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Police union wins suit against civilian review board

MORGANTOWN — Morgantown’s ordinance creating a civilian police review and advisory board has been ruled invalid, in violation of civil service law.

Monongalia County Circuit Court Judge Susan Tucker made the decision Thursday after hearing arguments from both sides in a lawsuit filed against council by attorney Teresa Toriseva, representing the Mon-Preston Fraternal Order of Police (FOP).

The lawsuit came after Morgantown City Council unanimously passed an ordinance May 18, creating a review board to provide for citizen participation in reviewing police department policies, practices and procedures.  

The ordinance states the board’s purpose is also to promote the availability of data relating to police practices and procedures and to provide a prompt, impartial and fair review of misconduct complaints relating to the Morgantown Police Department, protecting the rights of individuals who have contact with the police department while acknowledging the rights of police officers as established by state law.

Toriseva and the FOP said the ordinance interferes with the police civil service commission process, which would contradict the state’s civil service law.  The commission process is the only way set in state code to investigate and address matters that may result in punitive actions against a police officer.

“What they tried to do conflicts with the provisions of civil service which are super important to the public so that we have consistent policing statewide and that the rules apply the same,” said Toriseva.  “If you don’t have civil service protections and consistent policing, it would be very chaotic, and frankly would affect recruiting, retention and other things.”

Attorney Shannon Smith, representing the side of the council, said they do not believe the board is interfering but “simply adds an extra layer of protection” and “nothing prohibits additional investigation.”

Judge Tucker made it clear from the start of the proceedings that this was not a political issue, it was a legal analysis issue.  Her analysis agreed with Toriseva and the FOP, saying it was clear that what the city wants to do is inconsistent with civil service provisions.  

Basically, the ordinance has been declared illegal and is now invalid — it’s as if it never passed.  

Tucker will enter the written order ruling that the ordinance is invalid and violates civil service law.  City council is able to appeal the decision, but it is unclear if they will do so.  Smith did not wish to comment after the proceedings.

Toriseva believes this outcome will have significant impact statewide. “This will send a message to other cities that as civil service is written, passing these types of boards is not within their power,” she said.  “If they want to change that they need to talk to the legislature but it is not up to municipal politics.”

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