By Bob Weaver|
State Police Superintendent Howard Hill said he would like to pick up a
newspaper or turn on a TV and not hear something negative about the
agency. A solution to that problem does not appear forthcoming.
The agency has been spiraling in disarray for several years, unable to
develop a supervisory system that promotes accountability. Some observers
say officers have acted like independent agents, enforcing the law.
Despite millions of dollars in lawsuits and numerous criminal charges, some
related to the state police lab and others to trooper misconduct, the West
Virginia Legislature has declined to take a stand.
Now comes the latest incident at the lab. Sgt. Timothy White and the lab's
Director Capt. Rick Theis have been placed on administrative leave pending
an investigation by the U. S. Attorney's Office and the FBI. Problems
surfaced over tests done between April and July, 2002.
Major problems surfaced in September, 2000 when a civilian co-worker Todd
McDaniel pled guilty to a federal fraud charge, and was sent to jail. McDaniel
admitted he skipped tests on suspected marijuana and cocaine
The lab was then examined by the FBI, and after a Freedom of Information
request by The Charleston Gazette, their report showed others in the lab
mis-managed tests, although McDaniel was the only person prosecuted.
The State Police then declared the lab functional.
The FOIA documents indicated the now suspended Sgt. White, the whistle
blower on lab problems in 2000, also failed to conduct "preliminary testing"
and showed signs of deception during an FBI lie detector test.
Delegate Larry Faircloth, giving an overview of State Police problems, has
called for an investigation by the Department of Justice. He says customary
channels have been unresponsive.
Problems with drug testing or drug evidence is part of the current
investigation linked to the Kelley Mace case in Calhoun County. Trooper
Doug Starcher is being investigated for perjury by an independent
prosecutor from Kanawha County, after allegations that he may have lied
before the Calhoun circuit court.
Mace contends a search warrant obtained by Sgt. John Bonazzo and Trooper
Doug Starcher, alleging a million dollar drug ring operating from her house at
Chloe, produced no evidence. She contends a bag of common garden sulfur
was called methamphetamine to indict and prosecute her in Calhoun Circuit
Court, an action that continued for about one year before the case was
Court transcripts of the Mace case indicate evidence did not exist, or it was
misplaced and did not reach the State Police lab. The lab report was not
presented as part of the evidence against her.
The State Police revamped its lab in 1994 after the Fred Zain case threw the
agency into turmoil, resulting in numerous law suits and millions of dollars in
claims from people who were falsely incarcerated.
The Zain case is the object of a current suit by Attorney General Darrell
McGraw against the law firm Steptoe and Johnson. Documents indicate the
firm attempted to conceal problems related to the Zain case, which could
continue to cost taxpayers huge sums of money.
Jim Lees, a leading West Virginia attorney, says State Police lab problems
should be expected because it is run by a police unit. He says police
operated crime labs are flawed.
Kelley Mace claims when State Police did the drug raid on her property, she
told one of the officers he would find nothing. She said he replied "Yes I will.
It is my lab."
Lees says labs are supposed to answer questions of the court on evidence in
an independent manner, which runs counter to law enforcement's mission to
find the bad guys and punish them.
Lees wants a stand-alone crime lab run by the Medical Examiners Office that
could be connected to a state university.
The current internal review process maintained by the State Police has been
in question for years, where troopers are investigated within their own ranks
for misconduct. Many who have experienced the process contend it is
flawed and has some constitutional quagmires.
While most members of the State Police can be declared dedicated and
professional, those who present problems over and over, do not seem to be
held accountable for their poor performance or outrageous misconduct.
Incidents with local troopers have become legendary, related to brutish and
The call for a civilian review board or an independent lab has been
adamantly rejected by State Police officials, and now the organization is
wanting to unionize. The State Police lobby has consistently kept legislators
from tampering with the structure of the agency.
The Hur Herald has discovered the agency uses numerous glitches to hide
public information, even under the Freedom of Information Act. They would
not disclose the number, let alone the names of officers, of misconduct
charges filed against Calhoun troopers, nor would they validate that a
Braxton County trooper was dismissed or provide information regarding their
Nothing short of a major revamping of the agency will suffice, and only the
West Virginia Legislature can do that. The slope is greased, and despite
efforts by Col. Hill and others, and there is little light at the end of the