Morgantown Legality, West Virginia Civilian Police Advisory and Review Board interviewed; lawsuit brought by the Fraternal Order of Police of Mon-Preston | VM News
MORGANTOWN – Opinion and facts are two different things. Many have opinions on the Civilian Police Advisory and Review Council, which was unanimously established by Morgantown City Council on May 18.
Some question the legality of the board and its necessity. They present the fact that Morgantown already has a Civil Service Commission that deals with policing matters and believe that the Civilian Police Advisory and Review Board is unnecessary – and illegal – as a result. .
A prominent name in the state has questioned its legality – Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who has threatened legal action against the town of Morgantown. A lawsuit has already been filed, when the Fraternal Order of Police of Mon-Preston filed a lawsuit on May 19.
The Civilian Police Advisory and Review Board has been a topic of discussion in Morgantown for over a year. It was not created out of specific Morgantown Police Department issues, according to Deputy Mayor Rachel Fetty, who chaired the meetings of the special committee that led to the creation of the advisory board.
“As it stands, we have received input, recommendations and careful thought from all segments of the population – people in the department, people married to members of the Morgantown Police Department, people who have been vetted. as people of color or members. of the LGBTQ + community, ”said Fetty.
What is the advisory board,
The Civilian Police and Citizen Review Board will be made up of nine members, aged 18 and over, who live in Morgantown. No board member should be a current city employee, a former member of the Morgantown Police Department, or an immediate family member of a city employee.
The board will meet monthly and each member will participate in a board orientation session that includes a walk from the Morgantown Police Department.
The Board of Directors will develop and administer a process for receiving civil complaints about misconduct from the Morgantown Police Department or its officers, forwarding them to the Chief of Police and City Manager, and reviewing the Chief’s findings and recommendations afterwards. its internal investigation. .
They will also review internal misconduct investigations conducted by the Morgantown Police Department.
They will review police department policies, create a process for hiring and training future officers, and work to improve community relations.
Those who oppose the review board point out that the Morgantown Police Service Commission has the power to oversee the hiring, firing, investigation and discipline of paid members of the police service.
Any city in West Virginia of a certain population size with a paid police service must have a public service commission, and Morgantown has a three-member commission. One member is chosen by the prefect, one by the chamber of commerce and one by the fraternal order of police.
Members of the advisory board said they would be doing more than just looking at complaints, outside the scope of the Morgantown Police Civil Service Commission.
Is the advisory board legal?
Robert Bastress has been a professor of law at West Virginia University for 43 years. Last year, the Morgantown-Kingwood branch of the NAACP asked him to review versions of what has become the advisory board.
“It wasn’t hard work, but I went through the drafts and gave my opinion on some things,” Bastress said.
Attorney General Morrisey sent a letter to the town of Morgantown in September, citing state precedent that a municipality has “only those powers given to it by the legislature and that the state code prevails whenever a city ordinance or resolution is inconsistent or in conflict with the state. law.”
Bastress disagrees with Morrisey’s reasoning.
“I thought he was wrong – that was my opinion,” Bastress said.
Bastress said there was no doubt that the Civil Service Commission had exclusive authority over the hiring, firing, dismissals, retention and discipline of the police.
“But that doesn’t stop the city from saying it wants oversight and review of decisions made by the chief of police,” Bastress said. “A citizens’ council is nothing more than an oversight and contribution to the functioning of the police service, mainly with the chief of police and the city council, to ensure that the police service meets its obligations towards the community.
Teresa Toriseva, the lawyer representing the police union, is a former student of Bastress.
“The complaint she filed is quite similar to what the attorney general said,” Bastress said. “This is not an unreasonable argument – the code says the civil service commission must be the full and exclusive system of appointment, promotion, reinstatement, etc.”
There are two words in the statute of the civil service commission which, according to Bastress, give Morrisey and Toriseva the fuel for their argument.
“The law says ‘exclusive jurisdiction‘, so you can argue that this is an intrusion into the jurisdiction of the civil service commission,” Bastress said. “I don’t think that’s a compelling argument, but it’s not an argument you would call frivolous.”
Toriseva did not return a request for comment.
It will be easy to determine if the review board is legal, Bastress noted.
“I think it’s a relatively straightforward case to do, in the sense that all it takes is a motion to dismiss and the judge will interpret the law and that would end the case,” Bastress said.
Currently, the police union lawsuit is the only one against the town of Morgantown. The advisory council has only been a reality for less than a month, which Bastress said: “In ‘lawyer time’ is nothing,” noting that there is still time for more lawsuits. be filed, possibly by the Attorney General.
Bastress remembers that a Citizen Review Board has been something that has been discussed since the 1980s.
“They are pretty common all over the country,” Bastress said. “It’s not a concern about anything in particular that the Morgantown Police Department has done; it’s just a proactive effort to make sure we don’t have the issues that have been encountered elsewhere.
Looking at the group outside of a legal perspective, Bastress highlighted the positive effect the Morgantown Civilian Police Advisory and Review Board can have in the city and beyond.
“The idea also helps community relations for the police department, and I think it’s invaluable for any city,” Bastress said. “The Citizen Council would promote this, and this is a major objective of the company. “
Contact Chris Slater at [email protected], 304-887-6681, or follow @chris_slater on Twitter.