Court Docs Show A Pattern Of Unlawful Charleston, West Virginia Police Department Drug Unit Investigations w/ The WV Holler
+ Afrolachian Art and News
We continue our celebration of Afrolachian artist Peshka Calloway’s
Black West Virginia Civil Rights Leaders Series: Black Diamonds of WV.
MEET MR. ROBERT SIMMONS
In 1862, Robert Simmons and other free black men established Sumner School in Parkersburg. Sumner was the first school for African American children in present-day West Virginia and south of the Mason-Dixon Line.
Shortly after the school’s founding, Simmons traveled through war-torn Virginia to meet with Abraham Lincoln in Washington.
The president authorized the use of a rundown army barracks to serve as the Sumner school building. Sumner would later establish the first black high school department in West Virginia. It remained open until segregation ended in the 1950s.
Simmons also was a leading African American voice in the Republican Party, twice serving as a state delegate to national conventions. He even turned down an offer from President Ulysses S. Grant to be U.S. consul to Haiti. Today, Parkersburg’s downtown post office is named in honor of Robert Simmons.
Robert Simmons was also an editor and contributor for the Pioneer Press (est, by J.R. Clifford). The Pioneer Press was critical of the Republican Party for not doing enough after emancipation for Blacks in the south. This is the history that is hidden and stolen from us. 🖼 by @peshka_calloway
If you're curious about The African American Press in West Virginia, please explore this Blog post by Stewart Plein, Rare Book Librarian. Click the photo or title above.
C.N. Chilins News Stand, Fairmont, W. V. 1904/06. Two African-American Newsboys and an Unidentified man stand outside C. N Chilins, located on Madison Ave. Fairmont, W. V., eventually (relocated) to the first floor of Watson Hotel.
Court docs show a pattern of unlawful Charleston Police Department & local drug unit investigations.
Republished with permission by The West Virginia Holler
By DOUGLAS J HARDING for THE WEST VIRGINIA HOLLER
Federal court documents obtained by the West Virginia Holler reveal a pattern of unconstitutional drug-related investigations conducted by the Charleston Police Department and the Metropolitan Drug Enforcement Network Team (MDENT).
“I fear this is becoming a pattern,” a memorandum opinion signed by U.S. District Judge Joseph Goodwin states. “Like a case recently in front of me (…) this case represents yet another failure of the Charleston Police Department and MDENT to act within the confines of the Fourth Amendment.”
That opinion was filed April 28 this year in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia and deals with an investigation which, ostensibly, began in October 2019, when a CPD detective on assignment with MDENT applied for a search warrant in Kanawha County.
Although a local magistrate issued a “sweeping warrant” authorizing detectives to search the home of a Charleston resident, Judge Goodwin granted a motion to suppress evidence seized from the home, on the basis that CPD and MDENT failed to establish probable cause and violated the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protecting people’s rights against “unreasonable searches and seizures.”
“In the same way that even a small child could not sit on a stool with three rotten legs, the magistrate’s finding of probable cause cannot be supported by the three dubious justifications provided by the government,” a court document states. “I find that there was no substantial basis for the magistrate’s conclusion that probable cause existed.”
One of the grounds for probable cause cited in the warrant application filed by a CPD detective states that the detective “conducted a trash pull investigation of the (…) residence and discovered ‘multiple marijuana stems.’”
A “trash pull” is a type of investigation when law enforcement officers rummage through an individual’s garbage after it has been taken outside the home for collection. Trash pulls are common in drug-related investigations and generally seek to uncover evidence of illegal drug use or distribution.
Judge Goodwin’s opinion states that, “Other items discovered during the trash pull were listed, but the warrant application made no effort to explain their connection to the offense being investigated: possession of marijuana.”
Another of the grounds for probable cause cited in the warrant application states that a CPD officer “received information” that someone at a local residence was distributing large amounts of an illegal drug.
However, the reference court document states:
“[Detectives] did not include a single detail about the original source of this information. Was the information from yet another police officer? An anonymous tip? Was the information merely overheard in an elevator? No one reviewing the warrant would have any way of knowing where this information came from or when [an officer] received it. This is unacceptable. When applying for a search warrant based on hearsay, the applicant must include facts in support of the information’s reliability and accuracy. [Detectives] did no such thing here…”
The final of the grounds for probable cause cited in the warrant application states that detectives conducted a “controlled buy” of illegal drugs, which an individual of the local residence was “involved with.”
According to referenced court document:
“The person being investigated during that buy was observed walking through the fenced yard of the (…) residence. That is the extent of the involvement. No one ever saw that person enter or exit the home. That person merely walked through the fenced yard.”
As such, the only legitimate grounds presented for the search warrant were the few marijuana stems a detective collected while digging through garbage found outside a resident’s home.
Judge Goodwin states:
“[The detective] was aware of how very scant the marijuana evidence was in the trash pull. [The detective] could not reasonably have believed that the three tiny scraps of marijuana in the trash—unable to cover even a corner of a Post-it note—could support the idea of ongoing or recurrent activity in the home. None of the additional facts known to [the detective] are sufficient to make his reliance on the warrant reasonable.”
Judge Goodwin concludes that the warrant issued for referenced investigation was “unreasonably broad, bordering on a general warrant, to investigate the possession of marijuana. It authorized the search of electronic devices and financial records that have no connection to the offense of marijuana possession.”
Judge Goodwin stated the same exact conclusion, word-for-word, in another court document filed April 22 this year and dealing with an investigation that occurred in March last year.
That court document describes an investigation conducted mainly by a detective of the Nitro Police Department on assignment with MDENT.
The detective filed an application for—and was eventually issued—a search warrant in March last year on the basis that, two months earlier, “he had ‘received information that [an individual] was involved in the distribution of [illegal drugs]’” and had been arrested years ago for possession of marijuana.
Additionally, officers conducted a trash pull investigation, during which they collected “several packages of cigarillo’s [sic] (…) and a green stem which appeared to be a marijuana stem.”
Judge Goodwin’s analysis states:
“First, though [a detective] was aware of the actual source of this information, he was also aware that the confidential source had provided the tip two months prior to the warrant application, that this source had never provided reliable information before and that the source had skipped town the month before. Next, [a detective] was aware that he had set up a pole camera in front of [an individual’s] home, surveilled [referenced individual’s] home for an entire month and observed no suspicious activity. None of these additional facts known to [referenced detective] are sufficient to make his reliance on the warrant reasonable.”
Nevertheless, the warrant was issued and the defendant’s home was subsequently searched in violation of the Fourth Amendment.
The court document states:
“The magistrate then issued a sweeping warrant authorizing MDENT officers to search the entirety of [an individual’s] home for evidence of possession of marijuana including, but not limited to, electronic devices, books and financial records, photographs and address books.”
Additional court documents obtained by the West Virginia Holler show similar patterns of CPD, MDENT and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) conducting blatantly illegal investigations for drug-related activities.
One of the documents, filed in February this year and dealing with an investigation conducted in October last year, shows a different judge at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia granting a motion to suppress evidenced based on a similar Fourth Amendment violation.
The document states that a DEA officer applied for a search warrant on the basis of unsourced and unsubstantiated reports that “a black man had recently moved into [an] apartment, [where] the source of information (SOI) noticed a lot of people making short visits to the residence.”
The DEA officer also conducted a trash pull investigation, during which he collected “five plastic bags with the corners removed, three plastic bag corners and two plastic straws.”
Again, a Kanawha County Magistrate judge issued a warrant based on the application, authorizing detectives to search the defendant’s home without probable cause—another clear violation of the Fourth Amendment.
A footnote in referenced court document states, regarding the information upon which the search warrant was issued to detectives:
“Because the lack of evidence of criminal activity is sufficient to resolve the motion to suppress, there is no need to delve into an analysis of the lack of evidence of the SOI’s reliability. However, particularly in absence of direct evidence of criminal activity, a tip that begins by informing the officer that a Black man recently moved to the area should raise a red flag. There is a risk that the informant’s suspicions are based more on an assumption that a Black man is a criminal rather than the interference that heavy traffic with short visits must be drug activity.”
A final court document obtained by the West Virginia Holler was filed in May this year and deals with an investigation conducted in March 2018.
The document describes a situation during which MDENT detectives were conducting surveillance at the Greyhound bus station in Charleston.
According to the document, a detective witnessed an individual “stand in the back of a southbound bus as it arrived in the station and exit quickly, which he considered suspicious.”
The detective notified his partner, who then witnessed the individual entering a vehicle and sitting in the passenger seat. The detective testified that he called in the out-of-state license plate on the vehicle and learned the vehicle’s registration was expired. The two detectives proceeded to conduct a traffic stop without using a dash camera and for which no body camera footage has been made available.
During the traffic stop, one detective issued a warning ticket for the expired registration before returning to request consent for a search of the vehicle, for which the driver of the vehicle denied his permission.
The detectives proceeded to conduct a “dog sniff” of the vehicle with the assistance of a K-9 trained to detect the presence of certain illegal drugs, including heroin.
The court document states one of the detectives testified that: “A positive alert (during the ‘dog sniff’) could be any obvious change in behavior, such as tail wagging, sitting, intense sniffing or excitedness. His recollection is that [the dog] alerted by sitting down outside the front passenger side of the vehicle.”
The defendant in the case argued that:
“The stop was unsupported at its inception because, in his view (…) the report indicates that the officers did not learn that the registration was expired until after stopping the vehicle. He further contends that the scope and duration of the stop were impermissibly extended beyond the purpose of issuing a warning citation for expired registration. In addition, he argues that the United States has not adequately demonstrated that [the dog’s] training, certification and reliability were adequate to support a search. He argues that the methods of alerting are overly subjective, that [the dog] is not trained or certified in identifying prescription opiates and that any dog sniff designed to detect prescription opiates would be improper because such substances are typically possessed as legal medical prescriptions.”
While the court avoided making a decision related to the legality and reliability of the “dog sniff,” it granted the motion to suppress evidence seized during the search on the basis that officers illegally prolonged the traffic stop to investigate unrelated activity without probable cause for doing so.
The court’s conclusion states:
“After completing all tasks necessary to effectuate the purpose of the traffic stop—citing [an individual] for his expired registration—the officers had no further justification for continuing the seizure of [both individuals]. At the point that [detectives] had completed the purpose of the stop and returned to the vehicle to to further question [passenger], the seizure was impermissibly prolonged. At that juncture, further questioning was not necessary to either complete the purpose of the stop or to insure officer safety. Its purpose was to investigate an unrelated criminal matter.”
The West Virginia Holler is an affiliate of The Tennessee Holler and is powered, in part, by West Virginia Can’t Wait. Follow the Holler on Twitter @HollerWV and Instagram @WVHoller. We're on Facebook too! Follow writer Douglas J. Harding @douglasjharding.
👑 CROWN REPORT 👑
City of Beckley CROWN Ordinance Supporters Commemorate the Passing of Ending Hair Discrimination Within City Limits
Beckley, West Virginia, May 21, 2021– In the fight for racial equality on May 11, 2021, the City of Beckley became the second municipality in West Virginia to pass a CROWN ordinance. The acronym stands for Create a Respectful and Open Workspace for Natural Hair and bans hair discrimination based on hair styles and textures. To continue the celebration of the ordinance passing, on May 15, 2021, the group met for a photo shoot showing their natural hair in all its glory.
Beckley Human Rights Commissioner Dr. Kristi Williams Dumas states, “This ordinance is of profound importance. It represents the city taking a stand against race-based hair discrimination by extending protections to include hair state, styles, and texture to the nondiscrimination order. It sends the strong message that every lived experience of discrimination is important and will not be tolerated henceforth.”
This is a huge win for the City of Beckley as the statewide West Virginia CROWN Act (Senate Bill 850) was rejected by the House Judiciary Committee in 2020. Had the bill passed, it would be illegal to discriminate against a person for their hair texture or hair style, which includes protective styles commonly worn in the black community such as dreadlocks, twists, afros, and braids. The uniqueness of the ordinance passage here lies in the demographics of the group of organizers and vocal supporters. Young, seasoned, LGBTQ, trans, African American, and Caucasian individuals make up the group nestled in the mountains of a city boasting the value of human rights.
The community supporters of the Beckley CROWN Ordinance gathered on the Beckley Council Chambers front lawn during the remote city council meeting to show their support.
Ordinance supporter Thaddaus Breckenridge states, “This hair is our experience and everything we’ve lived through.”
Bills banning hair discrimination have been introduced in numerous U.S. states through the CROWN Act, created by Dove and the CROWN Coalition in 2019. According to Dove Crown Research Study 2019 – Black women are 1.5x more likely to be sent home from the workplace because of their hair, and 80% of black women, compared to white women, change their hair from its natural state to fit in at the workplace.
“The ordinance doesn’t affect me personally. I have white hair. I would never be discriminated against for my hair. But it is important to our city and residents. Human rights are basic rights,” said ordinance supporter Dr. Melissa J. Keaton.
The supporters of the Beckley CROWN Ordinance are hoping the State of West Virginia will reconsider supporting the CROWN Act, but in the meantime, they are delighted to know they are safe from hair discrimination within the City of Beckley.
For more information, contact: Kristi Williams Dumas, City of Beckley Human Rights Commissioner, at (310) 242-1447
News To Know
(and some you wish you didn’t)
Handcuffed as a nation: A look at policing and race relations in the U.S. a year after the death of George Floyd By David Kirk and Sarah Marino | Times West Virginian
Juneteenth Celebrations announced for:
I found the first newsletter I ever published! It was 1992, and I was a senior in St. Albans High School, determined to develop a “multicultural club” - Harambe - and bring Black news to the people, or at least a few folks at St. Albans High School.
Black by God is my teenage dream coming to reality in my so-called mid-life. I am thankful that I did not give up on this idea as I watch it manifesting in ways that I never imagined - ‘cause at 17, I had no idea the internet would be a thing!
Now my son, Aiden, is graduating and moving into his dreams. I’m excited because he has all the tools - the things I didn’t have - to step into his ambitions. #improvethedesign
And. He is.
I am full of gratitude and possibility at this moment.
My old hand-typed high school newsletter reminds me that the printed word is still a thing, something you keep. In that, Black By God is busy building and preparing for our first PRINT! Stay tuned.
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