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Suit alleges Westover mayor violated whistle-blower law

The former administrative assistant for Westover Police Department claims her position was eliminated  by the mayor as retaliation for signing a letter reporting misconduct of an officer.

Christine Riley was one of the 11 people who signed a letter against officer Aaron Dalton alleging he violated the civil rights of the public, targeted and harassed citizens, used racial profanity, promoted a culture of aggression, lied on official paperwork, destroyed evidence and more, according to the suit.

The lawsuit does not specifically name Dalton, referring to him as “the subject officer,” however The Dominion Post has confirmed he is the subject of a letter by obtaining a copy submitted as evidence in a federal civil rights violation lawsuit against Dalton. The accusations against the “subject officer” match those in that letter.

Riley “decided that she was no longer going to be intimidated by the subject officer; no longer be subject to the culture of fear he created in the officer and which was supported, tolerated and/or ignored by the defendants,” the suit states.

The defendants are Mayor Cranston David Johnson and the City of Westover. A voicemail left for Johnson seeking comment on the suit was not returned.

The letter was presented to Westover, Johnson and then-chief of police Richard Panico on Aug. 30, 2020, according to the suit. As no immediate action was taken, the letter was then sent to the Monongalia County Prosecutor and local media, which ran a story that “garnered significant negative attention for the defendants.”

On Oct. 27, Riley was called into Johnson’s office where he told her she was being discharged from her employment with the city because her position was being eliminated. According to the suit, that claim was false and “simply a pretext for retaliating against her for her good faith reports of wrongdoing.”

The suit alleges West Virgina whistle-blower law was violated, Riley was wrongfully discharged and the defendant’s “atrocious” behavior was so extreme it exceeded the bounds of decency.

In addition to monetary damages, the suit urges the court to to assess allowed civil penalties and make a finding the defendants engaged in “acts of official misconduct and malfeasance by committing a violation or violations of (the whistle-blower act).”

One possible civil penalty under that act, which is referenced in the complaint, includes termination from public service.

It seeks compensatory damages to make Riley whole, punitive damages to punish the defendants, attorney’s fees and costs, pre-and-post judgement interest and other favorable relief as the court deems appropriate.Riley is represented by John Angotti, David Straface, and Chad Groome.

The suit was filed in Monongalia County Circuit Court on Wednesday and has not been assigned to a judge.