A circuit judge should have dismissed civil claims against West Virginia State Police by a teenager who alleged excessive force when he was beaten during a traffic stop while handcuffed, the state Supreme Court ruled last month.
The high court ruled 3-2 in sending the lawsuit back to Berkeley County Circuit Court. The justices acted on a State Police appeal of a judge’s 2019 denial to dismiss the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleged State Police should be held responsible for its officers’ actions because the agency was negligent in its training and supervision.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Evan Jenkins, writing for the majority last week, said the teen failed to prove that state police should not be granted immunity from prosecution. Jenkins also wrote the lower court erred in considering dashcam footage that had not been properly introduced into the record.
The lawsuit stemmed from a November 2018 incident when the teen was involved in a crash with a sheriff’s cruiser. A pursuit ensued and the teen crashed again. Dashcam video captured what happened next: Two officers yanked the teen through the open driver’s side window to the ground, where he landed face-first. He was handcuffed before they kicked, stomped and punched him repeatedly.
The teen’s name has not been released.
In a dissent, Justice William R. Wooton accused the majority of favoring form over substance in ordering the claims dismissed based on technical issues.
West Virginia State Police Troopers Michael Kennedy and Derek Walker were terminated in January 2019 after an internal investigation. Walker was reinstated in September 2020. Two sheriff’s deputies were fired but later reinstated.
In December 2019, Kennedy was acquitted of federal charges in the beating after U.S. District Judge Gina M. Groh ruled that prosecutors did not prove the trooper had acted willfully.
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