Bluefield named in police brutality suit

By Audrey Holsclaw | Jul 16, 2008

BLUEFIELD -- The city of Bluefield, its police department, chief of police and two officers have been named as defendants in a federal case following the continuing harassment and false arrests of a Mercer County couple.

Glenn and Paula Illig and their son, Chase, filed a suit against Bluefield, Bluefield Police Department, Chief Joe Wilson, Sgt. G. W. Lightfoot and Cpl. S. S. Whitt on July 10 with the help of Anthony Majestro and J. C. Powell of the Charleston firm of Powell & Majestro.

On Jan. 10, 2006, the complaint says the Bluefield Police Department took a complaint against both Paula and Glenn Illig for an alleged offense of trespassing two days earlier for retrieving their son's ball from a neighbor's yard.

However, in December 2005, a police officer had told the Illigs to retrieve their son's ball from the neighbor's yard. After receiving their summonses, the Illigs decided to put up a "ball stop" on their fence line between their property and the neighbor.

However, Gerald Steele, the building inspector for Bluefield, stated the "ball stop" did not comply with city code and must be removed.

Then, on March 16, 2006, Steele, by letter, informed the Illigs that the placement of their garbage for residential pick-up was unacceptable even though their garbage cans were on the Illigs' own property. The Illigs responded to Steele's letter, asking where to place the garbage, and were told to place it on their side of the property line. Steele also stated in his reply letter that he would drive by to see if the placement was acceptable. It was.

Things continued to deteriorate for the Illigs.

On April 13, Patrolman H.E. Naumann, Whitt, and Lightfoot were dispatched to the Illigs' home to issue Glenn a citation for a loud music complaint. Glenn was not home when they arrived, and the officers blocked the Illigs' driveway, refusing to let Paula take Chase to baseball practice until Glenn arrived and produced his driver's license. The Illigs say they had been quietly in their home at the time the loud music was supposed to have occurred.

At 4 p.m. on April 20, the officers showed up at the Illigs' home again alleging they received a complaint of loud music, and that if it happened again, they would arrest the Illigs. However, the Illigs again say they were quietly in their home at the time the loud music was supposed to have occurred.

The following day, officers were patrolling the alley behind the Illigs' home.

The officers began patrolling near the Illigs' home every day. On April 24, an officer issued Glenn Illig a notice to appear for a disorderly conduct charge based on his running a leaf blower in his yard.

On April 27, the Illigs received another letter asking them to move their garbage again. Over this period, the police visited the Illigs' home at least seven times stating they had complaints of loud music.

On Whitt's visit to the Illigs' home, he told Glenn Illig that he would arrest Glenn and Paula for something even if he had to make it up.

On June 14, the city solicitor for Bluefield sent the Illigs a letter asking them to move their garbage to the spot where it originally had been.

The Illigs, by this time, had been convicted of trespassing charges in Bluefield municipal court; however, they appealed to the Circuit Court of Mercer County and the charges were dismissed.

When their counsel mentioned to the Court that there were outstanding charges of disorderly conduct for operating a leaf blower and for loud music, the judge suggested to Janet Williamson, Bluefield's prosecutor, that she dismiss those charges as well because those actions are not in violation of any law. Williamson refused.

Then, on July 20, the Illigs were served a notice to appear -- Glenn for assault and indecent exposure and Paula for assault. Naumann served the summonses, and the Illigs refused to take physical possession of them. Whitt arrived on the scene and told the Illigs to accept the summonses or he would place them under arrest for obstructing an officer. The Illigs continued to refuse and were arrested. Whitt then broke Glenn's nose while arresting him, the complaint states.

Naumann, on a later occasion, admitted the charges against the Illigs were bogus.

Following these incidents, the complaint states Chase has begun to have nightmares of police officers chasing and shooting at him.

According to the suit, Whitt and Lightfoot have a history of off-duty violence and arrests, which Chief Wilson knew about, and Bluefield's police department has had many similar occurrences in the past of police brutality and false arrest. The Illigs believe Wilson has been and continues to protect his officers despite their brutal and illegal behavior.

Filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, the suit states that the Illigs are seeking a trial by jury to award monetary and injunctive relief for conspiracy, unreasonable and excessive force, false arrest and imprisonment, supervisory liability, gross negligence, assault and battery, malicious prosecution, harassment, infliction of emotional distress, and punitive damages.

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