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Group protests woman's treatment in arrest at fair

August 26, 2005|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - A group of approximately 40 people gathered outside the Shepherdstown Police Department headquarters Thursday morning to protest the treatment of a woman taken into custody Tuesday night at the Jefferson County Fair.

"She was obviously very severely beaten," Katherine Bragg-Stella, one of the protesters, said of Lissa Brown Janssen, 41, of Shepherdstown. "An officer definitely struck her."

Bragg-Stella said she saw Brown Janssen after her release, but did not witness the arrest at the county fairgrounds during a demolition derby. She said one of Brown Janssen's eyes and face were badly swollen.

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"We're expressing our personal outrage at an incident that need never have happened," Bragg-Stella said Thursday afternoon.

The charges against Brown Janssen were filed under the name Elizabeth Anne Brown, according to Jefferson County Magistrate Court records. Her husband, Garth Janssen, said that is the name his wife uses for business purposes, but she did not have identification on her when she was taken into custody.

The criminal complaint against Brown Janssen by Deputy V. Tiong stated that a family was asked to stand behind a barricade during the derby. The family was then asked to leave the fairgrounds after some children were allowed near the barricade after the initial warning, the complaint states.

The deputy's report stated Brown Janssen became upset and pushed an officer. The woman was then put in a straight-arm hold and taken to the ground to be handcuffed; she struggled with police and pepper spray and a Taser were used to subdue her, according to Tiong's report.

Although the incident happened at the fairgrounds in Leetown, W.Va., Bragg-Stella said the protest was in Shepherdstown because one of the officers involved, Chris Roper, is a member of the police department. The protesters, whom she said were mostly mothers and children, believe some officers "have a history of this kind of behavior."

"We are fearful for our well-being and the well-being of our children," she said.

The protesters issued a statement saying they want Roper to resign or be reassigned while the incident is investigated.

Shepherdstown Mayor Pete Wilson said Roper is a member of the department, but was working for the Sheriff's Department at the fair.

"It did not happen here and it did not happen under our auspices," he said.

"At the present time, Officer Roper is an officer in good standing with the department," Wilson said.

Any investigation will have to be conducted by the sheriff's department "and we'll mine whatever lessons and information we can from that," he said.

Wilson said his understanding was that "two sheriff's deputies probably played a more principal role in this ... in the tasing and the pepper spray."

Attempts to reach Sheriff Everett "Ed" Boober at his office, home and cell phone numbers Thursday were unsuccessful.

Shepherdstown Police Chief Curtis Keller said Thursday he would not comment on the incident.

"She's been to the hospital. All her injuries have been documented," Garth Janssen said. She was not seriously injured but, "visibly, it looks probably a lot worse than it is."

Janssen said the couple, who own Lost Dog Coffee in Shepherdstown, sponsored a vehicle at the demolition derby and three officers were involved directly with his wife and several others were with him or nearby. "There were at least 11 on the scene," he said.

On the advice of an attorney, however, Janssen said he and his wife will not comment on the specifics of the incident. Janssen did say their sons, ages 6 and 8, were present when Brown Janssen was arrested.

Janssen said he and his wife did not participate in organizing the protest.

"What we're doing is completely separate from Lissa's journey," said Deborah Harding, another protester. "These officers are not trained properly ... They've not been trained to properly diffuse situations."

"The reason I wanted to become mayor and the issue in the election campaign was indeed the police department," Wilson said. He said he felt "a gap" had opened between the town and police "in terms of trust and comfort."

"We've got confidence in the police chief and we're going through the changes we have to," he said.

He said he knows Brown Janssen and "we're all feeling very sorry about this thing."

Harding said she feels Keller is making an effort to reform the department.

"He's in a tough position and we all feel thankful he's stepped up to the plate at a very difficult time," she said.

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