DOCUMENTS: Evidence existed to potentially charge Westover police officer, but statute of limitations ran out

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WESTOVER, W.Va. – Documents obtained by 12 News through a Freedom of Information Act request show that a West Virginia State Police investigation into the actions of a Westover Police officer found probable cause to potentially charge the officer with misdemeanor destruction of property, but the statute of limitations ended before the investigation even began.

A letter, written in March, by Monongalia County Prosecuting Attorney Perri DeChristopher, sent to the trooper with the State Police’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation who led the investigation, explains the situation with the potential charges and the statute of limitations.

The trooper’s investigation centered around Lt. Aaron Dalton’s actions related to the cellphone used by William Cox to record his interaction with Dalton and another officer during his arrest in August 2019. Cox has since filed a federal lawsuit against the officers and the City of Westover, claiming false arrest and excessive force.

During the August 2019 incident, Cox used his phone to record the officers beating, kicking and pepper-spraying him, according to his lawsuit. The phone was never returned to him, Cox said.

A screengrab from surveillance video of William Cox’s arrest

The trooper first interviewed former Westover Police Chief Richard Panico, who told the investigator that he believed Dalton had violated Cox’s Fourth amendment rights by destroying evidence and personal property related to Cox’s arrest.

Former Westover Police Chief Richard Panico

Next on the interview list was Officer Justice Carver, who was the other officer named in Cox’s lawsuit. Carver told the investigator that Dalton had ordered him not to place Cox’s phone into evidence and that Dalton “was going to take care of the phone.”

Another officer told the trooper that he saw Cox’s phone on a filing cabinet in the Police Department’s office, broken in half.

A third officer detailed a conversation he had with Dalton and Carver about doing a forensic download of Cox’s phone, which Dalton said would be “f**king stupid” to do.

A fourth officer told the trooper that a phone in the office began ringing and Carver explained to the officer that it was Cox’s phone and that it had pepper spray on it.

While helping to prepare a letter to be sent to Prosecutor DeChristopher about Dalton, Officer Zachary Fecsko questioned Carver about why there was no evidence entered in the Cox case, to which Carver told him that Dalton had instructed him not to talk about the incident. Fecsko then got surveillance video on the Cox incident from a nearby business. Fecsko then informed Chief Panico and Lt. John Morgan about the evidence discrepancy related to Cox’s phone, he told the trooper. ***Fecsko is named, along with Dalton, in another federal lawsuit related to the arrest and beating of Andre Howton in January 2019.

Also interviewed by the trooper was former Westover Police Department Secretary Christine Riley, who was responsible for submitting items into the department’s evidence room. Riley said that she never saw Cox’s phone. ***In March, Riley filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the City of Westover, alleging that Mayor Dave Johnson fired her for signing the letter detailing concerns about Dalton’s actions.

The investigating trooper also spoke with a former Westover Police officer who told him that Dalton had a rule that when Dalton was on a scene, officers were not allowed to use their body cameras. Cox’s lawsuit alleges that Dalton and Carver either never turned on their body cameras or destroyed footage on them.

Dalton was then interviewed by the trooper, during which he explained that he told Carver that he “might as well throw the phone away since Carver had stomped” Cox’s phone. Dalton concluded that he did not remember what had happened to the phone, “but the best thing that could have happened to the phone was for it to have been thrown in the trash,” according to the trooper’s report.

As a part of the investigation, the trooper also questioned Westover Mayor Dave Johnson about a statement that Chief Panico had made that Johnson wanted the investigation into Dalton to “disappear.” Johnson denied saying that and told the trooper that the only investigation of Dalton he was aware of, related to a complaint of a sexual encounter Dalton had with a female. A reference to that encounter is made in the letter penned by Riley and 10 officers. Johnson denied any involvement in police matters.

Dalton has been on leave from the department since August 2020.

To read the West Virginia State Police investigation report, click here. During several of the interviews mentioned in his report, the state trooper was joined by “special agents.” It’s unclear at this time what investigative agency they work for.

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