CHARLESTON - The city of Montgomery has reached a settlement in civil rights lawsuit alleging one of its officers improperly administered a breath test, and detained a train engineer two years ago following an accidental death on the railroad.

In response to a Freedom of Information Act submitted by The West Virginia Record, Brian Parsons, Montgomery's city attorney, revealed the city paid $34,000 to a lawsuit CSX employee Rick Chapman filed against Gary Perdue, a Montgomery police officer. Chapman collected $2,000 while the remainder went to the Charleston law firm of Francis Nelson and Brison for legal fees.

According to Parsons, $15,000 of the $32,000 was the portion of the deductible the city paid to its insurance carrier, Traveler's.

The case was slated for trial on May 12. However, U.S. District Judge Thomas E. Johnston dismissed it on April 6 when the sides agreed to the settlement.

Death leads to detention

According to court records, Chapman, a Barboursville resident, was at the helm of a locomotive approaching Montgomery on June 11, 2007, about 5 p.m. when he noticed a pedestrian on the tracks. Though Chapman sounded the train's horn and applied the brakes, it was not enough to avoid hitting, and killing the pedestrian.

In the course of questioning him, Perdue, who was the first officer on the scene, informed Chapman it would be necessary to test him for drugs, and conduct a search of his luggage for weapons. Though Chapman informed Perdue testing him for drugs would violate federal law since there was no probable cause, Perdue said he would arrest Chapman and take him to jail where he would still be tested.

A short time later, records show two Kanawha County Sheriff's deputies, and Montgomery Police Chief Lawrence Washington, along with another Montgomery police officer arrived on the scene. They continued to question Chapman with Washington ordering him to take a test with a hand-held device administered by Deputy B.R. Martin.
Chapman tested negative for drugs, records show.

Sometime thereafter, representatives from CSX showed up, and informed Chapman he needed to consent to a search of his luggage. Contained in his luggage was a handgun.

Though Chapman informed police he had a valid permit, records show, Martin placed handcuffs on him, and into the back of his cruiser. After he verified Chapman did indeed have a permit, Martin asked him "if he knew he was not under arrest and that he was only being detained."

Records show Chapman told Martin that because of Perdue's prior statements, he thought he was under arrest. He was released from custody, and later taken by taxi around 8 p.m. back to his home terminal.

Along with Perdue, Washington, Martin, the city of Montgomery, the Kanawha County Sheriff's Department and the Kanawha County Commission were named as co-defendants in the suit. The United Transportation Union was a co-plaintiff in the suit.

Other suits pending

Despite the dismissal in the Chapman case, records show the city of Montgomery is a defendant in at least five other civil rights lawsuits in both state and federal court alleging police misconduct. That includes one filed by Twan and Lauren Reynolds, a mixed-race couple who were physically and verbally assaulted by then-patrolmen Shawn Hutchinson and Matthew Leavitt outside the Montgomery 7-Eleven on Sept. 26.

On July 6, Leavitt pled guilty to two counts of misdemeanor civil rights violations. He has since surrendered his law enforcement certificate, and is scheduled to be sentenced before Judge Joseph R. Goodwin on Sept. 24.

The Reynolds' civil suit against Leavitt and Hutchinson is scheduled for trial in Kanawha Circuit Court for Feb. 1, 2010.

Another lawsuit again alleges misconduct by Perdue. Veronia Strickland and her boyfriend, Damian Wales, say Perdue, who as both a Montgomery police officer, and then-Smithers police chief, repeatedly harassed them from May 2005 to August 2007.

They allege Perdue would stop the taxi caps they operated, and threaten to shut them down unless they paid him $2,000. On Aug. 17, 2007, Strickland alleges Perdue purposefully roughed her up after an arrest, and released her without filing any charges.

Though initially named as co-defendants, the cities of Montgomery and Smithers were dismissed from the lawsuit on Nov. 19.

The case is slated for trial on Dec. 8.

U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, Case No. 07-cv-00682

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