Residents air complaints about police department

September 16, 2002|by RICHARD BELISLE

About 150 Shepherdstown area residents attended a public meeting Friday night to ask Police Chief Charles Cole why a patrolman they referred to as a "rogue cop" is still working after he forcibly restrained a local business woman during an Aug. 30 traffic stop.

Mayor Jim Auxer said Cole is under a gag order by the town attorney and would not answer questions.

Auxer said the town faces the possibility of a lawsuit over the incident involving patrolman Charles Lynch and Nancy VanTol, owner of VanTol's Village Florist on German Street.

According to police and eyewitness reports, Lynch pulled VanTol over around 8:20 p.m. on High Street for a defective headlight. Cole said VanTol refused to obey Lynch's instructions three times and ran from the scene.


Lynch caught VanTol after a short distance, forced her down on the sidewalk and handcuffed her after she refused to put her hands behind her back, police and eyewitnesses said.

At one point Lynch threatened to use pepper spray, witnesses said.

Nine police officers from Shepherdstown and Shepherd College responded to the scene, witnesses said. One of the officers held a gun on VanTol while she was handcuffed on the ground, witnesses said.

Auxer confirmed the police presence Friday, saying there were a lot of officers around town that night because of a dance at the college.

Luke Collins, a witness, said VanTol did not refuse to follow Lynch's instructions and that she was walking, not running, to an area with more light.

Several speakers Friday asked the council to fire Lynch. He was not at the meeting.

Cole said earlier this month he would decide Lynch's fate. This week members of the Town Council said they would make that decision.

The council scheduled Friday's meeting to hear resident complaints and comments about police protection in general.

Many women in the audience said Lynch frightens them, and that they are afraid to drive in town for fear he might pull them over.

"We don't deserve this," said Carol Didden. "I'm so upset over this. I feel threatened by the actions of the police department."

Others said town police officers are arrogant and out of control.

One woman said Lynch screamed and yelled at her when he gave her a ticket for double parking on German Street.

Cynthia Seltzer said she stepped out of her car during a traffic stop and was told by an officer, whom she did not identify, to get back in her car or be taken to the police station.

"We don't deserve to be approached in that manner," she said.

"Why do they have to pull their guns on people for traffic violations?" asked Bailey Tune.

She said she had heard of several incidents where police used their weapons during traffic stops.

Auxer said police face different situations when they pull someone over.

"It's part of their training to draw their weapons in certain situations," he said.

James Holland said there was a widespread perception that the council is using the police to raise money through traffic fines.

The police department includes Cole, four full-time police officers and eight who work part-time. They provide 24-hour protection.

Shepherd College has 28 full- and part-time police officers, Auxer said.

The mayor said there are more traffic arrests today than four years ago because there are more officers on duty more hours.

In the last 12 months, the department investigated one sexual assault case, one rape, 12 illegal drug cases and four break-ins, Cook said.

Only one speaker, Bob Smith, called for supporting the police department. He said residents who break the law, even traffic violators, are considered criminals.

"If you break the law you have that label," he said.

If VanTol had obeyed Lynch, the incident would not have occurred, Smith said.

He was booed and shouted into silence.

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