More suits may be coming against Fayette officers

By Kelly Holleran | Sep 17, 2008

CHARLESTON -- Two Fayette County residents have filed suits against police officers in the Montgomery and Smithers Police Departments, alleging the officers violated their rights after multiple unlawful stops and arrests.

And there may be more suits to come.

In the first suit filed May 22 in U.S. District Court, Clyde Sullivan alleges he was beaten after he was pulled over by a Smithers police officer in front of his house on April 6.

Sullivan told the Charleston Gazette he was helping close his father's bar and was leaving it when he was pulled over.

Neal, the Smithers officer, asked him if he had been drinking, but he had not, according to the story Sullivan told the Gazette.

"My client does not smoke, does not drink, does not use drugs, and doctors have put him on a pacemaker," Michael Clifford, his attorney, said in a phone interview.

Officers told Sullivan he had a broken taillight, Sullivan told the Gazette.

"After exiting his car, plaintiff was viciously assaulted, thrown against his car, and later thrown down on the pavement by defendant R.V. Neal, without provocation, and without any resistance whatsoever, while the defendant John Doe #2 sat by and watched," the suit states about the same stop.

Neal transported Sullivan, who has a pacemaker, to the police station. Throughout the ride, Neal cursed, belittled, humiliated and degraded Sullivan because of his pacemaker, according to the complaint.

Sullivan claims that on April 14, Neal issued a warrant for Sullivan's arrest despite having already issued a citation. He claims the warrant was obtained by Neal's false and fraudulent testimony.

The warrant was held at the Smithers Police Department until May 3, when it could be served after Fayette County magistrates were off duty, the suit states.

Officers arrested Sullivan in front of his infant children when no one else was able to supervise them, according to the complaint.

Sullivan was then transported to Southern Regional Jail, according to the complaint. He could not be released until the following day because the magistrates were off duty, the complaint states.

In addition, Sullivan claims he was not allowed to contact his lawyer or to retrieve his heart medication.

"Officers arrested my client for no reason," Clifford said.

There is the possibility Sullivan is not the only one officers have been harassing, Clifford said.

In another suit filed Sept. 5 in federal court, Veronia B. Strickland and Damian Wales claim they have been the subject of repeated threats and unlawful stops by Gary Perdue, an officer for both the Montgomery and Smithers Police Departments.

The first incident happened in late May or early June of 2005 when Perdue approached Strickland at her taxicab business, Ray's City Cab, according to the suit.

He told Strickland that in order to run the business, she would have to pay him $2,000 per month, the suit states.

Strickland claims Perdue also told her some of the business's taxis were picking up clients from drug houses and that he would charge drivers with possession if she refused to pay him the $2,000 per month.

Strickland told Perdue she had no knowledge of any drug houses and that drivers could not refuse passengers unless there was a legitimate reason, according to the complaint.

After the meeting, Perdue did issue one of Strickland's drivers a ticket, the suit states.

Strickland continued to have run-ins with Perdue and each time he would either threaten her or demand money from her, according to the complaint.

For example, Strickland and her boyfriend, Wales, ran into Perdue in Montgomery in 2006, where he told them, "You guys are going to pay me the $2,000 I want," the suit states.

In another instance, Strickland claims Perdue seized Strickland's daughter's military identification card in November 2006 and told Strickland she could get it back only if she paid him the $2,000 per month.

Later, in spring 2007, Strickland discovered her bookkeeper, Peggy Harper, had embezzled $85,000 from the company dating back to December 2004, when the business opened, until Jan. 31, 2007, according to the complaint.

Harper was having an extramarital affair with Perdue, the suit states.

Strickland claims that on Aug. 17, after she found out about Harper, she was driving a taxi, and Perdue pulled her over to sort out personal issues involving Harper.

"During the traffic stop, excessive force was used by Officer Perdue which caused physical bodily harm to Veronia Strickland," the suit states.

Strickland was eventually released and no charges were filed, the complaint states.

Strickland claims she filed a complaint Aug. 20, 2007, with the Montgomery Police Department about the alleged incident.

In an attempt to get Strickland to withdraw the complaint, Perdue made threats to her and Wales, saying he would continue harassing their company's drivers and passengers, get Strickland and Wales accused of crimes they had no knowledge of, and set the couple up on charges of selling and distributing drugs, according to the complaint.

Because of the threats, Strickland withdrew the complaint Aug. 21, but Perdue has continued to threaten and harass Strickland and Wales, the suit states.

Both Mark Kelley, Strickland's attorney, and Clifford, Sullivan's attorney, say they have heard of similar cases and may file additional suits.

Kelley would not comment on how many extra actions he is looking into, but Clifford said he is investigating about six additional.

"We've been conducting a rather extensive investigation of police departments in the upper Kanawha Valley," Clifford said. "There's a lot of similar stuff – cases of officers pulling young women over for law enforcement things and doing full body searches, claiming they were searching for drugs."

Clifford said he has not filed any additional suits at this time and does not plan to until he is sure they are valid.

"We've got to interview potential witnesses," he said. "We don't want to file them until we're certain they're absolutely meritorious."

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