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Man files suit against W.Va. state police

November 09, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A Martinsburg man whose arrest in January 2007 by the West Virginia State Police was recorded on videotape is claiming his civil rights were violated and that troopers used excessive force to detain him.

A 10-page complaint filed Oct. 16 on behalf of Steven S. Witt by attorney Christopher P. Stroech also makes claims of unlawful arrest, assault, battery, false imprisonment and asks for damages, attorneys' fees and a jury trial.

West Virginia State Police Lt. Col. Steve Tucker said Friday the agency was aware of the lawsuit, but he could not comment on specifics.

"We are frequently the subject of lawsuits and often the allegations made in the complaint are found to be untrue," Tucker said. Attorney Lucien G. Lewin has been retained by state police to handle the case, Tucker said.

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Four charges filed against Witt, 41, of Inwood, W.Va., after he was arrested were dismissed in February 2008 by Berkeley County Magistrate JoAnn Overington over the objection of the Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney's office.

In a motion to dismiss the 2007 case, Witt's attorney, B. Craig Manford, said a copy of the videotape provided to his office showed a "progression of events at great odds with events set forth in the arresting officer's narrative."

Manford argued in his motion that his copy of the video footage also did not contain audio and noted that a subsequent request to have the original tape evaluated at a forensic laboratory could not be accommodated because the recording was apparently disposed of.

The trooper who filed the complaint against Witt said the man he arrested appeared to match the description of a suspect who two days earlier had a physical encounter with another officer, according to court records.

The trooper said in his complaint that Witt screamed expletives at him when he asked the man for his identification while seated in a car parked at 6525 Winchester Ave., in Berkeley County, according to court records.

The trooper said in his complaint that Witt, after being directed to stay in the car, continued to get out of the vehicle and yell, and did not comply with commands to get back in the car.

After two other troopers arrived, the officer said Witt made an aggressive move toward them, and he was physically restrained after a brief struggle.

In his possession, police later found a small amount of marijuana, a smoking device and four Oxycodone pills wrapped in clear plastic.

Witt was charged with possession of the drugs, battery and obstructing a law enforcement officer.

Overington dismissed the charges, finding "good cause" to grant Manford's motion, which alleged violations of due process.

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