West Virginia Record

Monday, December 9, 2019

Man settles excessive force suit against Martinsburg Police for $35K

By John O'Brien | Apr 30, 2013


MARTINSBURG – During his appeal to a federal appeals court, a Martinsburg man has settled his excessive force lawsuit against the city’s police force.

Attorney Harry P. Waddell says his client, William Hale, recently agreed to settle his lawsuit for $35,000. Hale was appealing a summary judgment ruling in favor of Officer Erin P. Gibbons by U.S. District Judge Gina Groh.

Gibbons was the only remaining defendant in a lawsuit originally filed in 2011 against another officer and the City of Martinsburg. Groh ruled in January that Gibbons did not use excessive force while arresting Hale at the Enterprise Rent-A-Car in Martinsburg on May 6, 2011.

After Hale appealed the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, mediation was scheduled for Feb. 27, after which the briefing deadlines were extended. On April 22, Hale filed a motion to dismiss his appeal because of the settlement.

According to Groh’s opinion, on May 6, 2011, Hale was involved in a dispute with the manager of an Enterprise Rent-A-Car in Martinsburg and he refused to leave after being asked to.

Gibbons arrived in response to a call placed by Enterprise and found Hale talking on the phone in the Enterprise lobby. Gibbons asked Hale to leave the rental agency and Hale responded that he would leave after he finished his phone call to Enterprise’s customer service department.

The opinion states, “The Plaintiff alleges the Defendant became agitated and told the Plaintiff to leave the rental agency again. The Plaintiff continued his call. At that point, the Defendant allegedly began tasing the Plaintiff on the neck, shoulders, and upper back.

“According to the Plaintiff, even though he advised the Defendant he had a defibrillator, the Defendant continued to administer repeated shocks to the Plaintiff’s neck, shoulders, and back.”

At this point, another police officer, Officer Michael Jones, responded and they were able to subdue Hale, remove him from Enterprise, and place him in the back of a patrol car.

Hale alleged that he began to experience chest pains during the incident, and at some point after his release from the Martinsburg City Police Department later that day, he was carried to a local hospital by his daughter. He was released on May 9, 2011.

“The Plaintiff alleges the Defendant and Officer Jones’ use of force resulted in more than 30 burn wounds on his neck, shoulders, and back,” the opinion states.

The version of events described by the officers was decidedly different from the plaintiff’s.

“According to the Defendant, the Plaintiff was ‘speaking in circles,’ holding the telephone up to his ear without talking into it, then putting it down in his lap. Therefore, the Defendant concluded the Plaintiff might be mentally impaired,” the opinion says.

“When the Plaintiff commented he was calling his daughter or wife to pick him up, the Defendant offered to give the Plaintiff a ride to a nearby 7-Eleven store to wait for his ride. The Defendant testified based on the Plaintiff’s behavior, he feared the Plaintiff might be ‘buying time,’ and ‘on the brink of exploding.’

“Thus, the Defendant alleges he gave the Plaintiff several more orders to leave and placed a call for backup. At this point, the Plaintiff stated ‘the only way I’m leaving is by physical force.’”

Gibbons claimed that after grabbing Hale by his arm, Hale pulled away from him and Gibbons then administered a five-second burst to Hale’s back. After it appeared that the initial burst did not faze Hale, Gibbons tased Hale again several times in an effort to get Hale to lie on the floor and stay there.

From the West Virginia Record: Reach John O’Brien at jobrienwv@gmail.com.

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