Myers v. A.S. Taylor, et al., U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia (2014)
Wrongful death lawsuit against multiple “Special Response Team” members of the West Virginia State Police following a “no knock” entry into a 71 year old man’s home, resulting in his death. A settlement was reached shortly before trial, obtaining a financial settlement, as well as compulsory re-training for every West Virginia State Police officer on the legal requirement to knock and announce prior to executing a search warrant. This is the only known case in West Virginia history analyzing the legal requirement for “no knock” warrants.
Co-Guardians of Isadora Beavers v. Betty B. Brown, Monroe Circuit Court (2014)
Elder financial abuse civil lawsuit filed against a bank Vice President who had obtained a power of attorney for an elderly bank customer. The 93 year old woman walked into our office one day complaining that her power of attorney was stealing from her. We were ultimately hired by her family to attempt to recover her assets so that they could pay for her medical care. We obtained a large jury verdict, which recovered all the assets, as well as an amount of punitive damages in excess of the stolen assets. The bank official was ultimately indicted using evidence we provided, and is currently in prison.
Sawyer v. Wood County Commission, et al., U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia (2012)
Brian Sawyer was arrested for misdemeanor charges in Parkersburg, Wood County, West Virginia, and was brought to a holding facility to be processed. During the processing, he ended up being choked and punched in the face by the arresting deputy, which was caught on video. We filed a civil lawsuit (1983 case) on his behalf, which went to jury trial. We lost the jury trial. However, the federal judge presiding over the case threw the jury verdict out and granted judgment as a matter of law in our favor, which was an unprecedented ruling in West Virginia. The ruling was upheld on appeal following oral arguments before the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. Now, the case is the only known federal constitutional case law in West Virginia analyzing the legality of choking by police officers. It is also the only known case law in West Virginia ruling that police misconduct caught on video is enough, by itself, to find officers committed excessive force violations.
“Today the citizens of West Virginia, Maryland, Virginia North Carolina and South Carolina have more constitutional protections than they did yesterday,” John Bryan, Sawyer’s attorney, wrote in a statement.
“As a result of today’s ruling, which affirmed the District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, law enforcement officers will be taught to treat people differently, and that if they fail to do so, there will be consequences. Because of Brian Sawyer, and the federal court system, millions of people have more freedom. And that is something I am very proud of.”
During the trial, Sawyer’s lawyer, John H. Bryan, asked the judge to make a ruling on the case based on the video. Goodwin said that he had “grave concerns” that the testimony of the officers involved contradicted the footage.”I said in response to the motion that I was reminded of the Marx Brothers’ ‘Duck Soup’ movie, in which the heiress confronts Chico Marx dressed as Groucho and says ‘I saw’, and he replies ‘Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?’ ” the judge wrote.
Seabolt v. City of Parkersburg, et al., U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia (2012)
Our client was arrested for public intoxication and during processing, he was punched in the face during processing at the Wood County Holding Center. This punch, which knocked our client immediately unconscious, was caught on the exact same surveillance camera as the Brian Sawyer beating, discussed above. It was revealed that the mayor of the City of Parkersburg had held a meeting and ordered officers to start beating people up and to put them in the hospital. The accused officer admitted to being in that meeting. The city attempted to throw the officer “under the bus” by firing him, charging him with a crime, and by denying him insurance coverage for our lawsuit. We successfully assisted the officer in proving that the meeting occurred where officers were ordered to attack citizens, and that he acted within the orders he was given by the city. We helped obtain coverage for the officer, a six figure settlement for our client, and transparency for the people of Parkersburg.
Bryan said Seabolt hopes to call the alleged policy to light.”Rather than to attempt to settle his case quickly and quietly as others have done, my client has courageously chosen to address the issue from the top down,” he said, “in order to ensure that the people of Parkersburg never again have to fear for their physical safety at the hands of those entrusted to protect them.”
“I first became involved with civil rights issues in Parkersburg in June of 2010,” Bryan said after the settlement was reached. “With this settlement, I sincerely believe that these issues will not be coming up again. We’ve been through three years of federal court litigation, three six-figure settlements, two jury trials and two trips to the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.
“I’ve interacted with local leaders, police officers, citizens, local lawyers and Charleston defense lawyers, and I believe everyone is on the same page regarding Parkersburg’s future — which means that my time in Parkersburg has probably come to an end.
“Joshua Vensel is a good person who made one mistake. I uncovered no evidence of any prior acts of excessive force by him. In the end, he did right by Mr. Seabolt, and I have no doubt he will go on to lead a successful life. Lastly, I want to thank my co-counsel Michele Rusen and my opposing counsel Jim Muldoon for being great lawyers who are not afraid to do the right thing,” he said.
Sadler v. City of Parkersburg, et al., U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia (2014)
Our client was yet another arrestee who was beaten and choked during his arrest processing in the City of Parkersburg, West Virginia. Yet again caught on the same surveillance video camera. It was hard to believe that it had happened again. His lawyer brought the case to us and we quickly filed a lawsuit. It didn’t take long to settle this time. This ended up being the “nail in the coffin” apparently for city leadership, which was replaced shortly thereafter. Our client had been previously shot by the same officer.
Everett v. Morgan County Commission, et al., U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia (2011)
Our client was a retired correctional officer who was shot two times through the front door of his home by a Morgan County deputy. The deputy had responded to a report of a domestic disturbance. When our client refused to open the door, the deputy attempted to kick-in the door. Then when that failed, he fired two shots through the door with his pistol, hitting my client in the abdomen. The dash cam video and audio showed a West Virginia State Police officer arriving to the scene, and telling the deputy that he would be investigating the shooting, and then advising the deputy to turn off his audio microphone and to go home without making a statement to him. As is often the case with police cover-ups, the deputy’s subsequent written statement was completely different than the story he was captured on audio telling everyone who would listen at the scene of the shooting. We eventually settled the case mere days away from the jury trial.
State of WV v. John D. Cozatt, Circuit Court of Mineral County, West Virginia (2013)
Criminal prosecution of a West Virginia business owner and his wife for selling potpourri products which the State alleged were actually “synthetic marijuana.” This was the first case of its kind in West Virginia, and involved a host of new legal concepts, including whether the State can prosecute people for selling substances which have never been identified as illegal under state or federal law.
State of WV v. Jessie and Angel Willis, Circuit Court of Greenbrier County, West Virginia (2012)
Criminal prosecution of two Greenbrier County EMS workers who were caught taking, and sharing, cell phone photos of a gunshot suicide victim. The couple was facing felony charges, in the first-of-its-kind prosecution for the State of West Virginia. We successfully argued to the court that the charges must be dismissed as a matter of law, prior to trial. The court agreed and dismissed the felony charges. Our clients, although sued civilly, were not convicted of any crimes. It was subsequently reported in the news that the State Legislature was crafting new legislation to criminalize the behavior following the dismissals.
Cole v. Fayette County Commission, et al., U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia (2012)
Federal civil rights cases where we represented a disabled seizure victim who complained that he was beaten by police officers and then dropped off outside his parents’ home in the middle of the night with no medical treatment, and no explanation to his parents. The case ultimately settled favorably for our client.
Mazza v. City of Parkersburg, et al., U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia (2010)
Federal civil rights case where we represented a gay man who was beaten by Parkersburg Police officers, who allegedly called him a gay slur during the beating. This occurred in our client’s fenced-in backyard, which was another civil rights violation. The case was subject to an FBI investigation and was ultimately settled before trial. This was our first Parkersburg case, and was the case that discovered the allegation that the mayor had ordered his officers to start beating people up and putting them in the hospital.
Evans, et al., vs. United Bank, et al., Monroe County Circuit Court (2009)
Civil bank fraud case against the state’s largest bank, involving Walnut Springs, a multi-million dollar real estate investment fraud, which took place in the midst of nation-wide bank and appraisal fraud.
People who purchased land more than a decade ago on a Monroe County mountaintop aren’t surprised, their lawyer says, that the man who was supposed to develop that land pleaded guilty to a federal crime.
What is surprising, said Monroe County lawyer John Bryan, is that developer Daniel Berg hasn’t been charged by federal prosecutors with lying to the people who bought the land. Many of those people claim in a lawsuit that Berg lured them to purchase overpriced property that he had promised to turn into a multi-million-dollar housing subdivision, but never did.
“My clients were surprised,” Bryan said Friday. Surprised because they aren’t considered the victims in the federal case against Berg, he said.
Bryan said he and his clients spent a lot of time working with federal authorities during their investigation into the mountaintop development.
“We were told there was going to be a prosecution and we spent years working with federal investigators, doing victim interviews and showing how they were financially impacted by the fraud,” he said.
Bryan represents 33 plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed in 2009 in Monroe County Circuit Court who purchased property on the mountain and allege a former United Bank vice president worked to inflate appraisals of the property. The lawsuit also claims United Bank knew of the scheme. The bank has denied the allegations, according to court documents.