WESTOVER, W.Va. – The City of Westover is facing a myriad of legal issues, all related to the Westover Police Department. 12 News has been covering the situation since the beginning and has filed many related stories.
The city’s issues began in July 2020 when a federal lawsuit was filed alleging the two of the city’s police officers violated the civil rights of a Westover man after they pulled him from his home and beat him in 2019. Former Police Chief Richard Panico was also named in the suit.
The police department’s policies related to officer’s body cams played a large role in the initial suit and 12 News’ Amanda Mueller compiled two investigative stories on the topic:
At city council meetings in August 2020, residents expressed concern and outrage over the body cam issue, leading Councilman Ralph Mullins to propose an ordinance that Westover officers activate their cameras when interacting with the public.
A month later, another city council meeting, Chief Panico abruptly resigned.
A week later, Mueller learned that Officer Aaron Dalton, who was named in the initial federal lawsuit, was on leave from the department.
In was then discovered that 11 members of the police department had written and signed a letter alerting Mayor Dave Johnson to their concerns about the actions and behaviors of Officer Dalton.
Just days after 12 News made the letter public, retired West Virginia State Trooper Joe Adams was named the new Westover Police Chief.
With the new year, came new news. A national civil rights organization joined the original federal lawsuit on behalf of victim Andre Howton.
Less then a week later, a second federal lawsuit was filed, this one on behalf of William Cox, who said he was beaten by Dalton and another Westover officer.
In February 2021, 12 News obtained video of Cox’s beating, which can be seen here.
By early March 2021, a third lawsuit had been filed against the City, this one in Monongalia County Circuit court, on behalf of the police department’s former administrative assistant Christine Riley, who alleged that Mayor Johnson fired her for signing the letter about Officer Dalton.
Aiming to improve transparency related to the police department, Police Chief Joe Adams and Westover City Council worked to approve a new body camera policy during a March meeting.
In April, 12 News got a hold of documents that explained that despite a West Virginia State Police investigation that showed that Officer Dalton may have committed a crime, prosecutors were unable to press charges due to the statute of limitations running out.
In August, William Cox’s cell phone, that is at the center of his lawsuit against the City, and has been missing since his August 2019 arrest, resurfaced.
Days later, attorneys for Dalton filed a request for an injunction against the City of Westover, claiming it is not following state civil service procedures or its own charter.
Nearly a year after it was recorded, a more than 90 minute audio file of a meeting between former police chief Richard Panico, soon-to-be interim chief Lt. John Morgan, Westover City Attorney Tim Stranko and Councilman Steve Andryzcik was uploaded to Youtube. The recording included many allegations against Lt. Aaron Dalton and Mayor Dave Johnson.
Days later, the recording was addressed at a Westover City Council meeting, with one citizen calling for an independent investigation into the city.
At a special city council meeting, Mayor Johnson and City Attorney Stranko responded to a series of allegations made by City Councilman Ralph Mullins on a local radio show. Mullins also made a statement at the meeting, which ended with a resident lashing out at Johnson and being led out by police.
On October 13, 2021, 12 News learned that Mayor Johnson decided not to seek an eighth term, citing that “it has gotten harder and harder to deal with the recent negativity which is counterproductive to our success.”