UPDATE | West Virginia trooper charged in teen beating cleared of wrongdoing in internal investigation

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MARTINSBURG, W.Va. (WSAZ/AP) -- UPDATE 5/30/19 @ 11:18 a.m.
A West Virginia trooper federally charged in the beating of a teenager was previously cleared of wrongdoing in the case by his department.

News outlets report a recently released West Virginia State Police internal investigation says Trooper Michael Kennedy didn't engage in criminal conduct during the November arrest of the 16-year-old.

However, Kennedy was later indicted on a charge of deprivation of rights under color of law, which describes crimes committed by on-duty police officers.

Dashcam video shows the teen driver fleeing police and crashing before being kicked, stomped on and punched by officers. Two county deputies in the video were fired and later reinstated. Kennedy and Trooper Derek Walker were fired. Walker wasn't charged. Kennedy's trial is set for October.

UPDATE 4/13/19 @ 7:20 a.m.
Berkeley County Sheriff Curtis Keller announced Friday two deputies involved in a controversial arrest last year would be back on the job Monday.

Keller tried to fire deputies Austin Ennis and Chris Merson in January after a November 2018 alleged excessive force arrest of a 16-year-old boy that came after a pursuit in Berkeley County. The arrest was recorded on a cruiser dashcam.

Ennis and Merson fought the attempt to fire them and two review boards sided with the deputies.

Keller could have appealed to the deputy sheriff’s civil service commission but instead Friday announced Ennis and Merson were coming back to work. Keller’s news release said disciplinary action had been imposed and accepted by all parties.

The Herald Mail reported Keller’s announcement came a day after the Berkeley County Council voted to hire an attorney to help Keller with the appeal. The paper also reported the discipline for deputies was believed to be 10 days without pay.

Former state police trooper Michael Kennedy, who was fired after the incident, appeared before a federal magistrate judge this week after being indicted by a grand jury. He’s charged with deprivation of rights. A trial date has been scheduled for June 4.

The video shows police trying to handcuff the suspect. At one point, Trooper Kennedy begins kicking the suspect. Eventually they subdue him, but then Kennedy approaches the suspect and repeatedly strikes him in the face. Later, after the suspect is on his feet, Kennedy tosses him to the ground.

The pursuit began after the driver rear-ended Merson’s cruiser on U.S. 11.

UPDATE 4/9/19 @ 1:47 p.m.
A judge has set a trial date for a former West Virginia state trooper accused of beating a teenage boy during an arrest, the A

The Journal of Martinsburg reports 29-year-old Michael Kennedy was arraigned Monday in federal court and trial was scheduled for June 4.

Kennedy was indicted last month by a federal grand jury on one count of deprivation of rights under color of law, language used to describe crimes committed by police officers while on duty. The indictment accuses Kennedy of using excessive force resulting in bodily injury during the Nov. 19 arrest.

A police dashcam video shows a West Virginia officer kicking and punching the handcuffed 16-year-old on the ground and kneeling on his shoulder after the teen allegedly rear-ended a deputy's car and fled.

UPDATE 3/21/19 @ 8 p.m.
A former West Virginia State Police trooper faces a federal charge for allegedly using excessive force against a teenage driver after a traffic stop last November, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office in West Virginia's Northern District.

Michael Kennedy, 29, of Morgantown, was indicted this week by a federal grand jury. He faces one count of deprivation of rights under color of law, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

In the moments leading up to the alleged excessive force, dashcam video released by the Berkley County prosecutor's office shows a high-speed chase.

The chase ends with a 16-year-old crashing a car into a pole.

The video shows the teen being pulled through the window of the smoking car and detained on the ground.

Law enforcement struggle with the teen while he's on the ground. Video then shows the teen being punched and kicked.

Then a trooper picks the teen up and throws him down onto the ground by the side of the road.

The juvenile's face was blurred to protect his identity.

The ACLU released a statement saying in part "The brutality witnessed in this video is shocking but all too familiar. Law enforcement has a constitutional responsibility to avoid excessive force, and it is crucial for videos like this to come to light so that offending parties will be held accountable."

Kennedy and fellow Trooper Derek Walker were both fired on Jan. 17. Two sheriff's deputies also were terminated.

The incident happened Nov. 19 in Berkeley County, which is in the state's eastern panhandle.

Allegations surfaced November 29 when Gov. Jim Justice condemned the actions of the troopers involved and called for an investigation into the matter.

If convicted, Michael Kennedy faces up to 10 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine.

The FBI has been investigating the case.



UPDATE 1/18/19 @ 3:25 p.m.
Two West Virginia State Police troopers have been fired after an internal investigation of a traffic stop involving two state police troopers and a sheriff's deputy in which a teenage motorist was seen being beaten, WVSP say.

Investigators say it happened after a pursuit in Berkeley County involving a 16-year-old driver.

WVSP released this statement Friday afternoon:

"These two Troopers, Trooper First Class Michael Kennedy and Trooper First Class Derek Walker, have been discharged from the West Virginia State Police effective January 17, 2019. No further comments will be made at this time."

The troopers' firings follows the firing of two deputies who were let go for the same incident.

Allegations surfaced Nov. 29 when Gov. Jim Justice called for an investigation of two state police troopers following a traffic stop in which he said the troopers were seen on a dashcam video beating the 16-year-old boy.

Berkeley County is in West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle.



UPDATE 1/17/19 @ 11:48 a.m.
A West Virginia sheriff says two deputies have been fired after an internal investigation of a traffic stop involving two state police troopers and a sheriff's deputy in which a teenage motorist was seen being beaten.

Berkeley County Sheriff Curtis Keller told The Journal on Wednesday that deputies C.S. Merson and Austin Ennis were terminated as the result of the investigation, but declined to go into details.

Allegations surfaced Nov. 29 when Gov. Jim Justice called for an investigation of two state police troopers following a traffic stop in which he said the troopers were seen on a dashcam video beating a 16-year-old male suspect.

The troopers were suspended without pay, and state police spokesman Reginald Patterson says the agency is still investigating.

Sheriff Keller says the fired deputies have a right to a hearing and one has been requested but not yet scheduled.



UPDATE 12/6/18 @ 2:56 p.m.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has now opened its own probe into an altercation among West Virginia police and a 16-year-old, local authorities say.

“Now we have another involvement, where the FBI and the Department of Justice are getting involved,” Berkeley County Sheriff Curtis Keller said in a telephone interview.

Berkeley County Prosecutor Catie Wilkes Delligatti also confirmed the FBI investigation today.

“They have opened an investigation and we’ve agreed to coordinate with them,” Delligatti said.

She added, “In any case where there are allegations of improper actions by law enforcement, there can be federal investigations to determine whether any action is appropriate under federal law.”

The FBI itself has not confirmed its investigation into the Martinsburg incident.

“We don’t really have anything to say,” said FBI spokeswoman Catherine Policicchio. “We don’t confirm or deny the existence of an investigation.”

A federal investigation may be an indication of concern over whether the 16-year-old’s constitutional rights were violated during the Nov. 19 incident.

The FBI is the lead federal agency for investigating the abuse of authority by public officials. The scope includes excessive force.

Whether the teen’s civil rights were violated has been raised by the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia.

“Police have a constitutional responsibility to avoid excessive force, no matter the circumstance,” stated Loree Stark, the legal director for The American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia.

Two state troopers and one sheriff’s deputy have been suspended without pay pending three separate investigations of the altercation in Berkeley County.

They have been identified Trooper First Class Derek Walker and Trooper First Class Michael Kennedy as well as Deputy Austin Ennis.

The allegations were revealed last Thursday with a statement from Gov. Jim Justice, who alluded to the beating of a 16-year-old white male.

A later statement from the State Police stopped short of describing a beating, claiming “the response to resistance/aggression actions of the troopers came into question.”

Several local and state investigations have been active already.

Those included the West Virginia State Police, the Berkeley County Prosecutor, the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Department and the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department.

“I welcome the investigation by the FBI to lend yet another level of transparency to the investigations into this incident,” Delligatti said.

Delligatti said the investigation by her office is near completion.

“We are, I would say, we could be close to complete,” she said. “However, with the federal government being involved now, I can’t speak as to their timeline.”

Delligatti is cautious of prejudicing the FBI’s investigation by releasing the conclusions by her own office.

“I believe that remains to be seen depending on their timeline, so that we can appropriately coordinate whatever action is appropriate.”

Keller also described cooperation.

“They’re adding their investigation,” Keller said.

“The Department of Justice is coming on board. They’re doing their investigation and we’re continuing ours. We’re not stopping ours because they’re there.”

He agreed more time now could be required.

“We’re going to continue what we’re doing, but they’re going to be involved in it also,” Keller said. “It’s going to take a while before things are completely resolved on it.”

Statements have described the 16-year-old crashing into a parked sheriff’s cruiser, fleeing, losing control and crashing into a utility pole.

What happened next was captured on dashcam video from a sheriff’s cruiser and passed up the chain of command until the event was described to the governor.

Keller today said the first viewing of the video was a routine — and not initially urgent — matter because of the crash investigations.

A captain was assigned to investigate both the first crash into the department’s cruiser and then the second crash into the utility pole.

“We were not even aware of anything occurring that would make us look right away at anything,” Keller said.

“During his routine investigation of our vehicle being struck and the pursuit, he came across what he did.”

The captain notified Sheriff Keller, who then called neighboring Jefferson County for help with an independent investigation. From there, State Police officials were notified.

Keller confirmed he has seen the video. He did not describe what he saw.

“I’m not going to get into my feelings on it,” he said. “I saw there was something there that needed to be investigated.”

State Police Superintendent Jan Cahill, speaking this week on MetroNews’ “Talkline,” has seen the video and described what happened after the teen left the crashed vehicle.

“He’s placed on the road,” Cahill said. “At that point, he’s trying to be handcuffed. It goes on for probably a minute, and that’s when you see a series of blows and resistance.”

Governor Justice said this week that he has not seen the video, but it has been described to him.

“What you had is a 16-year-old kid who did something stupid and ran into a sheriff’s cruiser or whatever like that and then took off. And then you had the reaction of people who aren’t 16.”

“They took the job knowing their behavior can’t be 16. And in all honesty you had way beyond necessary force. You had beating of a kid.”

Media such as West Virginia MetroNews, along with ACLU of West Virginia, have been asking for public disclosure of the video.

Keller said it would be available once investigations are complete. But he said it should not be released until then.

“When you’re dealing with an investigation of this caliber, we have to make sure for both sides, the defendant and the victim, that we treat them and do a thorough investigation. We’re still into the process.

“Can we get results soon? Week, two weeks maybe, yes.”

UPDATE 12/3/18 @ 11:55 a.m.
The superintendent of West Virginia’s State Police says he was disturbed by what he saw in the video of an altercation between police and a 16-year-old.

“Five officers come onto the video. The juvenile is taken out from the vehicle. At that point, it almost looks like the vehicle is on fire,” state Police Superintendent Jan Cahill described today in an interview with our media partner WV MetroNews.

You can listen to the interview with the audio clips attached to this story. (If you are viewing this article on the WSAZ App, the audio clips are at the bottom.)

“He’s trying to be handcuffed and that’s when you see a series of blows and resistance.”

Cahill continued, “At one point near the end you’ll see a body toss, where a person is picked up and thrown. I worry about gaining control of people and not throwing them away from us.”

Trooper First Class Derek Walker and Trooper First Class Michael Kennedy have been suspended without pay.

On Friday, the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Department announced that yet another police officer was being suspended, Deputy Austin Ennis, who was at the scene.

Three separate investigations are now delving into the incident that took place shortly after midnight Nov. 19.

A 16-year-old reportedly struck a parked Berkeley County Sheriff’s Department cruiser, took off and was pursued by officers. The teen then crossed the centerline, went off the road and hit a utility pole.

What happened then is the focus of investigators.

A statement from Gov. Jim Justice on Thursday first publicly disclosed the incident in Martinsburg.

Justice said “dashcam video taken at the scene shows the suspect being beaten by the two troopers.”

A later, separate statement from the State Police stopped short of describing a beating.

“It was during the apprehension process, where response to resistance/aggression actions of the troopers came into question and led to the suspensions,” State Police stated.

Cahill, who has seen the video, said it calls the officers’ actions into question.

“The video immediately raised excessive force questions with us,” he said today on MetroNews’ “Talkline.” “I feel like we took immediate and prompt action on this.”

The superintendent said officers regularly come into contact with people who resist, who are belligerent or who are under the influence of a behavior-altering substance.

But he said officers have to keep their own actions under control.

Cahill said he viewed the video with an eye toward whether the teen was resisting.

“When you watch a video and you just don’t see a level of resistance much, that’s where we’re at,” he said.

A cruiser with the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Department captured the video, said Brian Abraham, general counsel for Governor Justice. It was not immediately clear whether it was the cruiser in the crash.

Abraham, speaking Friday, said there was a delay in publicly-disclosing the incident because the video wasn’t viewed right away.

When someone with the sheriff’s department saw it, the video raised red flags.

“Somebody higher ranking in sheriff’s department reviewed it,” Abraham said. “They became concerned.”

From there, the video was handed off to senior officers at the Martinsburg detachment, then brought to the attention of the State Police main office in Charleston.

That’s where State Police Superintendent Jan Cahill saw it. He decided the Governor’s Office should be looped in and called Abraham about 8 p.m. Wednesday.

“The day the colonel got to see it is the day he called me,” Abraham said. “He decided the governor’s office needed to know about it.”

Abraham said the Governor’s Office would not push for immediate public release of the video. Abraham, a former Logan County prosecutor, worried about jeopardizing a possible criminal case.

“I’m not going to ask the State Police to release it contrary to their policy during the pendency of their investigation,” Abraham said.

“Being a former prosecutor, I think that’s something a prosecutor needs to decide. We don’t want to do anything to compromise a potential prosecution.”

Cahill agreed that the video would not be released right away, but he said it will become public as the investigation is completed.

“We’re not saying it’s not going to come out,” Cahill said.

UPDATE 11/30/18 @ 3:52 p.m.
Three different investigations will probe whether State Police troopers went too far in apprehending a 16-year-old who had crashed into a sheriff’s cruiser.

When the situation was revealed Thursday, a statement from Gov. Jim Justice said “dashcam video taken at the scene shows the suspect being beaten by the two troopers.”

A separate statement from the State Police stopped short of describing a beating.

That statement said “the response to resistance/aggression actions of the troopers came into question.”

The two troopers, identified as Trooper First Class Derek Walker and Trooper First Class Michael Kennedy, have been suspended without pay.

The teenager has not been named. His race was identified as white. Officials say he was treated at a local hospital and released.

Questions remain about the extent of the teen’s injuries, what led up to the incident, the disposition of both the teenager and the troopers and why almost two weeks passed before public disclosure.

The State Police department is conducting its own investigation.

Authorities in Berkeley County, where the altercation took place, are also investigating through the Sheriff’s Department and the Prosecutor’s Office.

And a deputy from neighboring Jefferson County has also been asked to investigate to ensure an independent assessment.

“We’re having a Jefferson County deputy investigate, so we are actually having three separate investigations,” Berkeley County Prosecutor Catie Wilkes Delligatti said today.

She added, “The way my office looks at it is we have the investigation done both by my office and an independent law enforcement agency.

“We’re going to be transparent and release that information then.”

She expected her office’s investigation will be completed by next week.

“It will just be a matter of taking statements and reviewing the footage and making sure we’ve fully investigated the facts,” she said on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”

The incident actually happened Nov. 19.

The statement from the State Police said the 16-year-old was involved in a crash with a sheriff’s department cruiser.

Police then pursued the teen, who crashed again.

“It was during the apprehension process, where the response to resistance/aggression actions of the troopers came into question and led to the suspensions,” stated State Police spokesman Reggie Patterson.

Brian Abraham, the governor’s general counsel, told the Charleston Gazette-Mail that State Police Superintendent Col. Jan Cahill called him Wednesday evening about the alleged altercation because he “recognized it was a pretty serious incident.”

“The car rolled a couple of times, and he was pulled from the vehicle, and apparently the alleged assault occurred sometime thereafter,” Abraham, a former Logan County prosecutor, told the newspaper.

Abraham did not immediately respond Friday to MetroNews calls seeking elaboration.

Wilkes Delligatti said her office was just informed on Thursday afternoon. She said the office was obtaining the dashcam video for review.

“I need the opportunity to view it with the investigator and release our conclusions,” said Wilkes Delligatti.

The governor’s initial statement also insisted on a thorough investigation.

“While I proudly support the brave efforts of our law enforcement agencies every day it must be perfectly clear that I will NOT tolerate this kind of behavior in any way, shape, form, or fashion,” Justice stated.

“I have instructed Col. Cahill to begin an investigation immediately and to pursue criminal charges if warranted to prevent behavior like this from ever happening again.”

In addition to the official investigations, the ACLU of West Virginia has been keeping an eye on the situation.

“We’re looking into the incident to determine if any of the teenager’s civil liberties were violated,” stated Tim Ward, communications director for ACLU of West Virginia.

Senator John Unger, D-Berkeley, expressed confidence that multiple investigations will result in a fair, honest conclusion.

“There are several different angles coming at this, and several independent investigations,” Unger said on WEPM’s “Panhandle Live. “I just think we need to get all the facts before we pursue it.”

Speaking later on MetroNews’ “Talkline,” Unger expressed a similar sentiment.

“If it was just one you could speculate. But they’re all independently doing it, and they’re seeking it,” he said.

“If there are any criminal charges there will be prosecution and punishment occurring.”

UPDATE 11/29/18 @ 4:55 p.m.
The names of two suspended West Virginia State Police troopers accused of beating a teenager have been released.

They are Trooper First Class Derek R. Walker and Trooper First Class Michael W. Kennedy. Both have nearly seven years with the department.

Gov. Jim Justice released a statement Thursday, sternly calling for an investigation and criminal charges if warranted. He said dashcam video shows two troopers from the Martinsburg detachment beating a 16-year-old boy after a chase.

Not long after Justice's statement was released, WVSP Chief of Staff Services Major Reggie Patterson released more details. He says the troopers were "immediately" placed on administrative leave without pay.

The alleged incident happened Monday, Nov. 19 in Martinsburg. Patterson says the teen was involved in a crash with a sheriff's department cruiser. That led to a pursuit, he says, and the boy ended up crashing.



UPDATE 11/29/18 @ 1:25 p.m.
A spokesman for West Virginia State Police has released information about two suspended troopers accused of beating a teenager.

Gov. Jim Justice released a statement Thursday, sternly calling for an investigation and criminal charges if warranted. He said dashcam video shows two troopers from the Martinsburg detachment beating a 16-year-old boy after a chase.

Not long after Justice's statement was released, WVSP Chief of Staff Services Major Reggie Patterson released more details. He says the troopers were "immediately" placed on administrative leave without pay.

The alleged incident happened Monday, Nov. 19 in Martinsburg. Patterson says the teen was involved in a crash with a sheriff's department cruiser. That led to a pursuit, he says, and the boy ended up crashing.

In his statement, Patterson refers to the teenager as the "suspect/victim." He continued, "The suspect/victim was found to be a 16 year old, white male, which was transported to a hospital and subsequently released."

He says it's the "apprehension process" where the troopers' actions come into question.

"The West Virginia State Police has initiated a criminal and internal investigation, upon reviewing an in-car camera video," Patterson said.

In Gov. Justice's statement, he said dashcam video shows the troopers beating the teenager. "While I proudly support the brave efforts of our law enforcement agencies every day it must be perfectly clear that I will NOT tolerate this kind of behavior in any way, shape, form, or fashion. I have instructed Col. Cahill to begin an investigation immediately and to pursue criminal charges if warranted to prevent behavior like this from ever happening again.”

WSAZ requested the dashcam video from the Governor's lawyer and West Virginia State Police. However, both say they can't release it due to the ongoing investigation.

Col. Jan Cahill tells WSAZ he first heard of the incident at 5 p.m. Wednesday, November 28. That's when the department immediately launched an internal investigation.

Brian Abraham, general counsel for W.Va. Governor's Office, says once that investigation is completed it will be sent to a prosecutor who will determine what, if any action will be taken next in the investigation.

Patterson continued to say that State Police cannot make any additional statements until a thorough investigation is completed. In the meantime, they are also not releasing the name of the suspect/victim because he is a minor.



ORIGINAL STORY 11/29/18
Two West Virginia State Police troopers are currently suspended without pay. Governor Jim Justice released a statement Wednesday afternoon, saying a 16-year-old was allegedly beaten by the officers.

The alleged incident happened in Martinsburg, involving troopers from the Martinsburg detachment of WVSP.

“I was notified last night of an incident in Martinsburg, WV involving two troopers from the Martinsburg Detachment and a 16-year-old male suspect," the press release from the governor states. "The suspect was stopped by troopers after a pursuit and dashcam video taken at the scene shows the suspect being beaten by the two troopers. While I proudly support the brave efforts of our law enforcement agencies every day it must be perfectly clear that I will NOT tolerate this kind of behavior in any way, shape, form, or fashion. I have instructed Col. Cahill to begin an investigation immediately and to pursue criminal charges if warranted to prevent behavior like this from ever happening again.”

The governor's press release states WVSP will be sending out a separate release with additional details.

“We have so many brave and respected men and women of law enforcement across West Virginia; all this does is cast a dark shadow on them. If this is the case, it will NOT be tolerated.”




Related Audio
Interview with WVSP superintendent: Part 1

Interview with WVSP superintendent: Part 2

 
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