WSAZ Investigates | W.Va. Gov. speaks about State Police allegations
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A senior staff trooper accused of stealing money from a man at a casino in Cross Lanes then allowed to retire -- those are the allegations detailed in an anonymous letter sent to WSAZ on Feb. 22.
We first reported on those allegations last week -- when WSAZ Investigative/Political Reporter Curtis Johnson took the letter to the head of State Police, Col. Jan Cahill.
“We have a letter here that we received regarding an incident at a casino,” Johnson said to Cahill on March 10. “When did you become aware that a now former state police captain was on video stealing money from someone at a local casino?”
“I can’t go into the weeds on that,” Cahill replied. “I was made aware of that -- gosh, I’m not so sure if I can do the math in my head on that, when I when I asked for a meeting with the governor, when I asked for a meeting to find out about what this newscast is that I hear about on February 15, and then he definitely set me up at that time with the chief of staff. And that’s when I found out about this incident. It is not part of the initial letter that came in.
“The day I was made aware of that, I think he turned in and became a retired member the following day,” he added.
WSAZ reached out to Gov. Jim Justice’s office Feb. 22 when the station received the letter asking for a statement but only received a response that reads, “The Governor’s Office received the letter today, and it has been forwarded to the West Virginia Department of Homeland Security for further review.”
WSAZ also immediately filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the state’s lottery commission. The goal -- to obtain video and possible reports of the alleged theft. The next day WSAZ received a response from the Lottery Commission that reads, “The Lottery does not possess or maintain any documents responsive to your request.”
We then called the casino involved, which told WSAZ corporate would not allow it to release anything to the station.
Last week, WSAZ filed a document request with the Governor’s Office for the casino video and any reports related to the incident. No response had been received as of 6 p.m. Wednesday.
Fast forward to Wednesday, March 15 -- three weeks after the Governor’s office would only tell WSAZ the letter was sent to Homeland Security for review -- WSAZ learned the Governor’s Office released a separate statement this week to another media outlet, which confirmed the office did meet with Cahill on Feb. 16 about the incident.
The statement claims the Governor’s Office recommended both -- the trooper involved in the incident and another trooper -- be terminated, but one trooper was allowed to retire and the other was transferred to the Turnpike, according to the Governor Office’s statement.
So Wednesday, Johnson asked Justice on his virtual press briefing about the allegations.
“Just in the last little bit, while we’ve been on this call, we heard from Cahill who says no one was allowed to transfer and he was not told to terminate any trooper who retired,” Johnson asked Justice. “How would you respond to the latest comment from Cahill?”
“I have not seen the tape myself at all, but if what happened there is an officer, I don’t care if you’re a captain or an 18-star general, if you’ve stolen money and then just backing away from that and not termination, that’s not what I would do,” Justice replied. “That’s all there is to it.
“I would think that officer should have been terminated, if that be the case, and terminated right on the spot, you know, because there’s no leeway, there’s no nothing in regard to that and everything.
“So with all of that being said, I realize that there’s termination requirements and law and all of that that you’ve got to go through, and there’s steps you have to go through, and people can file grievances and everything else, but Curtis, I’m really just the guy I’m telling you.
“Really, if, if we’ve done something that is of that magnitude, and people broke the law, then we should have acted on it, and we should have acted, in my opinion, exactly like, you know, that I’ve said.
“And as far as any comments about Colonel Cahill and everything,” Justice continued. “You know, Jan has been a friend and and, and you know, I hope, I hope to goodness that that the investigation comes in differently than I think it’s going to come in, but I don’t think this is gonna be a good day for several folks, you know, once it’s completed.”
The governor also said the investigation is expected to wrap up this week -- an investigation that Colonel Cahill told Johnson last week he has zero confidence in.
“This is nothing against the governor, but the Homeland Security investigation, I have a zero vote of confidence in that investigation or Secretary Sandy for that matter,” Cahill told Johnson on March 10. “I think there’s just an agenda that’s been going on against the State Police.”
Johnson wanted to ask follow-up questions to the governor Wednesday, but that’s not allowed during the virtual news conferences.
If he would have been able to follow up Wednesday, Johnson told WSAZ’s Tim Irr that he would have asked Justice:
Have you received more information during this investigation of any potential wrongdoing beyond the two anonymous letters?
You mentioned that you haven’t seen the video of the alleged theft involving a state trooper at a casino. Why haven’t you requested to see it?
Does this investigation create the need for any further oversight for top level officials of state agencies?
Those are just a few of our questions. Johnson indicated he has more, in telling Irr that he would love the opportunity to sit down with Justice for an in-person interview.
The Governor’s Office released the following statement Wednesday night:
“On February 16, 2023, Brian Abraham, Chief of Staff for the Governor, had a conversation with Col. Cahill where Col. Cahill expressed his frustration that he was not more involved in the Dept. of Homeland Security investigation. Chief Abraham then advised Col. Cahill about the incident at Mardi Gras Casino and the actions of the Troopers involved. Col. Cahill asked Chief Abraham for advice on how to handle the matter. Chief Abraham recommended that Col. Cahill terminate the employment of both Troopers involved by the close of business on February 16, 2023. Subsequently, on February 17, 2023, Chief Abraham called Col. Cahill to inquire about what happened with the Troopers on February 16, 2023. Col. Cahill advised that one Trooper opted to retire. Col. Cahill further advised that he transferred another from the bureau of criminal investigations to the Turnpike. Neither of those actions were recommended to Col. Cahill by Chief Abraham. Col. Cahill also advised that an internal investigation was initiated with regard to the Trooper that was transferred.”
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