CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia's newly appointed interim state police superintendent said Wednesday he's begun reviewing past investigations conducted by the force amid allegations of misconduct brought to light by Gov. Jim Justice earlier this week.
Interim state police Superintendent Jack Chambers said he wants to restore public confidence in the agency.
“West Virginia, I want you to know: The West Virginia State Police will not give up on you. I promise," said Chambers, who is a retired state police officer.
It was his first public address since the deputy director of the Capitol police was appointed interim state police superintendent Monday. Chambers is a former state police deputy superintendent and lieutenant colonel.
State police leadership is accused of failing to properly investigate and discipline officers accused of a range of misconduct over the years, including stealing money at a casino and placing a video camera inside a women’s locker room.
Justice ordered a sweeping investigation of the state police Monday after he accepted the resignation of the agency’s superintendent Jan Cahill. Justice announced Chambers' appointment then, saying he will conduct “an all-out investigation” to replace one that started last month under Cahill and was nearing its completion.
Chambers said Wednesday he doesn't have new information to release yet.
It's unclear whether any punitive action can or will be taken in the cases of state troopers accused of misconduct, none of whom have been named publicly. Some officers involved are no longer employed with the state police, according to officials. One is dead.
One focus of Chambers' investigation will be an allegation that a state police employee hid a video camera in the women’s locker room at a state police facility in Kanawha County. Justice has not specified when it occurred but indicated Monday it was several years ago, perhaps before Cahill took over, and that the employee involved later died.
Justice said three troopers eventually found a thumb drive, “and from that they found the video.” At least one of the troopers “jerked the thumb drive out, threw it to the floor and started stomping on it."
You can’t make this stuff up, can you?" Justice said. "Now we’ve got law enforcement officers destroying evidence.”
A separate case that will be investigated involved money allegedly stolen by a trooper from a man at a casino in the Charleston suburb of Nitro. In the alleged theft, a man was playing a video machine with a trooper close by, Justice said. As the man got up to go to the restroom, an envelope fell out of his seat. The trooper picked up the envelope and kept the money inside.
The governor said state police should have immediately begun an investigation but didn't.
Justice's Chief of Staff Brian Abraham said Wednesday that Cahill has made comments in local news interviews since his resignation indicating that he didn’t have the authority to terminate the trooper for the alleged theft when he became aware of it, partly because the officer in question was retiring.
He said, “That absolutely is not correct.”
“In fact, a person can’t even receive the retirement unless it can be demonstrated that they served their obligation honorably,” Abraham said. “You could argue certainly that the theft of the money, the incident, if it had been prosecuted, if it had been disciplined, may have prevented that person from even being able to receive that retirement.”
Abraham said the statute of limitations has likely run out on any possible criminal charges. The money allegedly stolen was a little over $750, which would have been a misdemeanor crime.
Under West Virginia law, the state police superintendent has discretion to “demote, discharge or reduce an employee" if he or she believes “egregious conduct" has occurred, Abraham said. Employees then have the right to appeal those actions.
He said the West Virginia Supreme Court has also ruled that when the state police superintendent of the believes there’s been misconduct, he or she has “a mandatory duty to investigate that misconduct.”
Abraham said these laws should have applied in both the casino and locker room cases. The governor's chief of staff said Cahill had a duty to investigate the locker room allegation when he became aware of it, even if he wasn't superintendent at the time when it occurred.
Abraham said he would not assert that Cahill attempted to mislead the public about any issues, "but perhaps he did not understand the roles and responsibilities associated with being the superintendent of the state police."
Justice said Wednesday officials are taking the allegations seriously.
“This is not somebody stealing copper out of lines you know, way back up hoohoo holler," he said. “This is a police officer, the people that we entrust everything in the world to.”