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Shepherdstown police chief quits

October 28, 2004|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Charles Cole resigned Wednesday afternoon as Shepherdstown's police chief, saying he could not agree with Mayor Peter Wilson on how to run the department.

Cole was police chief for five years and was a 23-year veteran of the West Virginia State Police.

Cole's resignation follows a difference of opinion about the police department.

When Wilson was running for mayor earlier this year, he said many people in town believed the police department does not respect the department and some business owners feel the police department does not understand them.

Although many of the feelings might be based on erroneous assumptions, "the perception is a problem enough," Wilson said at the time.

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Cole's resignation also follows the 2002 arrest of a woman in Shepherdstown that led to allegations of excessive force by a police officer.

Nancy VanTol was arrested Aug. 30, 2002 following a traffic stop in which Shepherdstown Police officer Charles Lynch pulled over VanTol on High Street for a burned-out headlight.

Cole said VanTol was charged after she refused to obey instructions from Lynch three times and fled from him on foot.

Lynch eventually caught VanTol after a short distance, Cole said at the time.

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

An eyewitness to the traffic stop said VanTol never refused to do anything when she was stopped.

After VanTol got out of her car and started walking toward the Blue Moon Cafe on East High Street, Lynch "took her down aggressively," the witness had told police.

Cole later concluded that Lynch did not use excessive force.

Cole based his conclusion partly on the fact that VanTol would not get back into her car after being asked more than once to do so during the traffic stop.

The case against VanTol eventually was dismissed after a judge ruled that the town took too long to pursue the case.

Wilson said Wednesday night that some people in town felt the VanTol case was never resolved.

An incident about a month ago also caused concern among town residents, Wilson said.

A Shepherdstown police officer had pulled over a person for suspected drunken driving when some passers-by became involved in a verbal dispute with the officer, Wilson said.

Concerns within the community about the police department had risen to the point where the situation had become a problem, Wilson said. And when such a situation is not addressed, it can act like a "poison" in the town, Wilson said.

"This thing never settled down, in my estimation," Wilson said.

Despite the concerns, Cole said Wednesday night he felt his department acted in a professional manner.

Cole said he always had an open-door policy in running the department and developed procedures for town residents to make complaints about officer actions.

"In my opinion, the police department is not the bad guys out here," Cole said.

Cole said he told Wilson and town council members about two weeks ago that he did not believe he was the person to lead the department.

Cole said he made the comments based on how the mayor and council wanted to see the department operated.

Cole said he prepared a resignation letter, but later rescinded his resignation after he and Wilson reached an agreement.

The agreement called for the police department to consider other approaches that officers can take in situations, Cole said.

Under the agreement, Cole would educate town residents on why police take certain actions.

On Monday, Cole, Wilson and a police officer met and the mayor came up with a plan to address a situation involving the officer, Cole said.

Because Cole felt the mayor's approach was the opposite of the agreement they had reached, Cole decided to resign Wednesday.

"I am no longer Chief Cole, I am Charlie Cole," Cole said.

Wilson said he does not know what kind of process town officials will use to replace Cole.

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