MORGANTOWN – The proposed ordinance to establish a Citizen’s Police Review and Advisory Board, which would have authority to investigate allegations of misconduct and recommend officer discipline, is now being evaluated by the West Virginia Attorney General.
Attorney General Patrick Morrisey confirmed on Talk of the Town with Dave & Sarah that his office had received a copy of the final draft of the ordinance on Feb. 10 and that he will review the language in the proposal to see if it adheres to state code.
“I want to wait until I have a chance to personally review the new proposed ordinance and then I can weigh in,” Morrisey said. “But the same principles that we talked about in the past apply.”
The principles, Morrisey referred to, were outlined in a letter sent to Morgantown City Council in September that expressed the city did not have authority to create a body with investigative powers. The letter stated that the city: “does not have the legal authority to enact any municipal ordinance purporting to conduct investigations of complaints relating to members of the Morgantown Police Department.”
Morrisey referenced Article 14A, Chapter 8 of state code in reaching his initial opinion.
“We know the a lot of the motives are good. We think there are probably some ideas that aren’t so good but our job is to look at the law and give our feedback,” stated Morrisey.
After months of open meetings, the subcommittee that worked on the details of the ordinance presented an executive summary to the Morgantown City Council Committee of the Whole meeting on Jan. 26 and defended the ordinance, stressing that the board would act only in an advisory role and could not directly discipline officers but only recommend action.
“We do not believe there is any conflict between this proposed ordinance and any provisions of the West Virginia statutory or constitutional law,” insisted Morgantown Attorney William Cohen during the meeting.
Language in the ordinance clearly states that the ultimate decision on officer discipline, if allegations of misconduct are upheld, lies solely with the police chief.
“It cannot discipline police officers, that’s something that is only done by the Morgantown Police Department,” said Dr. Jerry Carr, President of the Morgantown/Kingwood Branch of the N.A.A.C.P. “It can’t interfere with the current departmental processes.”
Teresa Toriseva, a Wheeling attorney representing Mon-Preston Fraternal Order of Police, delivered a letter to the city council on Feb. 1, expressing objections to the proposal, mainly focused on the authority to conduct investigations and recommend officer discipline. The letter promised if the ordinance was adopted as is, the F.O.P. would challenge it in court.
“We know they’re a lot of people in Morgantown who value public safety and the ability of citizens to express their first amendment rights in a peaceful manner. We agree in improving officer training and preventing unwarranted use of deadly force. Those are worthy goals,” Morrisey emphasized.
For now, all anyone can do is wait and react to the attorney general’s assessment of the proposed ordinance.
“We’re going to be taking into consideration all of the comments that are made then the special committee will meet again,” said Deputy Mayor Rachel Fetty. “Once we’ve had a chance to hear from the Attorney General’s office and get as much communication as we need.”