Martinsburg officer used excessive force, suit claims

By Lawrence Smith | Sep 22, 2011

MARTINSUBRG – A Berkeley County man is alleging his dispute over a rental car improperly resulted in him getting a ride in a squad car.

William E. Hale filed suit Sept. 16 against the city of Martinsburg.

In his complaint filed in U.S. District Court, Hale, 61, of Martinsburg, alleges two of its police officers used excessive, and unnecessary force – including stunning him multiple times with their tasers – to remove him from the local Enterprise Rent-a-Car agency in May.

According to his suit, Hale called the Martinsburg Enterprise early on May 6 to rent a car. He was told it would be ready after 3 p.m.

After arriving, and presenting his credit card, Hale says he was told the car he reserved was not immediately ready. However, they offered him the use of a Chevy Aveo.

According to the suit, Hale declined the Aveo saying it was "too small to physically accommodate him" and asked to speak with the manager. He then asked the manager to upgrade his reservation.

When the manager refused to upgrade his rental, Hale asked for the telephone number of the manager's supervisor. When the manager refused to provide it, Hale then asked for Enterprise's corporate office in which the manager told him to look it up himself.

Immediately, Hale called his wife, and asked her to get a number for Enterprise's corporate office. After she gave him Enterprise's toll-free number, Hale called it, and took a seat in the agency's lobby while he was transferred to customer service.

At a time not specified, MPD Officer Erin Gibbons entered the rental agency, and asked Hale to leave. Hale told Gibbons he would leave once he finished speaking with someone in customer service.

According to the suit, when he again refused the order to leave, Gibbons then removed the cartridge off his taser, and began shocking Hale with the taser's electrodes. Despite his protests to stop due to his defibrillator, Hale alleges Gibbons continued to shock him on his neck, shoulders and upper back.

Sometime thereafter, MPD Officer Michael Jones came in to assist Gibbons. According to the suit, after entering the office, Jones fired two darts from his taser into Hale's lower back which temporarily disabled him.

After handcuffing him, Gibbons and Jones placed Hale in their cruiser. They denied his request to provide him one of his nitroglycerin pills after he began experiencing chest pains.

Nevertheless, the suit maintains an ambulance was dispatched to the police station as a precaution. Though an EKG taken of him was normal, Hale was advised by paramedics to seek medical treatment.

After he issued a citation for obstructing, and released, Hale was taken to Martinsburg's Veteran's Hospital by his daughter. According to his suit, he was released three days later with "more than thirty burn wounds on [his] neck, shoulders and back, permanent scarring and numbness to his left hand."

Along to the city, Hale names Gibbons and Jones as co-defendants in his suit. In addition to ones for civil rights violations, he makes claims against them for assault, battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The West Virginia Record attempted to find out the status of the obstructing citation issued against Hale. Calls made to Martinsburg Municipal Court during normal business hours were routed to voice-mail.

Hale seeks unspecified damages, attorney fees and interest. He is represented by Martinsburg attorney Harry P. Waddell.
The case is assigned to Judge John Preston Bailey.

U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia case number 11-cv-78

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