Huntington police again accused of civil rights violations

HUNTINGTON – Another Huntington resident is accusing the City of civil rights violations after a police officer allegedly used excessive force in arresting him.

The City and Huntington Police Officer Christopher Merritt are named as co-defendants in a three-count civil rights suit filed by William Daniel Hedrick Jr. in U.S. District Court. In his complaint filed Jan. 10, Hedrick, 42, alleges after arresting him on several misdemeanor charges two years ago, Merritt began beating him without provocation.

Hedrick’s suit is the fourth suit filed within the last eight months alleging civil rights violations against HPD. Those include one filed by a resident who alleges police attempted to delete footage he shot of them conducting a search of a vehicle following a traffic stop.

According to the suit, Merritt arrested Hedrick “for several misdemeanors” on Jan. 11, 2011. The location of the arrest and nature of the charges are not specified.

After he ordered him to the ground, Hedrick says Merritt began “forcibly manipulating” his arms for the purpose to “intentionally cause him pain.” Hedrick says at no time did he resist arrest.

In the course of the arrest, Merritt alleges Hedrick began a “vicious, unprovoked attack.” This included Hedrick beating Merritt with a baton which resulted in “severe bruising and injuries from his ankles to his buttocks... [and] to his ribs,” the lawsuit says.

According to Cabell Magistrate Clerk’s Office, Merritt was charged with auto tampering, fleeing on foot, obstructing an officer and public intoxication. They were dismissed on Aug. 3, 2011.

In his suit, Hedrick alleges Merritt’s actions resulted in him incurring, among other things, “loss of enjoyment of life, annoyance, aggravation and psychological distress… [and] past, present and future medical bills.” Along with one of assault and battery against Merritt, Hedrick makes claims of negligent hiring, retention and supervision against the city.

Hedrick seeks unspecified damages, attorneys fees and court costs. He is represented by Huntington attorneys Richard W. Weston and Connor Robertson with the Weston Law Offices, and Courtenay Craig.

The case is assigned to Judge Robert Charles Chambers.

Also pending in U.S. District Court are separate suits Joseph Pniewski and Ashley Dale Ellis have against the City.

In his suit filed Aug. 24, Pniewski alleged three officers – Dana Cowell, Ryan Bentley and James Leist – falsely arrested him on Sept. 29, 2011, while he was filming them conducting a search of a vehicle off Northcutt Court in the Fairfield West housing project. Pniewski accuses Cowell, Bentley and Leist of making a “phantom arrest” as a way to stop him from exercising his First Amendment rights as a freelance journalist in recording their activities.

A trial is scheduled for Oct. 1.

On May 11, Ellis named the City as a co-defendant in a civil rights suit originally filed in Cabell County Circuit Court. In it, he alleged a task force consisting of HPD detectives S. Hinchman and S. Bills, unknown officers from the Barboursville Police and Cabell County Sheriff’s departments and the West Virginia State Police all dressed in SWAT gear, rousted him out of bed and began striking him with their feet, fists and batons in the course of serving a warrant the year before at his home on 1st Ave. in Huntington.

In September, the case was transferred to U.S. District Court. Records show the Village of Barboursville and the Cabell County Commission were dismissed from it on Jan. 7.

A trial is scheduled for Oct. 8.

In his suit filed a week before Ellis’, Bobby Trout made similar allegations against HPD for excessive use of force. According to his complaint, Trout says Chuck Kingery, Travis Hagan and six unknown officers on May 12, 2011, entered his home with a warrant, awakened him and forced him to the floor, where they battered and beat him.

As a result, Trout alleges he suffered injuries that caused him to be hospitalized in the intensive care unit for several days. The single charge of obstructing that was filed against him was later dismissed in magistrate court.

The case, which remains in circuit court, is scheduled for trial on April 24, 2014.

U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, case number 13-cv-528 (Hedrick civil)

Cabell Magistrate Court, case numbers 11-M-215-218 (Hedrick criminal)

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