MORGANTOWN — Teresa Toriseva, the Wheeling-based attorney representing the Mon-Preston Fraternal Order of Police, didn’t hesitate when asked if the police review and advisory board ordinance before Morgantown City Council will result in the city being sued by the local FOP.
“Yes,” she said Wednesday afternoon, less than 24 hours after council passed a first reading of the ordinance in question.
As she has previously, Toriseva issued a letter prior to Tuesday’s initial vote warning members of council off the effort.
While she admits that letter was based off an old version of the proposed ordinance, a review of the most recent copy has not allayed the concerns of her or the Mon-Preston FOP, which counts among its members the majority of Morgantown’s officers.
“The tenor of my letter remains the same. We appreciate the dramatic improvement. Over time, so much was taken out that violated state law, but there remain problems,” she said.
The ordinance has changed significantly over the 10 months or so it’s been under construction by a special committee on community policing.
Originally, the ordinance would have established a board that could initiate investigations, issue subpoenas and conduct hearings based on citizens’ complaints of officer misconduct before issuing its recommendations to the police chief, who was under no obligation to implement them.
As written, the board awaits an internal investigation by the chief, who then passes his recommendations on to the board. The board can then conduct its own fact finding and provide recommendations back to the chief, who is under no obligation to implement them.
The issue, she said, is the fact that the board is still making itself part of the process by getting involved before the chief’s actions are final. Doing so strays into the realm of the civil service commission process — the only process provided for in state code.
Interference with the civil service process is an issue that was raised by the West Virginia Attorney General’s office prior to the proposed ordinance undergoing substantial changes.
“It’s very simple. You cannot interject new procedures or new layers of bureaucracy or process into civil service. Why? Because there’s one system of policing in West Virginia, and it’s uniform and individual cities are not allowed; they’re not authorized to pass laws that contradict or are contrary to or cover the things that civil service covers. Civil service is it. It’s the exclusive remedy. So they can’t be part of an investigation and, as I read it, that’s what they’re still doing.”
Bob Cohen is a retired attorney and local NAACP member who’s been part of the ordinance’s drafting.
He said Toriseva’s legal argument is misplaced based on how the timing of the civil service process and the process laid out in the city’s review board ordinance line up.
Cohen said the civil service process and protections Toriseva is citing in state code (8-14-23) kick in after the police chief or other supervising officer has taken action to remove, discharge or suspend an officer or reduce an officer’s pay.
In other words, that process is to give an officer recourse or an appeal process for actions that have already been taken.
“The provisions of Section 23 do not apply to this entire period of time. Section 23 does no purport to affect the chief’s decision and, as such, there’s no conflict between the proposed ordinance and West Virginia Code Chapter 8, Article 14, Section 23,” Cohen said.
The version of the ordinance before council is on the city’s website, morgantownwv.gov, under “Quick Links.”