MARTINSBURG – George Rutherford said he knows what it feels like to be stopped by police because he’s black.
[cleeng_content id="953752243" description="Read it now!" price="0.49" t="article"]It’s not an uncommon occurrence, said the Jefferson County NAACP president, who attended the annual meeting of the state organization in Martinsburg last week.
“We feel that almost all black men are subject to racial profiling by some police,” Rutherford said later in an interview. “There are some very good police departments out there, but there are some police departments that racially profile black men or Latino men.
A central focus of the group’s meeting was the ongoing court case over the police shooting of Wayne Jones, an African-American man from Stephens City, Va., in March.
Rutherford said the investigation by police into the incident illustrates why he advocates the creation of a citizens review board to investigate police conduct.
“We would like to see a citizens review board,” he said. “In the case in Martinsburg, for example, is that the citizens review board, along with law enforcement and other state agencies, would sit down and do our own investigation and come out with a recommendation.”
Police reports indicate that Jones was shot by Martinsburg Police officers multiple times after being stopped while walking down South Queen Street. During the altercation with police, Jones, who was shocked with Tasers, stabbed one officer in the torso, before being shot dead as he attempted to get up.
Sherman Lambert, a Shepherdstown lawyer representing Jones’ family, claims in a lawsuit filed recently that he has information that Jones was shot between 15 and 25 times.
“We have not received a copy of the autopsy report or the actual findings of the West Virginia State Police, who are charged with doing the investigation into the death of Mr. Wayne Jones,” Lambert said in an interview. “It is my understanding that that report is forthcoming, but we don’t know what the results are. That is what everyone is waiting for at this point.”
The Martinsburg Police Department recently filed motions to have the case dismissed and to quash summons served on Chief Kevin Miller. The motions argue that the police department is a subunit of the City of Martinsburg and cannot be sued as a separate entity.
Lambert said the motions will merely change the parties in the case.
“They can take out the Martinsburg Police Department. We don’t need them in, but what we do need is the employer of the officers, which is the City of Martinsburg, and the specific officers,” he said. “We still don’t know the identity of those officers. They have not been disclosed.”
Lambert said the police report paints a picture of a man who was not a threat at the time he was shot because he was still on the ground, attempting to get up.
“He was in … the most vulnerable position,” Lambert said. “You are no threat to anyone if you are trying to get up off the ground.”
“There were other reasonable measures that could have been taken at that point. He could have been tackled or whatever else,” Lamber said. “Just to pull off all those rounds – it is mind-boggling to me. Every officer had a Taser. Wouldn’t that be the next reasonable measure?
“We believe that it was excessive force, there is no doubt about it. You can look at it any way you want to look at it. For someone who was in that vulnerable position to be shot that many times … is not necessary to eliminate an alleged threat.”
Jones was prescribed medication for schizophrenia. Lambert argues that officers in Martinsburg have not been adequately trained for dealing with mentally ill suspects.
“The problem is with training,” Jones said. “The problem here is that we know that Martinsburg doesn’t have a protocol for mentally ill suspects.”
Jones argued that the officers involved in the case exhibited a “cowboy mentality” that was inappropriate.
“Race is always a factor, however, in this case and other cases, I firmly believe that there is an element patrolling on the streets that has a cowboy mentality,” he said. “I don’t think that anyone, irrespective of race, creed or color is safe.”
Rutherford said the incident has had a major effect on the black community in the area.
“The black community is sort of in limbo waiting to see what is going to happen, and we are fearful that nothing is going to happen,” he said. “What worries me about the case in Martinsburg is that the State Police is investigating it, and all law enforcement in West Virginia go through the State Police Academy. So what you’ve got is the people who do the training investigating the people they trained.”
Rutherford said he does not advocate giving such a review board the right to fire police officers directly, but should be given the right to make a recommendation.
He said individuals who feel they have been profiled should contact the state’s Human Rights Commission or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.[/cleeng_content]