Attorney provides insight into FOP position on police oversight in Morgantown

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Teresa Toriseva, the Wheeling-based attorney representing members of the Mon/Preston FOP came to WAJR’s Talk of the Town to explain the timing and reasoning behind a threat of legal action to prevent Morgantown from establishing a Civilian Police Review and Advisory Board.

As meetings began in July, FOP members began attending meetings and did provide limited input. As the process progressed they felt the proposal was infringing on Chapter 8, Article 14 of West Virginia State Code. The code dictates how peace officers to be hired, fired, disciplined and how investigations are handled through the Police Civil Service Commission.

According to Toriseva, by September FOP sought an opinion from Attorney General Patrick Morrisey that said the proposal would in fact violate that portion of West Virginia law.

That letter was sent to Morgantown council members, however work on the proposal continued.

“It was kind of clear to us that something was coming out of this process,” Toriseva said,” So, we tried to wait to see what came out and weigh in at a time that was appropriate rather than spend six months arguing, really to not even know what end.”

Under state law, the Police Civil Service Commission has exclusive authority to investigate claims against officers that could lead to disciplinary actions. Of the three members on the commission, one is appointed by the city, one by the chamber of commerce and one by the FOP.

“We are now at a point where what is being proposed isn’t just mildly offensive, it’s grossly illegal,” Toriseva said,” We thought it best to try to avoid litigation by writing the letter now.”

Morgantown Deputy Mayor, Rachel Fetty expressed disappointment that FOP members did not provide input to improve transparency.

ACLU Community outreach Director, Mollie Kennedy describes the lawsuit as an effort to stifle the voices of the most vulnerable members of our community.

“The FOP is not opposed to transparency,” Toriseva said,” In fact, every move that every Morgantown police officer makes while on duty, whether on foot or in their vehicle is recorded, every move, use of force or not.”

In addition to the existing Police Civil Service Commission, the city has had a long standing ban on choke holds and the first agency in the state to report every use of force incident to the FBI.

Committee members acknowledged the professionalism of the department and lack of misconduct allegations during the six-month process. Committee Chairwoman, Rachel Fetty described the board as being a proactive measure to ensure best practices are in place to prevent excessive use of force claims.

“We don’t understand what the need is and why they’re doing it,” Toriseva said,” That’s a second issue, that’s policy issue, that’s a political issue.”

Toriseva believes if the measure is passed and legal action is taken the courts will rule in their favor.

“Anything that touches upon anything in the Civil Service Act is not within the purview of city council to legislate or regulate,” Toriseva said,” It’s really that simple.”

City officials say the proposal will now be sent to the attorney general for review and comment. The committee plans to meet following the review in order to propose changes that may allow the plan to move forward.