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Council reviewing chief's report

October 09, 2002|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

Shepherdstown, W.Va. - Shepherdstown council members have reviewed the police chief's report regarding an incident that led to allegations of excessive force by a town police officer, and expect to release a response sometime this week, the mayor said Tuesday night.

Council members met for nearly two hours in executive session Monday night to go over the report, which totaled about 70 pages, including statements by witnesses, said Police Chief Charles Cole.

The controversy stems from a traffic stop on the night of Aug. 30, when Patrolman Charles Lynch pulled over Shepherdstown businesswoman Nancy VanTol on High Street because VanTol's car had a burned-out headlight.

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Luke Collins, who was working at the nearby Blue Moon Cafe at the time, alleged that after VanTol got out of her car and started walking toward the restaurant, Lynch "took her down aggressively."

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

A second officer ran on foot from the campus with his gun drawn, and 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.

A few days afterward, Cole said that Lynch was acting "within his rights" when he arrested and charged VanTol. Cole later said he would make a recommendation to the council and let them decide on any course of action.

VanTol was charged with failure to obey a police officer, interfering with police and defective equipment, Cole said.

The next day, more than 20 people gathered outside of the closed police station, demanding that Lynch be fired.

Cole said that the findings he presented to council members Monday "more or less" constituted a recommendation. He declined to elaborate.

Members of the public, including reporters, cannot attend executive session meetings. Mayor Arthur "Jim" Auxer III said the town's attorney will review the council's response to Cole's report before it is released. He, too, declined to elaborate on council's response.

Auxer said the West Virginia State Police has agreed to conduct a separate investigation of the allegations.

Shepherdstown has a chief and four full-time officers. Eight part-time officers, including Lynch, work about 18 to 20 hours a week altogether, Cole said. Shepherdstown was at the same strength several years ago, Cole said, adding that more and more officers have not been added recently, as some seem to think.

At the council meeting Tuesday, resident Doug Herrick, who helped organize the Aug. 31 protest, presented council members with a petition regarding VanTol's arrest.

"Police are supposed to serve and protect, not harass and intimidate," he said.

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