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Sheriff clears officers in arrest at Jefferson Co. fair

September 14, 2005|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - The arrest of a Shepherdstown, W.Va., woman at the Jefferson County Fair last month might have outraged some people, but Jefferson County Sheriff Everett "Ed" Boober has concluded there was no wrongdoing in the incident.

After investigating the arrest of Lissa Brown Janssen, Boober said in a letter to Shepherdstown Mayor Peter Wilson that all the police officers involved in the Aug. 23 arrest during a demolition derby "performed in accordance with their trainings."

Two days after the incident, about 40 people showed up at the Shepherdstown Police Department to protest the arrest.

At the time, Wilson said any investigation of the arrest would have to be completed by the sheriff's department.

Boober said Tuesday he decided to conduct an investigation into the arrest because of concerns raised by Wilson and through the media.

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Boober said he and members of his department conducted the investigation.

In his letter to Wilson, Boober said the stands at the fairgrounds were packed with spectators preparing to watch the demolition derby, a contest where car drivers crash their vehicles into each other.

Shortly before the event began, several spectators, including Brown Janssen, her husband Garth Janssen and their two children, stood in front of spectators in the bleachers, Boober said in his letter.

The couple's children were allowed to stand next to a concrete barrier and on the inside of a "safety rope" designed to protect people as vehicles collide during the event, Boober said.

After being advised that they were blocking the visibility of spectators in the stands, everyone except Brown Janssen, her husband and their children moved, Boober said.

Boober said witnesses told him that Shepherdstown police officer Chris Roper "professionally and appropriately" approached Brown Janssen and her husband at least two times and asked them to move.

"Each occasion was met with non-compliance and/or with verbal abuse from one or both of the Janssen couple," Boober said.

In his letter, Boober declined to comment further on the events that led to the arrest of Brown Janssen since the case is still pending in the courts.

The charges against Brown Janssen were filed under the name Elizabeth Anne Brown, according to Jefferson County Magistrate Court records. Brown Janssen's husband said his wife uses that name for business purposes.

Brown was charged with assault on an officer, resisting and obstructing, said Jefferson County Magistrate Court records.

A criminal complaint filed against Brown Janssen said she became upset and pushed an officer after her family was asked to stand behind a barricade at the derby.

The woman was then put in a straight-arm hold and taken to the ground to be handcuffed, according to the complaint. She struggled with police, who used pepper spray and a Taser to subdue her, according to a report by Deputy V. Tiong.

Katherine Bragg-Stella, one of the people who participated in the protest outside the Shepherdstown Police Department, said at the time that one of Brown Janssen's eyes and face were badly swollen.

A group of local residents concerned about the incident formed a group called Citizens for Community Safety and posted pictures of Brown Janssen said to be taken after the arrest on the group's Web site.

In a press release posted on the site, the group is asking for Roper's resignation or that he be reassigned.

"This barbaric act of brutal force is shocking to our families," states a press release on the Web site.

In an interview Tuesday, Boober said there was an "abundance of information" which indicated Roper acted appropriately.

During his investigation, Boober said he developed a great concern for the Janssens' children because they were allowed to stand near the derby.

"Cars catch fire, pieces of metal are known to fly out and away from the event and the only protection afforded the audience is this concrete barrier and the roped-off area between the barrier and the audience," Boober said in his letter.

Brown Janssen and her husband could not be reached for comment.

Wilson said Tuesday he was still digesting the contents of Boober's letter and said he and the Shepherdstown Town Council members probably will review it. But it's clear that Boober believes there was no wrongdoing on any officer's part, Wilson said.

"From that perspective, it's closed," Wilson said.

Despite Boober's findings, concerns persisted Tuesday.

Debora Harding, a member of Citizens for Community Safety, said police brutality is a major problem in the country, and it is difficult for objective investigations to be conducted into such incidents.

Harding said Tuesday her group wants to work with Jefferson County police agencies to set up a program that would "flag" officers who might have exhibited brutality and set up ways to deal with the situations.

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