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Chief supports officer in disputed traffic stop

Police Chief Charles Cole said Patrolman Charles Lynch was "within his rights" when he arrested a businesswoman during a traffic

Police Chief Charles Cole said Patrolman Charles Lynch was "within his rights" when he arrested a businesswoman during a traffic

September 04, 2002|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - An investigation into whether a Shepherdstown police officer used excessive force was continuing, but the town's police chief said Tuesday the officer was "within his rights" when he arrested a Shepherdstown businesswoman during a traffic stop Friday night.

Police Chief Charles Cole said Nancy VanTol, the owner of VanTol's Village Florist, was charged after she allegedly refused to obey instructions from Patrolman Charles Lynch three times and fled from him on foot following a traffic stop.

Luke Collins, who said he saw the traffic stop while on a break from his job at a nearby cafe, disagreed Tuesday with Cole's assessment of the incident.

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Collins said VanTol got back into her car immediately after being pulled over.

"She never refused to do anything," Collins said.

VanTol declined to comment on the matter Tuesday, saying only that she was consulting with an attorney about the incident.

Cole said Lynch stopped VanTol's car on High Street because of a defective headlight.

After VanTol stopped her car, she got out of the vehicle, Cole said.

To insure officer safety, Cole said officers are trained to approach motorists only while they are in their cars.

VanTol was told twice to get back in her car but she refused, Cole said.

VanTol was told a third time that if she did not get into her car she would be arrested, the chief said. VanTol refused, police alleged.

Lynch then told VanTol she was under arrest. VanTol got into her car and pulled the vehicle to the right side of the road, got out of the car and ran, Cole alleged.

As Lynch ran after VanTol, he yelled for her to stop and warned her he could use pepper spray to subdue her, Cole said.

Lynch caught VanTol after a short distance, Cole said .

Lynch forced VanTol to the sidewalk and handcuffed her after she refused to put her hands behind her back, Cole alleged.

"Was she thrown (to the ground)? No. Was she taken to the ground? Yes," Cole said Tuesday.

"I do feel the officer was within his rights. He was following the training he received," Cole said.

Collins said VanTol got back into her car immediately after being pulled over and he believed she was trying to move the vehicle to an area where there was better lighting.

"She was pulled over in a dark part of town and she was afraid," Collins said Tuesday.

VanTol got out of her car and was walking - not running - toward an area with more light, Collins said.

Lynch forced VanTol to the ground "as if she was running away from him at full speed," Collins said.

VanTol said she could not put her hands behind her back to be handcuffed because of a medical problem, Collins said.

VanTol was charged with failure to obey a police officer, interfering and defective equipment, Cole said. VanTol was taken to the police station after her arrest and released, Cole said.

Cole said he talked with VanTol about the incident Monday.

Cole said he gave VanTol a form that citizens can fill out if they have a complaint about an officer but he had not received it back from her.

Cole said he obtained a joint statement from Collins and Jason Gatian, who also observed the arrest. Cole said he expects to make a final decision on the case by the end of the week.

Shepherdstown Mayor Jim Auxer could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Collins was part of a group of more than 20 people that gathered outside the Shepherdstown Police Department Saturday to ask that Lynch be suspended.

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