CHARLESTON — The West Virginia State Police superintendent who resigned this week said he is a scapegoat over a multifaceted investigation of the agency.
“No doubt I was going to be dismissed if I hadn’t,” Jan Cahill said of his Monday morning resignation. “I’ll just be quite candid about that. So, yes, very unhappy about how things went down. I do think things have been completely misrepresented and distorted.”
Cahill has been superintendent since the Justice administration took office in 2017. Gov. Jim Justice announced Cahill’s resignation Monday at an inflection point of a broad investigation that seems primed to continue at multiple levels.
The investigation started with an anonymous letter that made a range of allegations about monetary and sexual actions involving troopers. The administration began looking into the validity of the allegations after being asked about them by a reporter.
The governor said the inquiries involved video recordings in a state police women’s locker room several years ago, the more recent destruction of a hard drive where some of those recordings had been stored, the involvement of a trooper in a theft at a casino and an active investigation over a death along Interstate 81 involving a trooper.
Cahill, speaking Tuesday on MetroNews’ “Talkline,” contended the issues were trumped up.
“I have no faith. I said this from early on in this investigation,” he said. “I felt like these guys were just handed this investigation: Find something. I think it’s been totally unfair.”
First, Cahill described the video recordings in the women’s locker room of the state police training facility as appalling. But he said the recordings were made by a now-deceased trooper about 2015, prior to the current administration taking office. Cahill said he became aware of the video and the destruction of images on a thumb drive in late 2020.
“They absolutely destroyed the thumb drive. You could call it evidence. But I think looking back — and I wasn’t there; I can only surmise — I don’t know if they looked at it in disgust and thought ‘Hey we’re going to protect this lady,’ I don’t know,” Cahill said.
Secondly, in the casino incident, a man was playing video gaming machines, walked off and left behind an envelope that fell onto the chair where he had been sitting. A short time later, a man walked to the machine, picked up the envelope and walked away with it. State officials say the man who walked away with the money was a trooper dressed in plain clothes.
Cahill said he could not have immediately fired the trooper because of state workplace regulations. “It doesn’t matter how egregious an act a person does right in front of us. All we could do is put some one on administrative leave, perhaps without pay, during an investigation,” he said.
The trooper abruptly retired, Cahill said. “I cannot prevent someone from retiring,” he said.
Third, state officials have expressed concern over the circumstances surrounding the Feb. 12 death of a man who had been involved in a struggle with a state trooper along Interstate 81, north of Martinsburg. The state police denied access to video evidence from the fatal encounter, citing, in part, an investigation of potential crimes by law enforcement officers.
Cahill said that fatality remains under an active internal and criminal investigation. He said three involved personnel are on administrative leave. “There’s nothing being hidden on that,” Cahill said Tuesday.
“The audio concerned me right off the bat — the commands, the screaming and all I can say is the end result was while trying to take a guy into custody, he was unresponsive and they were not successful in bringing him back,” Cahill said. “So with no cover up, we’ve checked every box on it.”
Brian Abraham, the chief of staff for Justice, said there are plenty of reasons to question the leadership of the state police.
“There was never a time when we were out to get anybody,” Abraham said on “Talkline.” “We were simply trying to get to the truth of the matter.”
Abraham, noting that the investigation ran through the state Department of Homeland Security, said there was no reason to directly involve the state police in the early stages because a significant number of higher-level agency officials were implicated.
On the money taken from the casino, Abraham said he pushed Cahill to hold the trooper accountable, including providing notification of possible termination.
“Now, yes, I ultimately left the decision up to how to deal with it to him. But quite frankly, I gave him rope and I knew he’d hang himself because I knew he was going to go out there and do what he normally does, and that is nothing,” Abraham said.
Abraham said, there are likely more revelations still to come.
“On many of the issues we have reached conclusions that are supported by evidence that will show further misuse of monies or misconduct. There are others that I think will require additional investigation.”