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Residents want officer suspended

A group of people gathered outside Shepherdstown's police department claim an officer used excessive force during a traffic stop

A group of people gathered outside Shepherdstown's police department claim an officer used excessive force during a traffic stop

September 02, 2002|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - More than 20 people gathered outside Shepherdstown's police department Saturday to request the suspension of an officer who witnesses allege used excessive force during a traffic stop involving a town business proprietor Friday night.

The businesswoman was reportedly thrown to the ground as she walked from her vehicle after the traffic stop.

Shepherdstown Police Chief Charles Cole, who was said to be out of town Saturday, was reportedly planning to meet as early as Tuesday with those who spearheaded the protest.

The incident began around 8:20 p.m. Friday when Shepherdstown Patrolman Charles Lynch pulled a car over on High Street as the driver headed toward the Shepherd College campus, said Luke Collins, 22. Collins, who was on break from his shift at the Blue Moon Cafe and witnessed the stop, presumed the car was stopped because it had a light out.

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Collins said that after Lynch stopped the driver - whom Collins and others identified as VanTol's Village Florist owner Nancy VanTol - the officer turned off his police lights. When VanTol got out of her car, Lynch yelled, "Stand down or I will pepper spray you," Collins said.

Collins, who has known VanTol for several years, said she is about 50 years old.

VanTol got back in her car and started inching it forward in what Collins thought was an attempt to move it under a street light. Some portions of High Street can be exceptionally dark at night.

Lynch followed VanTol who, she later told Collins, had become nervous and got out of her car once more to try to walk to the well-lit cafe, Collins said.

At that time, Lynch "came charging after her, shouting, just shouting, 'Stop resisting arrest,'" Collins said.

After VanTol extended her arms upward, Lynch "took her down aggressively," Collins said. Six people witnessed that, he said.

Collins' account was confirmed by Jason Gatian, 26, also an employee of the Blue Moon Cafe.

Lynch rolled VanTol over, put his knee on her back and handcuffed her, Collins said.

As this was going on, a second officer came running on foot from the campus with his gun drawn. That officer held his gun about three feet from VanTol as she was on the ground, Collins said.

Eventually, nine police officers came to the scene, Collins said.

VanTol did not return a message left at her florist shop Saturday. Cole did not return two messages left at the police department.

Shepherdstown Mayor Arthur "Jim" Auxer III said he spoke with Cole on Saturday about the incident.

"In a few days, after documentation has been reviewed, Chief Cole will meet with the involved parties," Auxer said.

He declined to speak further, saying additional comments would be inappropriate.

At the protest, which began shortly after noon, several people congregated around a police cruiser that pulled up a few minutes later. The police station is in a small shopping center on Princess Street

Patrolman S.P. Reagan told the crowd he was told Cole was out of town. When Collins and others asked whether Lynch could be suspended until they meet with Cole, Reagan said only Cole or the second in command, who is away on military leave, could make that decision.

Reagan took Collins' and another young man's phone numbers and said he will relay the request for a meeting to Cole as soon as possible.

"He's going to listen to you," Reagan told the group.

Lance Dom, 52, and his wife, Susan, 48, said they attended the protest because they were worried police might not take some of the others, who were young and wore baggy clothes, seriously.

The Doms live on German Street, the town's main road, and have witnessed several incidents involving police.

"There's a great deal of overkill handling ordinary matters," Lance Dom said.

After the incident involving VanTol, "even the disbelievers ... really have had their attitudes turned around," he said, saying he was once a doubter.

"They (police officers) are carrying out their own agenda and it is hostile and punitive," Dom said.

"Everyone in this town has been harassed by a cop," Collins said.

Doug Herrick, who helped organize the gathering Saturday, described VanTol as "absolutely the sweetest, nicest person."

"We're a village. We watch out for one another," Herrick said.

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