Fraternal Order of Police threatens legal action should Morgantown Citizens Police Review Board become reality

Monongalia

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Lawyers for the Mon-Preston Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), which says it represents nearly all Morgantown Police officers, have sent a letter to Morgantown’s Mayor and City Council threatening legal action if officials approve a proposed Citizens Police Review Board.

In the letter, attorneys with Toriseva Law in Wheeling, detail why they believe the new board would run afoul of state law.

The city already has a Civil Service Commission and the creation of the Review Board would violate state code, which says that no laws or boards can be created that conflict with a civil service commission’s powers, FOP lawyers wrote.

In addition to the potential legal issues, the letter also describes why the FOP believes the new board is unnecessary, saying that the department “already operates according to the highest standards,” including:

1. USE OF FORCE: Every single use of force by a Morgantown Police Officer is documented. The use of force is reviewed by an immediate supervisor, which includes the body camera video, an in-car video, reports of other officers, and statements of witnesses. The immediate supervisor forwards everything to the Office of the Chief, where it is reviewed by Senior Staff for compliance with Policy, Procedure and Law. If that compliance fails, a complaint for disciplinary actions is initiated.

2. TRAINING: All Morgantown Police Officers complete annual training on numerous topics, including implicit bias and de-escalation.

3. BODY CAMERAS” All officers are issued and required to wear body cameras and every police vehicle that is currently purchased is equipped with in-car cameras. Officers simply cannot manipulate the data on the camera and the video is downloaded onto a server at the end of shift. The videos are only retrievable by designated personnel and are made available to the Court as required. Further, Supervisors also preform random review of body camera videos to ensure compliance with MPD policies. Any deficiencies are addressed in a manner that is similar to those addressed in a use of force review.

4. CHOKE HOLDS ARE BANNED: Choke holds of any kind have been and are considered lethal force and are prohibited unless the need for use of deadly force is authorized.

5. The City of Morgantown has a Human Rights Commission that receives any complaints that could be the result of any form of bias.

A portion of a letter sent by FOP lawyers to the Morgantown City Council

FOP lawyers conclude the letter by saying that if the Review Board is enacted, they will immediately challenge it in court. You can see the full letter on the FOP’s Facebook page or below.

At the most recent Morgantown City Council meeting, ACLU of West Virginia Community Outreach Director Mollie Kennedy spoke in response to the FOP’s letter: “We are deeply disappointed to hear that this is the route that the Fraternal Order of Police has chosen to take regarding this proposed ordinance,” Kennedy said. More than 20 publics meetings were held and the FOP and law enforcement officials were asked for their input, but did not give it, according to Kennedy.

Kennedy gave a detailed statement:

ACLU of WV Community Outreach Director Mollie Kennedy

“Whether an individual police officer or this department contributed to that, or whether it came from people’s experiences elsewhere, that lack of trust is a problem that police in Morgantown have to contend with. Establishing better lines of communication, trust and transparency when it comes to the community and the police is vital to police being able to safely and effectively do their job. What has just happened here(the FOP’s letter) has only served to further that divide between the community and the police and tell the people who have expressed that they don’t feel that they can trust the police, that they were right all along. That even when given the opportunity to express concerns and engage in a good faith process, asking for transparency, they will not, they’ll take a back door and bully the city, despite the concerns of the people who live in it, who they are supposed to serve. So I hope that the members of council and members of this community will see this for what it is and recognize how transparent and public the process has been, how much expertise, how best practices were used, all of those things to create a safer community for everyone.”

The full Morgantown City Council meeting where the statements were made, can be viewed here.

Deputy Mayor Rachel Fetty, the chair of the Special Review Board committee, said that it has been disappointing to have received so little feedback from the FOP, MPD and individual officers and said the committee would like to hear the challenges officers face. She encouraged officers and residents to call or text her at 304-376-8823 or email her at rfetty@morgantownwv.gov.

The committee will be sending the proposed ordinance to the West Virginia Attorney General’s Office for review, Fetty said. Once that review is finished, the committee will meet again to see if language can be made to accommodate requests for changes, she said. The committee has been working to make sure if doesn’t infringe on anyone’s civil or labor rights, said Fetty.

Previously, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has come out against the proposal.

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