Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is still opposed to the creation of any kind of civilian police review board by Morgantown City Council.
So he stated in response to a letter sent by Morgantown’s city attorney Ryan Simonton on March 4.
“(Morrisey) took umbridge with the possibility the board could be created in any fashion, however there’s not extensive support for this, in my opinion,” Deputy Mayor Rachel Fetty said.
Morgantown’s Special Committee on Community Police Review & Advisory Board met Monday to discuss that response and comments it received from the public about the creation of the board.
The city’s letter to the AG outlined what cities were doing as far as civilian review boards in other states with legal law enforcement protections similar to West Virginia.
“I find the attorney general’s response to be a bit misunderstanding of the level of responsibility the city has in terms of responding to its citizens in terms of the activities of the police,” Fetty said. “They don’t seem to be offering an alternative. They don’t seem to be offering an explanation for why it’s constitutional to offer no mechanism for folks to file a complaint or to have their constitutional concerns raised and that is perplexing to me. I just don’t see how the state law itself can be constitutional if it prohibits … cities from creating a complaint mechanism for individual complainants.”
However, those legal questions aren’t fully the concern of the committee, Mayor Ron Dulaney said.
“I think in the end, ultimately, the task for this committee is to bring something to council – the most vetted proposal we can put together as a committee to bring that to council for consideration,” Dulaney said.
Then, it will be up to council to debate the costs and benefits, legal arguments and legal risks involved.
Between now and that time though, the committee needs to do everything it can to address concerns, he said.
“A lot of people want a strong statement or a strong argument to (Morrisey’s opinion) but I’m still not sure we’re in a position where we’re ready to at this point,” Dulaney said.
Concerns outside of the legal argument include how it would actually work, be funded and if it would have staff, Fetty said.
She said the committee will meet again April 19 to address those concerns and start “drilling down on language” in the ordinance proposal.
Fetty also added at some point legal costs may become a matter of principle, “A matter of principle to say citizens should have the right to file a complaint with a third party or related party that’s not the police.”
Public comments were also discussed and overall, there were more communications in favor of the board than against.
Those against a board generally cited Morgantown’s overall trustworthy relationship with police – which Fetty agreed existed – the possible legal costs fighting against the AG, and in one instance that “outsiders” don’t need to be telling the chief how to do his job.
Comments in favor of the board, outside of lots of form letters to defund the police, generally felt the board would increase transparency and trust in the police.