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Lawsuit filed to stop creation of Morgantown police review board

As promised, less than a day after the Morgantown City Council passed an ordinance creating the Civilian Police Review and Advisory Board, members of the Monongalia-Preston Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 87 filed a lawsuit to stop its formation.

FOP Lodge 87 represents almost all officers of the Morgantown Police Department. Only its chief, one patrol officer, and three probationary officers are not members of the organization, according to the suit.

The City of Morgantown, the named defendant, does not comment on pending litigation, communications director Andrew Stacy said.

Tuesday night, city council unanimously voted to create the board after more than 10 months of discussion and public meetings. Wednesday morning, the suit was filed against the City of Morgantown in Monongalia County Circuit Court through attorneys Teresa Toriseva and Joshua Miller, who represents FOP Lodge 87.

It asks a judge to stop the city from adopting the ordinance creating the board and make a ruling that under West Virginia law only the civil service commission has the exclusive right to govern the police.

Morgantown has a three-member commission with broad and sweeping authority over the hiring, firing, investigation and discipline of the paid members of the MPD. According to the suit, that commission and its rules are the exclusive rules with authority over the members of the FOP.

The lodge members have “steadfastly resisted” the creation of the board since the idea of it started, as it infringes on the powers reserved for the commission, the suit states.

Each proposed draft of the ordinance had provisions that go against West Virginia civil service law, including the May 4 version which passed city council on first reading that day and passed again on second reading Tuesday, according to the suit. 

Specifically, the suit opposes the ordinance allowing the review board to participate in the complaint process prior to the chief of police making a decision and that it authorizes the board to interview witnesses.

In addition to violating state law, the review board also violates the rights of police officers by creating “burdensome dual systems of investigations and authorities which may govern their actions,” the suit states.

It also references state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s warning to the city that the ordinance would violate state law and suggestion that cities may “altogether lack the authority to create ‘citizen review boards.’ ”

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