Decorated Huntington police officer sued over arrest

By Lawrence Smith | Mar 25, 2013

HUNTINGTON – A Huntington police officer who has been recognized for his number of yearly DUI arrests twice in the last three years has had one he made last year called into question.

HPD Officer Joseph W. Koher is named as a co-defendant in a four-count civil rights suit filed by Nicholas Evans. In his complaint filed March 15 in U.S. District Court, Evans, 32 and of Huntington, alleges Koher stopped him without probable cause for DUI and later knocked him to the ground so as to add a charge of obstruction and pad his arrest record.

Evans’ suit is the fifth filed in the last year to allege civil rights violations by HPD.

According to the suit, Evans met with friends on St. Patrick’s Day 2012 at an undisclosed location in downtown Huntington. After leaving the establishment at an unspecified time, Evans was later stopped by Koher.

Upon approaching his window, Evans says Koher instructed him to get out of the car. When asked twice why he was being stopped, Koher, Evans alleges, said “Shut the (expletive) up.”

According to the suit, Evans complied and Koher began to place him under arrest. When he asked a third time why he was being arrested, Koher then swept Evans’ leg knocking him to the ground, the suit claims.

Once on the ground, Evans alleges Koher “slammed his face into the pavement with his hand on the back of his head.” Afterwards, Koher charged Evans with DUI and obstructing.

According to the suit, the charges were later dismissed.

In his suit, Evans alleges his arrest is not an isolated incident, but rather “a pattern or practice of [Koher] pulling vehicles over without reasonable suspicion.” Koher’s “modus operandi,” Evans says, “is to see people leaving drinking establishments, pull them over without committing any traffic offenses, and then create pretextual reasons for the stop.”

Citing HPD’s own statistics, Evans says “Koher now has more DUI arrests per year than the entire HPD had before his arrival.” For both 2010 and 2012, Koher was presented the DUI Officer of the Year Award by the Governor’s Highway Safety Office.

According to the office, Koher last year made 251 DUI arrests, including Evans’.

Following his arrest, Evans says he requested a copy of the video taken from Koher’s dashboard camera. On April 23, he says he received a reply saying “Officer Koher was assigned to vehicle 176, which is not equipped with video camera monitoring equipment.”

However, Evans avers four days later he was able to take pictures of the cruiser which is “in fact equipped with video camera monitoring equipment.”

Along with civil rights violations, Evans alleges as a result of Koher’s “cowardly attack,” he had his two front teeth knocked out, which were “replaced after multiple procedures and surgery.” However, Evans maintains he now speaks with a lisp.

Along with ones for civil rights violations against Koher, Evans makes claims of negligent hiring, retention and supervision against HPD and the city of Huntington, which are named as co-defendants in the suit. Along with unspecified damages, court costs and attorneys fees, Evans seeks a court order instructing the city to better train its officers on the elements necessary to charge a suspect for obstructing and when to properly execute a leg sweep.

He is represented by Huntington attorneys Richard Weston and Connor Robertson, who are counsel for either William Daniel Hedrick, Jr. or Joseph Pniewski, two other Huntington residents who allege, among other things, they were arrested without provocation only to have the officers tack on obstructing as a “phantom charge.” Their cases are also in U.S. District Court, with Pniewski’s scheduled for trial on Oct. 1.

Separately in U.S. District Court is Ashley Dale Ellis’ suit against HPD and the West Virginia State Police. In it, he alleged a task force consisting of HPD officers, unknown officers from the Barboursville Police and Cabell County Sheriff’s departments and WVSP all dressed in SWAT gear, rousted him out of bed at his home on 1st Ave. and began striking him with their feet, fists and batons in the course of serving a warrant.

Earlier this year the village of Barboursville and the Cabell County Commission were dismissed from the suit. Trial is scheduled for Oct. 8.

In a case pending in Cabell Circuit Court, another Huntington man, Bobby Trout, alleges eight HPD officers 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. A trial in his case is scheduled for April 2014.

Records show the arrests in Hedrick’s, Pniewski’s, Ellis’ and Trout’s cases were all made in 2011, the same year HPD received the Law Enforcement Agency of Year Award from U.S. Attorney R. Booth Goodwin II.

Evans’case is assigned to Judge Robert C. “Chuck” Chambers.

U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, case number 13-cv-5316

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