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With video aid, sheriff refutes deaf man's lawsuit

June 25, 2002|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Berkeley County Sheriff Randy Smith on Monday showed reporters a video tape of a traffic stop last year involving a deaf man in an attempt to illustrate that deputies did not do anything wrong in the incident.

Smith said the videotape illustrates how faulty it can be to judge police officers based on how they react to "split second" situations.

The traffic stop involving Vermont resident Kent P. Richland is the focus of a U.S. District Court suit that alleges Richland's rights were violated.

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Richland, who also cannot speak, claims Deputy R.L. Gardner refused to communicate with him through writing during the traffic stop.

Richland was driving to North Carolina with his two sons when he was stopped for going 70 mph in a 55 mph speed zone on Interstate 81 in Berkeley County on June 20 last year, the suit says.

After Richland signed a traffic citation for speeding, he attempted to hand a clipboard to Gardner through the front passenger window, the suit said. The clipboard slipped from Richland's hand and fell on the ground, the suit said.

Harry Waddell, Richland's attorney, said it was alleged that Richland threw the clipboard out of the car and struck Gardner.

Richland, who was charged with committing battery on Gardner, denied he threw the clipboard.

In the police video, which was recorded on a camera mounted on the inside windshield of Gardner's cruiser, the clipboard can be seen shooting out of the passenger window of Richland's car.

It appears to hit something.

Smith said it hit Gardner.

The deputies are later seen handcuffing Richland at the rear of his car.

"Do you understand what your dad did?" one of the deputies says to one of Richland's sons.

The boy replied that he did.

The suit alleges that the seven defendants in the suit did not ensure adequate communication with Richland.

Smith said he was still looking into the case, but noted that one of Richland's sons was communicating with his father through sign language at the traffic stop.

Smith said that appeared to be a good way of communicating with Richland.

Smith criticized Waddell and the American Civil Liberties Union, which has supported Richland, for not coming to him to discuss the matter before filing the suit.

The suit also alleges deputies did not communicate with Richland like he had requested, said Andrew Schneider, executive director of the ALCU of West Virginia.

The situation may have been avoided had deputies communicated with Richland by written notes, Schneider said Monday.

Waddell said he met with Smith Monday and had a "fairly candid conversation" with Smith about the incident.

Waddell said he watched the video but could not tell if the clipboard struck Gardner.

"I am going to talk to my client about the video. I have some concerns about it," said Waddell.

The suit does not seek a specific amount of money. Waddell said Richland would consider avoiding trial if defendants in the case agree to a list of 18 conditions listed in the suit.

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