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Committee nears police review board goal

Chair: Ordinance is 2 to 3 sessions away

Deputy Mayor Rachel Fetty said she’s confident Morgantown City Council’s Special Committee on Community  Policing and Citizen Review is nearing its goal.

During Monday afternoon’s  regular weekly meeting, Fetty, who chairs the committee, said she believes the body is within two or three sessions of providing an ordinance establishing a police review and advisory board to Morgantown City Council.

The committee is working through the document section by section, spelling out the exact functions of the nine-person board tasked with investigating claims of misconduct against officers of the Morgantown Police Department.

In brief, the multi-layered process begins with the filing of a complaint.

If found proper — within 365 days of the alleged incident, including an affirmation that the allegations are truthful and including all required information — the board will initiate an investigation to be handled by one or more board members, or, in extraordinary circumstances, a third party to be retained.

Investigations can, with the board’s permission, include receiving testimony, documents or other evidence through subpoena.

If the investigation finds probable cause, at that point, any involved officer(s) identity may be disclosed and the issue would go into a confidential conciliation process, or, if the board chooses, it could go directly to a public hearing.

If conciliation is successful, the terms of any agreement may be disclosed. 

If not successful, the issue would move to a hearing phase.

 At that point, the board would select one or more of its own members — excluding any member involved in the investigation process — to serve as the hearing examiner. The board may also hire an outside attorney to serve as hearing examiner.

 If the hearing examiner is a member(s) of the board, the city attorney, or an attorney provided by the city, would assist the examiner with procedural and evidentiary issues during the hearing.

The end result of the whole process — if it is found that  misconduct has occurred — would be recommendations for the Morgantown Police Department.

 “Once again, we’re not making any decision about criminal law. We’re not making any decision about civil liability, and we’re not even making a decision about disciplining the officer,” Fetty said. “We’re making a decision solely about recommendations for improving the police department and making that the specific situation.”

 It was pointed out by participants of the committee that officer discipline is a recommendation that can result from this process.

The version of the document used for Monday’s meeting includes language that states the chief of police retains the authority to implement disciplinary action.

It also included  language that states “ … the Chief shall make all disciplinary decisions, consistent with a disciplinary matrix and guidelines developed jointly by the Board and Morgantown Police Department.”

According to the document, if the chief issues lesser discipline than what is recommended, a written explanation must first be provided to the board, which may request the chief’s presence for further explanation. 

This portion of the ordinance will likely be taken up at the committee’s next session, typically held at 3 p.m.  Mondays.

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