A West Virginia State Police cruiser | Courtesy photo
CHARLESTON — Toriseva Law has sent a third notice of forthcoming legal action to the West Virginia State Police regarding hidden cameras that were placed in the women’s locker room.
Attorney Teresa Toriseva said change has to happen with the State Police.
“The culture at the West Virginia State Police Training Academy is toxic and hostile toward female cadets. Dramatic change must come,” Toriseva told The West Virginia Record. “This hostility affects female law enforcement officers across West Virginia because all certified police officers must train at the Academy.”
Toriseva said the video-taping in the female locker room and the destruction of evidence and cover-up about that video-taping is one egregious example that has affected many.
“There are many more examples of abuses of power and misconduct toward women at the Academy and those details will be coming out in the lawsuits that we will begin filing immediately,” Toriseva said.
Toriseva’s June 16 letter is the latest of three she has sent the attorney general and the State Police regarding the locker room issues.
“Over the last several months, I have compiled evidence and interviewed numerous witnesses about the experience of female law enforcement officers who have visited and attended classes at the academy,” Teresa Toriseva wrote in the June 16 letter. “I have sufficient evidence to proceed against the West Virginia State Police and I intend on doing so.”
Currently, Toriseva’s office represents 67 individuals with potential claims against the State Police.
“Our ongoing investigation shows rampant sexual misconduct, including hidden videotaping, toward female cadets and others, while they attended the Academy,” Toriseva told The West Virginia Record in April. “Much of the conduct is through witness-provided evidence.”
According to the mailed notice, several of these women were subjected to varying levels of physical and emotional abuse and were most likely videotaped with hidden cameras in the locker room.
“All of these women were victims of a civil conspiracy perpetrated by instructors, staff and leadership at the West Virginia State Police Academy,” the letter states. “Accordingly, these women will bring suit seeking all available damages under the law.”
On March 20, Cahill resigned from his position and Gov. Jim Justice named Jack Chambers the interim superintendent.
The State Police has been the subject of criticism and investigation in recent weeks following an anonymous letter making monetary and sexual allegations about the agency and troopers.
In the complaints filed earlier this year, the plaintiffs alleged they attended the WVSP training academy and were secretly and intentionally recorded by a hidden camera or cameras.
Gov. Jim Justice has said the video recordings in the women’s locker room were made in 2015 by a now-deceased trooper and the 2020 destruction of a hard drive that included some of those recordings by three other state troopers.
Justice said the troopers discovered the thumb drive containing the video and that one of them “jerked the thumb drive out, threw it on the floor and started stomping on it.”
Former WVSP Superintendent Jan Cahill also confirmed that “the drive with the footage was discovered and ordered destroyed with no investigation.” He also said he was “troubled it was destroyed.”
The impending plaintiffs accuse the defendants of spoliation of evidence, invasion of privacy, breach of confidentiality, violations of the West Virginia Human Rights Act based on gender, violations of the state Constitution for deprivation of rights, privileges and immunities, negligent supervision, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, violations of the West Virginia Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Act and negligence.
The women say they have suffered anxiety, humiliation, annoyance, inconvenience, invasion of privacy, emotional distress, pain, suffering, mental anguish, loss of ability to enjoy life and other damages.
WHEELING – The Ohio County Commission has approved an agreement settling backpay litigation with county deputies and civilian Sheriff’s Department employees.
During its May 16 meeting, the commission unanimously voted to approve the settlement agreed to earlier this month. That resolve three civil lawsuits filed in December. Attorneys for both sides issued a statement May 8 announcing the settlement. A mediator helped finalize the deal. The deputies approved the agreement last week.
“The Ohio County Sheriff’s deputies are the backbone of public safety in Ohio County,” said Teresa Toriseva, attorney for the deputies. “The foundational support the civilian members provide allows the deputies on patrol to do their jobs effectively.
“The back pay award fixes some discrepancies in compensation that have occurred in the past and the raises for all members of the Sheriff’s office ensure the department can keep the deputies it has and recruit new one in the future.”
The resolution includes a 23 percent pay raise for all law enforcement members of the Sheriff’s office and a 16 percent raise for civilian members. Both raises are retroactive to January 1. It also provides for better processes accounting for time, will assure more law enforcement coverage at The Highlands, particularly the Sports Complex, and clarifies and clears up ongoing issues with overtime and other time off matters.
“The County Commission values the Ohio County Deputies, their law enforcement responsibilities, and the job they do every day,” said Bill Wilmoth, attorney for the commission. “Additionally, the civilian employees provide crucial support to the deputies that make their law enforcement work possible.
“This resolution recognizes each groups’ important work and ensures public safety for the citizens of Ohio County.”
The settlement term sheet also includes says the Commission will pay the plaintiffs $60,507 in holiday pay, paid as payroll; $3,400 in compensatory time pay, paid as payroll; and $36,093 in lost wages to employed certified police officers for lost wages from the Highlands extra duty work pay from January 1 to May 1, paid as payroll. It also will pay $185,000 to the plaintiffs as general damages as 1099 wages. Also, all retired and separated plaintiffs shall receive $5,000 as a one-time payment as a 1099. The deputies’ attorney fees and court costs of $125,000 will be paid as well.
In addition, the deputies will receive overtime pay at a rate of time and a half after 40 hours of actual work each week, and compensatory time in lieu of wages will be discontinued. Deputies can carry any remaining vacation time hours until May 31, 2024. Also, all COVID-related sick time for 2020 will be reinstated and/or returned to the deputies, and the hourly rate for Highlands extra duty will be $50 per hour.
The sheriff’s department employees, including deputies, filed three lawsuits in December in Ohio Circuit Court. Nine days later, they filed amended complaints alleging retaliation against them by the commission for filing the lawsuits by reducing the plaintiffs’ pay and benefits.
In one complaint, 29 sheriff’s deputies say they have been denied at least one week’s pay by the county switching the payroll to being paid ahead by two days to being paid entirely in arrears. In the second, 31 employees claim they should have been paid the same as other county employees during the COVID-19 pandemic who received full pay but worked half of the hours. In the third, 16 plaintiffs allege they were forced to use their own earned paid sick time to comply with the county COVID policy of quarantining or otherwise not coming into work when the reason they couldn’t come into work was caused by a work event.
Last April, several members of the Ohio County Sheriff’s Office had filed grievances with the Ohio County Commission about the matter.
Toriseva and Josh Miller of Toriseva Law represented the deputies, and Wilmoth of Steptoe & Johnson represented the county.
Ohio Circuit Court case numbers 22-C-210 (weekly pay), 22-C-211 (COVID pay) and 22-C-212 (sick leave)
CLARKSBURG – A federal judge has remanded two lawsuits originally filed by Morgantown police officers and firefighters accusing the city of retaliation back to state court.
On May 4, U.S. District Judge Thomas Kleeh issued memorandum opinion and orders in both cases. They will be heard in Monongalia Circuit Court, where they originally were filed in September. The city removed the cases to federal court a few weeks later, and the plaintiff asked Kleeh to remand them a few weeks after that.
The two lawsuits – one by 48 members of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 313 and another by 43 members of the Mon-Preston Fraternal Order of Police Local 87 – originally were filed after the groups issued a statement regarding their votes of no confidence in the entire city government to “competently administer public safety.”
“Even a cursory reading of plaintiffs’ complaint reveals the complete absence of any semblance of a federal claim on that pleading’s face,” Kleeh wrote in both of his May 4 orders. “Defendant fails to cite any provision of the complaint to support its claim a federal question exists here. Instead, defendant argues it ‘must rely on’ the Fair Labor Standards Act to defend the matter.”
The attorney representing both groups of plaintiffs said her clients are happy with Kleeh’s order.
“The Morgantown firefighters and police officers are all pleased with this ruling, which is the correct legal analysis,” Teresa Toriseva told The West Virginia Record. “The retaliation claims are based in state law.
“We’re eager now to move forward in the proper venue and for these first responders to all have their day in Monongalia County Circuit Court.”
In the original complaints, the members of the Morgantown fire and police departments claimed retaliatory actions following previous legal actions regarding pay and benefit issues. They also filed civil service complaints with the city seeking hearings on the issues.
“The backbone of any city, large or small, is its public safety servants,” Toriseva told The Record in September when the suits originally were filed. “Firefighters and police officers are a city’s main resource.
“The laws protect them from retaliation and mistreatment on the job that can be brought on by the changing winds of city politics. These lawsuit filings today aim to enforce the state laws that city officials refuse to follow.”
The two complaints were filed September 7 in Monongalia Circuit Court.
In their complaint, the firefighters claim the city has violated their right to seek redress for their grievance by reducing pay and benefits to punish or retaliate against them.
“The defendant has chosen to retaliate against the plaintiffs and other Morgantown civil service employees by reducing their pay and manipulating the leave system to punish those city employees that exercise their right to petition the courts,” the complaint states. “The plaintiffs have brought two lawsuits against the defendant seeking to correct various wage and compensation issues.”
The lawsuit details “unprecedented challenges” the department is facing to recruit and retain firefighters. It says those issues mean minimum staffing requirements rarely are met.
“Firefighting staffing challenges created by the city threaten the overall public safety of Morgantown residents, Morgantown structures, and citizens’ real and personal property,” the complaint states.
Members of IAFF Local 313 previously filed a lawsuit against the city alleging negligent failure to properly pay statutory holiday premium.
Last summer, the city amended the employee handbook to change how firefighters are paid wages and benefits. They firefighters allege this was done in retaliation for the lawsuit.
“The changes to pay and compensation were unnecessary and arbitrary, designed only to punish, devalue, and retaliate against the firefighters for their continued fights in the courts to be paid,” the complaint states.
Under the new compensation scheme, both firefighter pay and leave is affected. The new pay scheme eliminates Master Firefighter pay, hazard pay, longevity pay, shift differential pay and emergency overtime pay. It also reduces the amount of paid time off a firefighter can bank and also eliminates sick time.
The complaint says firefighters could lose as much as $1,260.60 per year under the new pay scheme.
In the police complaint, the officers say their department also is understaffed. As of August 31, it is authorized to have 76 officers. Currently, there are 55 officers. Recruitment is an issue for the police department as well, the complaint states.
The officers say the city’s new pay scheme also reduces their pay and benefits, which has “affected department morale and threaten public safety as trained, experienced police officers seek other employment further adding to the staffing crisis.”
The complaint says the new pay scheme reduces overtime availability for police officers, eliminates the ability to accrue additional sick leave, additional vacation leave and additional holiday leave. It also changes how compensatory time can be used.
Both groups accuse the city of violating their rights to petition for redress of grievances, official retaliation by city government actors, violating the West Virginia Wage Payment and Collection Act and violating the state Whistle-Blower Law. The firefighters also accuse the city of violating public policy and violating the Takings Clause of the state constitution.
Both groups seek compensatory damages, interest, attorney fees and court costs. Both are being represented by Toriseva, Joshua Miller and Michael Kuhn of Toriseva Law in Wheeling. The city is being represented by Ryan Simonton, Erin Webb and Matthew Elshiaty of Kay Casto & Chaney.
U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia case numbers 1:22-cv-00094 (FOP) and 1:22-cv-00095 (IAFF); Monongalia Circuit Court case numbers 22-C-214 (FOP) and 22-C-216 (IAFF)