Police abuse claims denied by commander

June 24, 1998|By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Allegations by a former West Virginia State Police trooper that Eastern Panhandle troopers routinely target certain people to chase for sport are not true, Martinsburg Detachment Commander Sgt. J.A. Humphrey said Tuesday.

"We do not make games of pursuits. We do not like to be involved in them," Humphrey said.

The allegations, attributed to former trooper Michael A. Durst Jr., were contained in a 33-page statement filed Monday as a court exhibit with a civil lawsuit in Berkeley County Circuit Court.

"You look for some crusty, old ... car out on (W.Va.) 45 or Tabler Station," Durst told Martinsburg lawyer Kevin D. Mills, according to the statement. "It's a game."

The lawsuit, filed by Mary E. Parsons against West Virginia State Police and six individual officers, was the second civil lawsuit alleging a Glengary, W.Va., man was brutally beaten by police following a high-speed chase last fall.


In a civil suit filed in May, the man, James D. Minghini Jr., 26, claimed that eight state police troopers, "individually and acting together as a mob," brutally and severely beat his head and body and severely damaged the car he was driving, which he had borrowed from Parsons.

Minghini's mother, Phyllis June Minghini, and his sister, Crystal Gay Minghini, also are plaintiffs in Minghini's civil suit. They claim mental and emotional distress from witnessing the alleged beating.

Parsons' suit seeks damages from six of the state troopers and West Virginia State Police for the alleged destruction of her car.

Both lawsuits claim the West Virginia State Police agency is "vicariously liable" for wrongdoing by its troopers.

An internal investigation of the case found no wrongdoing, and all of the troopers named in the lawsuit except Durst are on duty assigned to the Martinsburg detachment, Humphrey said.

Durst was still in field training and on probation when he resigned from the state police in January, Humphrey said. He said he couldn't discuss the circumstances surrounding Durst's resignation.

Officials at West Virginia State Police headquarters in Charleston, W.Va., and Charleston lawyer Gary Pullin, who represents the state police, did not return phone calls Wednesday.

Minghini may still face charges stemming from the Sept. 27, 1997, incident. Police allege a drunken Minghini led them on a dangerous chase along country roads in Berkeley County, according to Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely.

Charges against Minghini in Berkeley County Magistrate Court were dismissed so they could be brought up for grand jury consideration, said Games-Neely, who said she intends to present the case to the grand jury in October.

The criminal complaint filed against Minghini on Sept. 27, 1997, in Berkeley County Magistrate Court, alleges an aggressive attempt by Minghini to escape police starting after Trooper T.C. Kearns witnessed him swerving on and off U.S. 11, near Musselman High School.

The complaint alleges Minghini led Kearns on a high-speed chase, turning onto different roads, illegally passing vehicles and traveling on the wrong side of the road, forcing several vehicles off the road.

After Trooper Carl A. Mahood joined the chase behind him, Kearns said he tried to pass Minghini to set up a "rolling road block," but Minghini tried to force him off the road, the complaint alleges.

Attempting to turn into a field off W.Va. 45, Minghini's car spun out of control and troopers blocked him from getting back onto the road, the complaint alleges. Minghini staggered from the car and ran for about 75 yards before Kearns forced him to the ground, according to the complaint.

Kearns said he sprayed Minghini in the face with pepper spray because he was struggling and wouldn't put his hands behind his back to be cuffed, the complaint alleges. Kearns and Mahood then placed Minghini in handcuffs "without further incident," the complaint alleges.

No other troopers are mentioned in the complaint.

Minghini failed an eye test for sobriety and refused to take a breath-alcohol test, according to Magistrate Court records.

He was charged with third-offense driving under the influence of alcohol, and fleeing a law enforcement officer while under the influence - both felonies - and misdemeanor resisting arrest, obstructing an officer and reckless driving, according to court records.

In their answers to Minghini's civil suit allegations, all of the troopers named in the suit - Kearns, Mahood, Durst and Troopers E.D. Anderson, Kevin E. Plumer, Max M. Kingery and Jeffrey L. Phillips - denied beating Minghini, according to Circuit Court records.

Kearns, Mahood, Anderson, Plumer, Kingery and Phillips denied that Minghini's mother and sister saw them beating or assaulting Minghini or damaging Parsons' car, according to court records.

In a May 4 interview with Mills, who is Minghini's criminal defense attorney, Durst admitted to joining the pursuit and assisting in smashing up Parsons' car but said Minghini was lying on his back on the ground handcuffed, moaning and bleeding from his face when he arrived.

In the statement, Durst described a pattern of punishment for people who tried to flee troopers and claimed fellow officers later tried to cover up what really happened.

Humphrey said that while he couldn't discuss the case or elaborate on state police policies and procedures, Durst's characterization of troopers' game-like attitude toward car chases is false.

The use of force in the line of duty is taken very seriously, said Humphrey, who said paperwork has to be submitted to the agency's Professional Standards Unit any time force is used or a complaint is made against an officer.

The police agency doesn't try to cover up wrongdoing by its officers, he said.

related story: Police abuses alleged in West Virginia

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