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Citizens, councilmember, delegate speak out following uploaded audio file of Westover meeting

WESTOVER — A clip uploaded to YouTube that contained discussions about Westover’s police department and audio of City Attorney Tim Stranko calling Delegate Danielle Walker, D-Monongalia, a derogatory term was addressed during Monday night’s city council meeting.

“… I am more than a delegate, as I’m a public servant, just like each and every one of you. I am a child of God, a daughter, a granddaughter, a godmother, a cousin , an auntie, a taxpayer, a laborer, an activist, an advocate, a volunteer, a board member, a voice of the people, an American, a West Virginian, a mountaineer, a mother — a newly grieving mother as I just lost my son to his battle of leukemia,” Walker said to Westover City Council. “What my parents did not born was a female dog, a female wolf, a female fox or a female otter. That derogatory term that I was called was a ‘B’.”

In the audio clip, which was uploaded earlier this month, conversation between a few city officials were centered around the August 2020 letter calling for the removal of Officer Aaron Dalton and a request for former Police Chief Richard Panico to withdraw his letter of resignation. Panico told The Dominion Post Monday afternoon those attending the meeting included himself, Stranko, Councilmember-at-Large Steve Andryzcik and former interim police chief John Morgan.

In the audio file, the importance of civic confidence in Westover was discussed, along with how incidents like the police department’s letter and Panico’s resignation at the time impact it. About an hour and 14 minutes into the recording, Stranko stated, “Public Safety’s serious business, that’s why this bitch — sorry— that’s why this delegate screaming about Westover’s an unsafe place to be is so destructive, because we know that’s not the case.”

Stranko said this comment was made because he was angry with Walker for her comments at a council meeting before the recorded meeting took place.

“She showed up at a council meeting with media and just said Westover is an unsafe place to drive through and essentially threw the whole police department under the bus as if they were committing these terrible acts on the citizens,” Stranko said. “When, in fact, these young men and women work really hard and do great service for the community.”

“I wish I was a better person, I wish I wouldn’t have said it,” Stranko said. “But that’s the context.”

In a statement during Monday’s council meeting, First-Ward Councilmember Ralph Mullins said the audio also contained numerous accusations against Mayor Dave Johnson. He said these included violating the police force’s chain of command, which he said was confirmed by the city attorney to be fact in the uploaded audio. He also said attempted violations of law and the attempted protection of Dalton by the mayor was also discussed in the recording.

“Besides these serious and disturbing accusations remains the fact that none of them were ever provided and communicated to council in regards to the mayor,” Mullins said. “This was exactly the point I attempted to make in our last meeting.”

Westover resident Frank Huy made formal requests to council during Monday’s meeting, including conducting an investigation into allegations against the police, the mayor and its own council members.

“Over the past few years, the citizens of Westover have lost confidence in not only the Westover police, but this council as well,” he said.

Panico said Monday afternoon the recorded meeting was initiated by Stranko after the police department’s letter, which was signed by several Westover officers, was released.

“[Stranko] called me on the phone and he said he wanted to talk to the ring leaders,” Panico said. “After a little bit of conversation his idea of the ringleaders was everybody that signed the letter.”

Panico said he told Stranko he did not permit him to speak with the officers who signed the letter directly. Shortly after the phone call, Panico said Stranko requested the meeting that is heard in the audio file.

The next city council meeting will be held 6 p.m. Oct. 4.