MORGANTOWN — “Naturally, I’m disappointed,” Morgantown Mayor Jenny Selin said when asked about Monongalia County Circuit Judge Susan Tucker’s Thursday ruling invalidating a city ordinance establishing the Morgantown Civilian Police Review and Advisory Board.
“The special committee [on community policing] worked long and hard going through the civilian oversight board. It was seen as a good way for citizens and police to work together to improve policing in our community,” Selin said. “I’m just very disappointed and frustrated with Judge Tucker’s ruling.”
Roughly one month after the May 25, 2020, death of George Floyd, Morgantown City Council voted to form a special committee on community policing.
That body, comprised of members of council, city administration, representatives from various organizations and community volunteers, spent more than 10 months crafting the ordinance establishing the civilian oversight board.
The board, as initially proposed, could audit existing MPD policies and procedures and make recommendations; hold public meetings and take input from the public; and receive, review, investigate and potentially hold hearings on civilian complaints.
Committee members pointed out that there is no procedure for citizens to file a complaint against an officer that is independent of the department in question. Members also pointed out that it welcomed the input of law enforcement, including MPD Chief Eric Powell, who participated in the committee’s numerous meetings.
Throughout the process, the city was cautioned — both by attorney Teresa Toriseva, representing the Mon-Preston Fraternal Order of Police, and West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey — that it was in danger of running afoul of state law, which establishes the police civil service commission process as the only process through which matters can be addressed that could potentially result punitive action against an officer.
The special committee responded by removing many of the issues highlighted as objectionable by Morrisey and Toriseva, including the body’s ability to investigate claims of police misconduct and hold hearings.
Council would ultimately adopt the ordinance creating the civilian oversight board on May 18. The next morning, as promised, Toriseva filed suit on behalf of the Monongalia-Preston Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 87, which, at the time, represented all but five MPD officers.
Fast-forward seven months to Dec. 16, when Tucker came down on the side of the officers, declaring the city ordinance invalid and in violation of civil service law.
Morgantown Communications Director Andrew Stacy said city administration did not wish to comment on the ruling or a potential appeal.
Selin said it’s simply too early to have that discussion.
“We’ll work together as a council to figure out what our next move is. I don’t want to say anything at this point because we haven’t had the chance to go through the judge’s order yet, because it hasn’t been written yet. So we need to go through that before we decide how we want to move forward,” she said.
“Our ordinance has a severability clause in it, so it may be possible to put one part into action while another part moves forward to appeal. We just don’t know yet.”