Convicted magistrate Riffle joins push for police review

February 21, 2000

From staff and AP reports

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Former Morgan County magistrate Bonnie Riffle, convicted of making up a story that she was attacked in her courthouse office, argued Monday in favor of an independent board to review police actions in West Virginia.

Riffle appeared during a public hearing hosted by the House of Delegates' Government Organization Committee, which is studying whether to propose legislation to mandate a review board.

Riffle said she filed numerous complaints against State Police and the agency refused to take her complaints seriously.

"I'm here because I support the formation of a review board. Not all troopers are bad, but this problem starts at the top," Riffle said.


Residents and police disagreed during the meeting on whether West Virginia needs an independent board to review police actions.

Several residents appealed for a board, saying police are accountable to no one but themselves.

John Smailes of Berkeley County, whose daughter was killed by a drunken driver during a 1996 police chase, appealed for a board.

So did Phyllis Mengheni, the mother of a Glengary man who said troopers beat him and smashed the windows of the car he was driving during a 1997 arrest.

State Police settled lawsuits with both families.

Smailes said State Police Superintendent Gary Edgell was compassionate when he dealt with the Smailes family, but the formation of a review board should be the Legislature's duty.

"A lot of people can study statistics. But the only statistic I see is births and deaths. And my daughter falls under the deaths category," Smailes said.

Smailes and Riffle were among several who said they have filed complaints with the State Police over troopers' actions, but either received unsatisfactory answers or no answers.

About 100 people, including Edgell, attended the hearing.

"The current system is not working," said former Calhoun County Commissioner Larry Cottrell, who said he received several complaints about police in his county.

Several police officers said the system is working.

Complaints are taken seriously, said David Moye, a representative of the West Virginia Troopers Association.

"The Supreme Court mandated the review procedures we have to abide by, and they are strict procedures," Moye said.

Cabell County Sheriff Dallan Fields asked the Legislature not to "saddle police with a review board that doesn't understand what a police officer does."

Review boards already deal with complaints about county sheriffs departments. Maybe the system "needs to be tweaked," but overall the system works, Fields said.

"Sometimes an officer has 3 to 5 seconds to make a decision that sometimes is a life-or-death decision," Field said.

Some police also questioned the cost of implementing a review board.

Committee Chairwoman Vicki Douglas, D-Berkeley, responded, "We obviously don't know what will happen at this point.

"But I did find it interesting that the people who come to us every time they need money for raises and equipment, all of a sudden they're interested in how much a review board would cost."

Del. Larry Faircloth, R-Berkeley, has been an outspoken proponent of the citizen review board.

He attended the hearing but gave no speech. Faircloth said later he didn't want to overshadow the comments of Eastern Panhandle residents who traveled to Charleston to speak.

"I think with the testimony that was introduced today, there is a clear need for the legislation," he said.

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