(12/09/2001)
Part Two: By Bob Weaver

In the time since September 11, 2001 it is difficult to report negatively on police officers, most of whom valiantly serve the public interest, day after day.

In West Virginia and rural Calhoun County, there has been a long stretch of organizational decline within the West Virginia State Police, an institution by almost any standard that is spinning out of control. Its leader, Col. Howard Hill, has publicly acknowledged the seriousness of the problems.

It seems more energy is expended trying to protect the agency, than protecting and serving the public. There is a widening accountability gap, as the leadership and members of the West Virginia Legislature continue to evaluate the problems.

With less than a year served for the severe beating of Welch resident Raymond Neal Rose, former State Policeman Gary Messenger, 32, was just released from federal prison. A federal judge David A. Faber said he would "make an example" of Messenger, when he sentenced him to seven years and four months last December.

Messenger has apparently talked and provided inside information to the feds about his situation to obtain release, although he faces some charges under West Virginia law. The feds have refused to disclose the issues surrounding Messenger's "cooperation."

Messenger and two other state policemen attacked Rose in his apartment after he asked them to be quiet while partying in the early morning hours, outside Rose's apartment. Messenger and his associates, in a drunken state. entered Rose's apartment building and severely beat him. The attack was recorded by 911 in Welch, after which state policemen illegally entered the 911 center in an attempt to retrieve the incriminating tape. The dispatcher had secured the tape in a safe. One of the officers involved in the brutal attack was transferred, according to newspaper accounts.

Messenger had been a state policemen for 16 months, during which time reports said he had problems which were not remedied. State Police have routinely declined to disclose the number of professional misconduct charges, let alone names or the nature of charges, lodged against troopers in Calhoun County or other parts of the state, denying requests under the Freedom of Information Act.

The green-on-green process, by most constitutional standards, leans toward protecting the officers. Sometimes officers file internal grievances against the agency, after internal affairs has concluded wrongdoing on their part. The charges are sometimes removed from the trooper's personnel file. The complainant is not informed when the trooper's record is cleaned, according to residents of Calhoun County who have experienced the process.

While most State Police officers have been dutiful and dedicated to their profession, large numbers of problems have surfaced in the ranks which at the very least indicate a lack of supervision and accountability. In Calhoun County, the resulting perception is that many troopers operate as independent agents, with inadequate supervision.

During the past few weeks, adding to a lengthy list of problems and lawsuits, a state trooper resigned after he apparently lost his gun in a strip bar, a second was put out for alleged illegal activities with a car operation, the agency paid a large sum to a secretary who was harassed by a trooper, a million dollar settlement was reached in the murder-suicide of a trooper and his girlfriend, and the Zain state police lab case goes on and on, year after year, without finality. A Martinsburg trooper has been put on administrative leave with pay, after he was charged with battering his wife. The long list of problems would take several pages.

Public information to validate problems within the organization is difficult to obtain, generally a wall of silence.

Numerous troopers are facing internal investigations alleging bad conduct, multiple civil suits and internal law suits against the agency itself filed by several troopers who claim mis-treatment.

State Police problems in Calhoun continued to grow this past year, most currently with Calhoun Prosecutor Tony Morgan pondering whether to ask a special prosecutor to proceed with a criminal investigation of the State Polices handling of the Kelley Mace case.

Trooper Doug Starcher and Sgt. John Bonazzo based the drug case against the woman on their confiscation of garden sulfur and a search warrant that suggested a million dollar drug operation, which included hundreds of alleged stolen guns that did not exist. A civil suit is being filed in the matter.

A civil suit is being filed against Trooper Doug Starcher related to the throwing of a MagLite through the window of Richard Whytsell's auto. State Police sustained charges against Trooper Starcher in that incident, declaring the trooper acted inappropriately, with Whytsell an innocent victim.

Starcher stopped Whytsell after he was getting gas for his vehicle, with witnesses describing the officer in an out-of-control rage. The officer then "made up" charges against Whytsell and failed to note the MagLite attack on the police report.

Former Calhoun Trooper Tommy Yanero was indicted for battery on a Calhoun youth during a traffic stop, the charges then dropped because of a statue of limitations.The State Police sustained Yanero acted inappropriately, but the charges may have been taken from his record because he was made a "Trooper of the Year." Yanero is now the subject of a million dollar civil suit for the reported beating of a man in Roane County.

A lengthy history of thuggish and unprofessional behavior by some troopers in Calhoun County has become a pattern for several years, with brief periods of reprieve when new officers are assigned to the county to intervene on the problems.

Some members of the West Virginia Legislature are concerned about the future of the State Police and are reviewing what actions need to be taken beyond a civilian review board, which the agency has fought "tooth and nail."

SEE Part One Shiny Badges On The Slippery Slope

911 Transcript: Welch Recording Causes Chills (March 17, 2000)

More to come in THE GREEN HAZE series.


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