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State police super issues apology

CHARLESTON — The new superintendent of the West Virginia State Police issued a written apology to women who might have used a training academy locker room where a video camera was revealed to have been placed.

Meanwhile, an attorney representing women who used the locker room has notified the state of an impending lawsuit.

The revelation of a video recording device that was placed in the locker room around 2015 was identified last week as a significant piece of a broader investigation into the West Virginia State Police.

Gov. Jim Justice, who took office in 2017, called the revelation intolerable, also objecting to the apparent destruction of a thumb drive described as containing images from the video surveillance. State Police Superintendent Jan Cahill, who took that office in 2017, resigned last week and was replaced by an interim superintendent, Jack Chambers.

Chambers wrote in an open letter, “I join Governor Justice in sharing my deepest apologies to any female who was victimized by the hidden camera in the State Police Training Academy locker room.”

Chambers has been assigned the responsibility of continuing to investigate the video recording. He wrote in the letter that includes developing a timeline and working to identify all potential victims. “All victims will be offered counseling and therapy services, and we will also continue follow-up services,” he wrote.

He wrote that the Department of Homeland Security is in the process of hiring an independent ombudsman with experience in counseling or psychology to be embedded with the state police “so that our men and women have a trusted voice to go to for support going forward.”

The governor’s initial comments about the recording device indicated the state employee suspected of placing it died several years ago.

“I don’t know how in the world many things could be much, much worse than that,” Justice said at a press conference last week. “You know, wouldn’t you absolutely think that a women’s locker room ought to be a safe place, an absolute safe place?

“And now we’ve got a situation to where — whether it was in 2014 or 2016, whether it was before Jan, before the governor, whatever it may be — our state police did stuff that was really bad. To put a video camera in the women’s locker room, to me it is absolutely not to be tolerated in any way.”

The governor said the situation was worsened when three troopers found a thumb drive that had stored video from the locker room.

“And then, from what I understand, one if not all immediately jerked the thumb drive out and threw it on the floor and started stomping on it,” Justice said. “You can’t make this stuff up, can you? Really and truly, now we’ve got law enforcement officers destroying evidence. You can’t make it up.”

The governor said he wants investigators to continue examining the situation with the video recordings, although he acknowledged the possibility that it would be hard to determine more specifics at this point. “Maybe there’s no way to recover evidence, but we ought to try,” he said.

A Wheeling attorney has notified state officials of intent to sue on behalf of women who used the locker room and whose images might have been captured by the recording device.

“As an alternative to filing suit, we would request a meeting to discuss these allegations and a possible resolution to the same,” wrote attorney Teresa Toriseva.

Toriseva’s letter indicated her firm already represents two retired state police uniformed employees and another civilian.

“Our clients regularly used the female locker room at the West Virginia State Police Academy during their career and after their retirement as West Virginia State Police employees,” Toriseva wrote.

“The civilian female, as a dependent of a uniformed state police officer, also utilized the private areas of the academy facilities.”