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Westover Police Chief Richard Panico resigns


Westover Police Chief Richard Panico announced his resignation during Monday night’s Westover City Council meeting.

Panico is one of three officers named in an ongoing civil lawsuit against the City of Westover. The lawsuit alleges Panico and officers Zachary Fecsko and Aaron Dalton used excessive force against a resident of Westover in January of 2019.

John Morgan will fill the position of Westover Police Chief. Panico said Morgan has served on the force for over 15 years. He said he will remain on throughout the transition period.

“It’s time for us to get new people in here and trained up so if I get sick or something happens to me, we don’t leave an empty seat,” Panico said.

Prior to announcing his resignation, Panico said he has concerns about the current drug and overdose rates in Westover. Within seven weeks, Panico said Westover Police have received 11 calls related to overdoses, five of which resulted in death.

Panico said the increase in drug-related crimes corresponds with the increase of housing placements by the West Virginia Coalition to End Homeless following the closure of Diamond Village.

He said about 12 people have been placed in Westover through these placements. During a meeting with the coalition, Panico said program members said they were aware many of these people were addicted to drugs, but part of their program is to assist them through independent living while helping them receive mentorship to help battle addiction.

“We applaud these measures, but it seems that it is not working in the benefit for the quality of life in Westover,” Panico said.

With the new housing placements, Panico said it is unclear what role the police force is expected to play in monitoring the situation. He added that the younger officers are not geared to handle the types of situations that have arisen due to the relocations.

“It is something we need to make [council] aware of, because we are torn between what we can do, what we should do, and what we can’t do,” Panico said.

Alli Jackson, a resident of Westover, said he was an outreach worker for the homeless population in multiple areas, including Monongalia County. Jackson said he is aware of the coalition’s efforts, however, he recognizes it takes more than just rehousing to help the homeless population recover.

“Just putting them in a house is not the solution,” Jackson said. “It is not going to solve the problem for anybody.” 

During the council meeting, councilmember-at-large Stephen Lawrence said he believes doing drugs is a personal choice. Jackson said this statement is untrue.

“The comment was made that the homeless do drugs and do drugs by choice,” Jackson said. “The comment is totally false. Drugs [are] not a choice.” 

Monday night’s meeting was a rescheduled make-up meeting following the cancellation of the Council’s meeting set for Sept. 8.

Steve Andryzcik, councilmember-at-large, said the previous meeting had to be postponed due to Mayor Dave Johnson requiring an emergency heart procedure. Johnson was not present in Monday night’s meeting as he was still in recovery.

Ralph Mullins, first ward councilmember, said the rescheduling of the Sept. 8 council meeting was in violation of the Westover City Council’s codebook. He said the absence of any members of council does not constitute the cancellation of a council meeting, and doing so was a violation of council’s code.

According to the code, at least three business days notice must be given if a meeting is to be rescheduled. However, a new meeting time was not provided until Sept. 17.

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