Cops and Courts

Fraternal Order of Police: ‘No Confidence in MPD Chief Eric Powell’

On March 6, the members of the Monongalia and Preston County Lodge #87 of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) issued a press release stating they had taken a vote of “No Confidence” regarding Morgantown Police Chief Eric Powell.  

Lodge 87 has about 150 members, made up of current and former law enforcement officers from most local agencies, and some federal agencies.  

Powell was appointed as deputy chief at MPD in August 2017 by then-Chief Edward Preston. Following Preston’s retirement in 2020, Powell was appointed as interim chief and then Chief of Police in April 2021. 

According to statements in the release, the lack of confidence in Powell is a long-standing issue. It came to a vote following public comments made by the chief during his meeting with the Morgantown Citizen Police Review and Advisory Board on Feb. 29, regarding a case study performed by the board. 

One of the issues raised by the board was an apparent over-response of officers for a “simple trespassing” involving one unarmed woman. The review board questioned why five officers were necessary to handle one harmless individual for a minor situation.  

“Instead of using the meeting with the review board to achieve the stated goal of helping the public understand police procedures, Chief Powell displayed his habitual lack of preparation and lack of knowledge of his own department,” the release states. “He shined a spotlight on what he called a ‘bullying mentality’ that has become institutionalized while he has overseen the department, but he never addressed it with his officers through discipline, policy changes, or training.” 

Officers feel that had Powell been aware of his own department’s policies and activities, he could have prepared an informed answer regarding the facts of the incident. 

In the release, the FOP states what it feels would have been a more appropriate response about the reasons for the number of officers responding to the call. 

“The call for service was for three people on private property who were refusing to leave after having been asked three times. Of the responding officers, two of them were newer officers actively being trained by Field Training Officers. This caused there to be two officers present strictly for training and observation. Finally, two of the people left the property when directed to do so by responding officers. This left three officers trying to get the increasingly uncooperative third person to leave the property.” 

Lodge 87 President Brandon Viola told The Dominion Post, “there’s already some conflict between police and the community as it is, and instead of improving those relations – using the review board for example – that interaction is an opportunity to improve those relations and improve an understanding,” he said. “That has gone away, and things have been further muddied and now there’s even less understanding of what is going on by the public as to what the police do.” 

Viola said the implications of the vote are yet to be seen and will largely depend on how Powell, and the city of Morgantown, respond. 

“I know for the officers of the Morgantown Police Department – they are going to continue to do their job to the best of their ability,” Viola said, but added it will likely “strain relationships between the Morgantown Police Department and the community even more than they already are.”

“And really, with all law enforcement in this area – it’s going to impact that.” 

Viola explained this is something that’s been under the surface and brewing for a long time. He said Powell’s meeting with the review board, and his lack of preparation, are not the only thing officers are upset about. That was just the catalyst for the vote and showcases “how disconnected he has become from the community and his own law enforcement officers.” 

The release says FOP members feel Powell has “an established history of failing to serve the citizens of Morgantown and failing to support the men and women of the Morgantown Police Department. 

“For more than six years, Chief Powell has been in the highest positions within the police department. During that time, he has not enacted or influenced any major policy changes within the department. He has distanced himself from both the citizens and the police department by not participating in neighborhood events and meetings, failing to attend strategy meetings with other organizations, and spending most of his day absent from the department.”  

Viola said he understands that “absolutely no leader wants to hear that the people he’s in charge of don’t support him. I know that’s going to be hard for Chief Powell, there’s no question there. Hopefully we can make it through this one way or the other either with or without Chief Powell, but it’s reached a point in a very public way he’s showing he doesn’t support us and we can no longer support him.” 

The release goes on to claim Powell is a “poor leader” and has lost the confidence of the members of the Mon and Preston County FOP.  

The Dominion Post reached out to Powell to give him an opportunity to comment but did not hear back from the chief by press time.

“The City of Morgantown is suffering from a litany of issues, notably illicit drugs, drug-related violence, and the unhoused population. Members of Lodge 87 believe Chief Powell is too out of touch with his officers, the citizens, and the community as a whole to make any meaningful improvements,” the statement continues. “It is time to revive the City of Morgantown, and it needs to start with a change in leadership.” 

When asked for comment, the city issued a brief statement to The Dominion Post.

“The City of Morgantown is aware of discussions that occurred at a recent Civilian Police Review & Advisory Board meeting, and we are confident that Chief Powell will work to address any issues he identifies within the Morgantown Police Department. The City will not provide any further comment on this topic or any other personnel matters.”