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Officers named in $1 million lawsuit

December 09, 2003|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - A Berkeley Springs, W.Va., man is suing the Charles Town Police Department for up to $1 million, alleging three of the department's officers and the father of one of the officers acted "as a mob" when they arrested him while he was hunting on Huntfield subdivision property last year.

The suit, filed by Robert A. Unger in Jefferson County Circuit Court on Nov. 12, alleges the police department was negligent or reckless in several ways, including failing to exercise supervision over its officers and failing to properly train its officers.

Unger contends in the suit that the three officers involved in the incident, and the father of one of the officers, committed numerous violations, including malicious assault, unlawful assault and assault and battery, conspiracy to inflict injury and conspiracy to commit a crime.

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Charles Town Police Chief Mike Aldridge said last week he could not comment on the allegations in the suit. Aldridge defended the police department, saying there have been no other complaints against his department over officer conduct.

"I find this hard to believe," Aldridge said of the allegations.

Unger was one of three people charged with illegally hunting inside the city limits, Aldridge said.

Aldridge said he believed charges against all three were dismissed because the arresting officer in the case resigned.

Jefferson County Magistrate Court records show Unger was charged with hunting without permission, uncased firearm in a vehicle, loaded firearm in a vehicle and trespassing. The charges were dropped, court records state.

Named as defendants in the suit are officers R.E. Kerns, R.J. Jenkins, who no longer works for the department, C.A. Kutcher and Kevin Kerns. Kevin Kerns is the father of R.E. Kerns, Aldridge said.

R.E. Kerns, his father and Kutcher declined to comment on the suit. Jenkins declined to comment in detail, but said "there was no wrongdoing on the officers' part."

The suit, filed on Unger's behalf by Martinsburg, W.Va., attorney Paul Taylor, does not provide details about the circumstances leading up to the alleged incident.

The suit alleges that the four defendants "individually, and acting together as a mob, wrongfully threatened, assaulted, battered and arrested the plaintiff, Robert A. Unger."

When such a suit is filed, it is not necessary to go into all the details of the incident, Taylor said in a telephone interview last week. The complaint is designed to put the defendants on notice that an action is being filed against them, Taylor said.

"It will all come out in the wash who did what to who," Taylor said.

Taylor said Unger and his two hunting companions had proper hunting licenses and had permission to hunt on the Huntfield property.

According to the criminal complaint filed when Unger was charged, one of the officers went to Huntfield, a subdivision along U.S. 340 south of Charles Town, after receiving information about two vehicles parked on the property.

When the officer arrived, he saw a white Chevrolet and a Ford Ranger, the complaint said.

The officer waited for the three hunters, who returned at dusk, the complaint said.

The officer, along with an "assistant," told the men to put up their hands and drop to their knees, the complaint said.

The police department is insured under an insurance policy with the state Board of Risk and Insurance Management, and it is believed the department has a maximum liability limit of at least $1 million, the suit said.

Unger is seeking a judgment in an amount equal to the limits of the insurance policy, the suit said.

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