WVU denies it violated man's rights

By Kelly Holleran | Nov 24, 2008

CLARKSBURG -- West Virginia University's Board of Governors, its interim president and its police chief deny a Morgantown man's allegations that his constitutional rights were violated after he was detained by police while visiting the campus's Mountainlair.

Kenneth Williams claims he was sitting peacefully in WVU's Mountainlair on Oct. 11, 2007, when officers approached him and asked to search him, then insisted he sign the WVU Department of Public Safety Trespassing form, according to a complaint originally filed in Monongalia Circuit Court.

The form threatened Williams's arrest if he returned to the campus or any of its adjacent buildings without written permission, the suit states.

Williams, who is not a student at the school, claims he signed the form under duress.

In an answer to the suit, WVU officials argue they received a complaint from the Mountainlair staff before they approached Williams.

While WVU officials admit to searching Williams, they claim they "requested that Plaintiff step into a more private area" before the search began.

They also say they asked Williams "to sign the West Virginia University Department of Public Safety Trespassing form," but deny they forced Williams to sign the document under duress.

WVU's practice and policy is to stop, detain and search individuals without probable cause, to determine who can be on the campus, to bar people from the campus without giving them the opportunity to be heard and to coerce individuals into signing their rights away, the Monongalia suit states.

Such policies are a denial of citizens' rights and deprive people of their First, Fourth and 14th Amendment rights, the Monongalia suit states.

The university's officials deny charges that their policies deny people's rights. And while members of the public are allowed to visit the Mountainlair, it is mainly reserved for students and staff, they claim.

"Defendants assert that members of the public are permitted to enter the Mountainlair to make purchases from various food vendors and attend public functions within the building; however, the Mountainlair is a student facility which is primarily intended to be open for the use of students and others affiliated with West Virginia University," the answer states.

After the Mountainlair incident, Williams returned to WVU to ask questions about his detention and to file a complaint against the WVU police officer who detained him at the Mountainlair, according to the Monongalia County complaint.

"In retaliation for the filing of a complaint, the officer added an addendum to Mr. Williams's file which falsely accused Mr. Williams of matters that are defamatory and that were placed in Mr. Williams's file with reckless disregard for the truth," the suit states.

Williams claims the officer filed a complaint against him because Williams exercised his right to complain.

WVU's officials admit that Williams did file a complaint, "but are without knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief as to the truth of the remaining allegations," the answer states.

They deny Williams's argument that WVU's police officers defamed and retaliated against him because of his complaint.

Because of WVU's conduct, Williams claims he suffered emotional distress, embarrassment, indignity, humiliation and mental anguish.

WVU denies his claims are true.

Williams is seeking unspecified damages, declaratory and injunctive relief, attorney's fees and other relief the court deems proper.

WVU officials removed the case to federal court Nov. 6 on the grounds that certain claims arise under the United States Constitution.

In their answer, WVU officials also claim that Willliams fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

Richard M. Yurko of Steptoe and Johnson in Clarksburg and Christi R.B. Stover in Morgantown will be representing WVU.

Allan N. Karlin, Jane E. Peak and Sarah E. Wagner of Allan N. Karlin and Associates in Morgantown will be representing Williams.

U.S. District Court case number: 1:08-cv-199

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