiple options” beyond just a gun. The less lethal options are to protect people and take them into custody with the least force possible, he said. Use of force starts with officer presence and verbal commands and escalates all the way up to deadly force.
Even one excessive force violation could lead to termination or prosecution, Preston said. A choke-hold is considered deadly force and is prohibited. The department does not train on hogtying and arrestees are transported in a seated position with their hands behind their backs, unless there are medical reasons not to. Secured prisoners are not left face down while restrained because of possible positional asphyxia.
The MPD code of conduct requires intervention and failure to report is a violation of that code, Preston said.
“That means not only are they required to intervene, they are also required to report to supervisory personnel,” he said. “All sustained violations of the code of conduct, policy or procedure have established disciplinary guidelines, regardless of the rank or tenure of the officer. The discipline is progressive in that successive violations receive increasingly harsh punishments. These are only for administrative violations, criminal violations are prosecuted.”
Officers have to file a use of force report after each such instance. The report documents what force was used, the circumstances to cause the use of force and why it was used, Preston said. The body camera video, in-car video, reports from other officers present and witness statements are reviewed by an immediate supervisor and then by senior staff, (deputy chief, captain and chief), for compliance with policy, procedure and law.
Subject-matter experts, such as firearms instructors and pepper spray instructors, also review the package, Preston said. If any of the three levels of review find something out of compliance, an internal affairs complaint for disciplinary action is started.
“Sometimes, we have found over the years there may be a problem with training that is addressed by the training unit or a problem with policy that is addressed by staff, policy revised and personnel retrained on the policy changes,” Preston said.
Most of the department’s disciplinary actions are because of supervisor reviews and not civilian complaints, Preston said.
“I am very proud of that fact, because that means our supervisors are doing their job and holding our personnel accountable for their actions,” he said.
In the past five years, there have been two complaints, Preston said. In one instance, the officer “physically subdued” a person trying to hit him with a garbage can and was exonerated.
The second complaint resulted in the officer being disciplined after he used pepper spray between two buildings “out of compliance with policy and training.” No one was hit with the spray.
“I want to be clear, no one was sprayed to generate a complaint, this was the result of a review of footage,” Preston said.
Complaints can be filed with any supervisor, and are then assigned for investigation by the deputy chief, Preston said. If an officer statement needs verified, there are in-house polygraphers and officers who lie are subject to termination. Very minor infractions receive reprimands and discipline ranges from one-30 days of suspension without pay or termination.
All department employees go through an extensive background investigation, polygraph examination and a psychological evaluation before they are hired, Preston said. After four months at the police academy, new officers are put into a field training program with regimented training and daily evaluation.
“At any time during this training, any behavior that would indicate prejudice, tendency to violence or any other undesirable trait will result in termination,” Preston said.
After the training period, officers are on probation for one year.
Preston said the department’s standard for officers is “much more stringent than required by the state, solely because we want well-trained officers.”