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Police officer named in federal brutality suit

January 06, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A federal lawsuit has been filed against Shepherdstown Police Department officer Chris Roper, alleging Roper threw a Shepherdstown man into an alley during an incident in 2003, kicked him several times and slammed his head into a brick wall.

The suit claims that after Justin Pistore was handcuffed, Roper repeatedly forced Pistore's head into some gravel.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Martinsburg, alleges that Roper held Pistore's head in the gravel, opened Pistore's right eyelid with his finger and sprayed pepper spray into Pistore's eye from about one inch away.

The suit claims Pistore, 29, was taken to a local hospital to be treated for serious injuries and seeks compensatory and punitive damages, although no specific damages are named in the suit.

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The suit also names former Shepherdstown Police Chief Charles C. Cole Sr. as a defendant.

The suit alleges Cole knew of the incident and that Roper and other law enforcement officials under the direction of Cole have had reputations for using excessive force.

Roper declined to comment when reached Thursday night and referred comments to his attorney. Attempts to reach Cole, Shepherdstown Mayor Peter Wilson and Shepherdstown Police Chief Curtis Keller also were unsuccessful.

The incident involving Pistore started on or about Nov. 20, 2003, while Pistore and two friends were walking along German Street in Shepherdstown "in a lawful and peaceful manner," the suit states.

The group was approached by Roper and an unidentified female officer, the suit states.

"Without any provocation," Roper ordered that Pistore accompany him to an unknown location, according to the suit. When Pistore's friends said they and Pistore were going home, Roper threatened to arrest Pistore's friends if the two individuals did not immediately leave, the suit states.

Pistore, "fearing the violent reputation of defendant Roper," became scared and began running on German Street, the suit states.

Pistore then realized his mistake, stopped and waited for Roper, according to the suit.

"Within seconds after Mr. Pistore stopped, defendant Roper slammed into him and threw him into a narrow alley on German Street, between Princess Street and King Street," the suit states.

"As a result of defendant Roper's unnecessary and violent actions, Mr. Pistore was slammed first into a brick wall and then to the ground," according to the suit.

After Roper allegedly sprayed pepper spray into Pistore's eye, Roper kicked Pistore several times in his left side, the suit states.

Pistore said he then heard the female officer say "you better stop, there's someone watching," according to the suit.

Roper then picked up Pistore, moved him farther out of sight and slammed his head into a brick wall, the suit states.

Pistore lost consciousness and woke up in the Shepherdstown Police Department, according to the suit.

The suit, filed Nov. 16, 2005, claimed the arrest of Pistore violated his rights under the first, fourth and 14th amendments under the U.S. Constitution, including the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.

Shepherdstown attorney Greg Bailey, who is handling the case, declined to comment Thursday about how he plans to prove the allegations.

Roper was involved in another incident last year at the Jefferson County Fair. Jefferson County Sheriff Everett "Ed" Boober decided to investigate that matter because of concerns that were raised by Wilson and through the media.

Police said the incident involved a couple who did not move after they were told they were blocking the view of people attending a demolition derby.

After Lissa Brown Janssen was arrested at the fair Aug. 23, about 40 people showed up at the Shepherdstown Police Department to protest the arrest.

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

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

Boober later concluded that there was no wrongdoing in the fair incident and that all the officers involved "performed in accordance with their trainings."

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