January 18, 2022

Westover, West Virginia Mayor Cranston Dave Johnson Accused of Defending Rogue Cop Aaron Dalton

17 min read


In August 2020, after a summer of rage over police violence, 11 of the 15 members of the police division in Westover, West Virginia, turned on one in every of their very own.

In a letter hand-delivered to the mayor, Cranston “Dave” Johnson, and later shared with the media, the cops boldly declared the town was at risk. “The security and notion of this Metropolis, it’s workers, and it’s [sic] Officers for years, has been threatened and tarnished because of the actions of a singular Officer, Lieutenant Aaron Dalton,” it said.

Dalton, who joined the Westover Police Division in 2013 after being requested to resign from the close by Fairmont Police Division within the midst of a racial-profiling lawsuit, was accused of horrific acts. Amongst different issues, his fellow cops wrote that Dalton, who’s white, routinely violated the civil rights of residents, threatened to kill different officers, destroyed proof, and used “racial profanity” to “incite” residents of colour.

“His disregard of, or nonexistent respect for the Badge,” the letter said, “can not go on any longer with out motion.”

In accordance with his fellow cops, the letter was written and distributed due to what many believed to be an absence of accountability that solely emboldened the rogue of their midst. “Reviews pertaining to Aaron Dalton’s misconduct have been made a number of instances and motion has not been taken,” they claimed.

The letter didn’t level fingers at anybody particularly. However interviews with present and former metropolis leaders and residents and a evaluation of a state investigation into alleged misconduct by Dalton counsel he was personally shut with the mayor, fueling a notion the cop was protected by him.

Dave Johnson would promote out his mom if it benefited him.

Councilman Ralph Mullins

The sordid affair, which incorporates claims of an tried money payoff to one in every of Dalton’s alleged victims, factors to longstanding points that come up in eradicating officers from a division. Besides on this occasion, it was members of the division themselves calling for an officer’s ouster, and a neighborhood politician who was accused of defending him.

Rick Panico, the previous chief of police of the Westover Police Division, who resigned shortly after the letter was drafted, informed The Day by day Beast that someday round early 2020, Dalton—after having been concerned in two incidents of alleged extreme drive in 2019 that resulted in federal lawsuits towards the town—was transferred to a extra administrative function. It was there, Panico claimed, that Dalton and Mayor Johnson first obtained to know one another and the place, he and others allege, Johnson started to take a liking to the cop.

“He grew to become the mayor’s nightstick,” Panico informed The Day by day Beast, including that he tried to start out the method of getting Dalton fired shortly after the letter went public in August 2020.

Ralph Mullins, a councilman within the metropolis who has referred to as for impartial investigations into Johnson and been outspoken concerning the lack of self-discipline for Dalton, agreed, saying there was “little question” in his thoughts that the mayor was defending the officer.

“Dave Johnson would promote out his mom if it benefited him,” he mentioned. “However for no matter motive, he’s defending and has protected Aaron Dalton come hell or highwater. And there’s obtained to be a motive for that.”

Johnson didn’t reply to repeated requests for remark for this story. Dalton additionally didn’t reply to requests for remark.

Westover Metropolis Legal professional Tim Stranko pushed again on any claims that Johnson prevented Dalton’s elimination from the police division, noting that in accordance with state code, the mayor can not fireplace particular person officers. As an alternative, a disciplinary listening to have to be convened by a police chief following an investigation. Positive sufficient, a listening to for Dalton is scheduled in January 2022.

Nonetheless, since August 2020, Dalton has been on paid administrative go away from the police division—a proven fact that has annoyed some within the metropolis conscious of his alleged misconduct. To make issues worse within the eyes of critics, this previous April, Stranko and an lawyer representing Dalton engaged in talks a few potential $80,000 settlement for Dalton to go away, in accordance with emails obtained by The Day by day Beast.

The settlement talks have been adopted by the discharge on YouTube in September of a closed-door dialog in September 2020 between Metropolis Legal professional Stranko, then-Chief Panico, Westover Police Lieutenant John Morgan and Westover Metropolis Councilman Steve Andryzcik. The dialog got here shortly after the discharge of the letter signed by members of the division slamming Dalton.

He’s been on trip for 2 years on taxpayer {dollars} and that’s sufficient.

Frank Huy

In the course of the dialog, Panico is heard saying there are “two police departments,” one which he runs and “the one the mayor has” with Dalton. Stranko is then heard saying he was unaware of the state of affairs however that the officers’ letter represents a “enormous danger” to the town. “Why couldn’t we’ve solved this stuff by dialog and by working collectively?” he asks.

Andryzcik, in the meantime, claims on the audio recording that it was “horseshit” that the council did Mayor Johnson’s bidding and helped disguise points with Dalton. “If we’re not knowledgeable, we are able to’t do something,” he mentioned, conceding that Dalton was a “most cancers.”

In a latest interview with The Day by day Beast, Andryzcik declined to touch upon Dalton’s present standing, however maintained that the town council has no say in police issues. He additionally pledged his help of Johnson and mentioned he didn’t imagine the mayor was personally managing the cop. As an alternative, he mentioned, the mayor wished extra code enforcement to occur in regard to run-down automobiles and used Dalton to get that work achieved after it was clear Panico and the officer had a “main conflict.”

“There was no parallel division operating,” Andryzcik mentioned. “It was a matter of this officer was doing what the mayor requested with our ordinances. Following up, which is the police division’s job.”

Frank Huy, a resident of the town who has been vocal about Dalton and what he alleges to be bigger corruption within the metropolis involving the mayor, mentioned he believes the supply of settlement to Dalton following all of the drama and his lengthy interval of paid go away was a slap within the face to residents.

“I don’t suppose the residents need to pay Dalton one cent,” Huy informed The Day by day Beast. “He’s been on trip for 2 years on taxpayer {dollars} and that’s sufficient. He’s gotten greater than he ought to have gotten.”

Know one thing we must always about police misconduct? E-mail [email protected] or attain him securely through Sign at 978-464-1291.

Stranko informed The Day by day Beast the $80,000 supply in April was the mayor “pitching attempting to settle this” however that it didn’t characterize a proper supply. Nonetheless, he mentioned, conversations about settlements have gone south since then, and the town and Dalton are awaiting the January 2022 listening to. “I believe Lt. Dalton is resolute in asserting his innocence and he desires his day in court docket, in order that’s the place we’re going,” he mentioned.

Stranko added that the suggestion Dalton ever did the mayor’s bidding whereas on the drive was “ludicrous.” He defended Johnson, arguing the mayor’s pushback to Panico’s frequent complaints about Dalton had nothing to do together with his affection towards the cop. Stranko went on to say that previously, the longtime mayor had seen via firing processes by which the town was pressured to shell out hundreds to drawback officers after makes an attempt to fireside them didn’t comply with correct procedures or have sufficient documented proof.

Likewise, the town lawyer argued, Mayor Johnson believed Panico’s case for firing Dalton on the time was not very robust, and that it may open the town up for litigation. “The mayor wasn’t defending Dalton, the mayor was defending the town,” he mentioned.

Panico reacted incredulously to Stranko’s feedback.

“What does it take to fireside a cop?” he mentioned. “What number of instances does a citizen must have his civil rights violated earlier than we’ve to take motion?”

Justin Byrd, a 35-year previous Black man, was among the many first to complain about Dalton’s policing in the course of the officer’s earlier gig working for the Fairmont Police Division. In accordance with a lawsuit filed by Byrd, in March 2011, Dalton and different officers arrived on the scene of a minor accident between Byrd and a white girl, and singled him out due to his race.

In an interview, Byrd informed The Day by day Beast the lady’s automobile struck his personal from behind, and that he initially meant to cope with the matter with out the cops. However Byrd mentioned he referred to as the police so a report may very well be written.

In accordance with the lawsuit, nonetheless, as a substitute of inquiring concerning the accident, Dalton interrogated Byrd and requested if he had weapons or medicine in his automobile. Then, with out Byrd’s permission, the swimsuit alleged, Dalton and different officers searched Byrd’s automobile and later introduced in a K9, which he claimed scratched up his automobile and broken his laptop. Nothing was discovered, in accordance with the swimsuit, and Byrd was not charged with any crimes.

Byrd’s swimsuit’s central competition was that Dalton and different officers racially profiled him in the course of the encounter. In response to the swimsuit, Dalton argued via attorneys that he acted “fairly and in good religion.” The case was settled in August 2013, in accordance with court docket filings.

Byrd informed The Day by day Beast that though there have been at the least three officers current on the incident, he particularly remembered Dalton, who he mentioned was “being as nasty as will be,” even though Byrd was hit within the automobile crash. “I used to be like ‘Hey, what concerning the accident? Aren’t you going to ask me if I’m alright? I used to be simply hit from behind.”

Byrd mentioned he additionally felt that Dalton’s actions, in gentle of his allegedly ignoring the white girl Byrd mentioned hit him, made him really feel like he was being handled in a “racist kind of manner.” Following the incident, he moved to Florida and hadn’t stored up with Dalton’s whereabouts. When he realized about subsequent incidents of alleged misconduct the officer was concerned in after altering departments, nonetheless, Byrd mentioned he wasn’t shocked.

“Doesn’t shock me one bit.”

In accordance with a duplicate of Dalton’s software to the Westover Police Division reviewed by The Day by day Beast, the officer was “requested to resign” from the Fairmont Police Division in 2013 because of “private variations” with the police chief on the time, Kelley Moran.

Moran didn’t reply to a request for remark. The Metropolis of Fairmont additionally didn’t reply to a request for remark. The Fairmont Police Division declined to remark.

Panico was interim chief of police in Westover in 2013 when Dalton was employed. He mentioned that though Dalton informed him he was underneath investigation by the FBI for an undisclosed motive, the officer was nonetheless licensed, and the chief may by no means get any info from his earlier division concerning the nature of any alleged misconduct. So the then-chief took an opportunity on hiring him.

“The FBI doesn’t affirm or deny the existence of an investigation,” a spokeswoman for the company informed The Day by day Beast.

In accordance with an April 2021 memo from Stranko, the Westover Metropolis Legal professional, that outlined Dalton’s disciplinary file in Westover, the officer had only one citizen grievance for being “impolite and aggressive” to residents in 2017. However consideration on him within the metropolis magnified when he was concerned with two high-profile incidents that led to federal lawsuits and big black eyes for the small metropolis.

The primary centered on an encounter on New 12 months’s Day 2019 with Andre Howton, a 56-year-old Black man. In accordance with a federal swimsuit filed by Howton, he referred to as the police to assist him with a girl in his residence who he claimed was trying to make use of medicine. Officers Zachary Fecsko and Dalton arrived at his residence within the early morning hours.

Physique-camera footage of the incident exhibits Howton complaining concerning the girl, telling the officers, “I simply need her out of my home.” Because the officers escort the lady out, Howton repeatedly calls her a “crackhead” from his entrance door. At one level, Fecsko confronts Howton and says, “In case you’re in your individual home, you are able to do that stuff. In case you’re going to return out right here and yell, you’re going to see a distinct particular person—you perceive me?”

U.S. District Courtroom for the Northern District of West Virginia

As Fecsko turns to depart, Howton calls the lady a crackhead as soon as extra, prompting Fecsko to yell, “Get your ass out right here boy” and pull Howton from the doorway and throw him to the bottom. The video exhibits Fecsko punching Howton repeatedly whereas Dalton throws one other man on the scene to the bottom and yells, “Spray that motherfucker. Spray him.” As Howton is cuffed, Dalton yells, “You requested for that, Andre. You earned it.”

As he’s on the bottom in cuffs, Howton yells, “I didn’t contact you!” and says he’s glad for Dalton’s digital camera, which was turned on in the course of the trade. Howton was charged with Disturbing the Peace, Disorderly Conduct, Obstruction, and Battery on an Officer—prices which have been all later dropped, in accordance with his swimsuit.

Howton didn’t reply to a request for remark. Fecsko additionally didn’t reply to a request for remark.

In a movement to dismiss the case filed by attorneys representing Dalton and Fecsko, the pair argued that Howton had develop into “hostile” in the course of the interplay and “battered” Fecsko. Though Howton claimed his use of the phrase “crackhead” was free speech, the officers claimed they have been “combating phrases.”

In latest months, the continuing case has included allegations that Mayor Johnson allegedly explored “bribing” Howton with money in a paper bag, in accordance with a February submitting by Howton’s attorneys for a subpoena of Brian Walden. Walden, a neighborhood landowner who was as soon as Howton’s landlord, allegedly referred to as Howton’s attorneys in January providing to offer them with a recording of Johnson providing a $50,000 bribe to Howton throughout a gathering between Walden and Johnson, in accordance with a movement filed in court docket.

In accordance with the report, [ex-Chief] Panico informed investigators that when he first assigned a lieutenant to conduct an inner investigation into Cox’s lacking telephone, [Mayor] Johnson requested him, “Why can’t you simply make this go away?”

The thought was apparently that Howton’s ex-landlord would function a type of intermediary. Nevertheless, in accordance with a movement filed in court docket, Walden has to date failed to supply the recordings, as he allegedly “fears retaliation” from Johnson.

Walden didn’t reply to a request for remark. Walden’s lawyer, George Armistead, informed The Day by day Beast his shopper was underneath a court docket order not to discuss the problem and declined to remark additional.

Attorneys representing Dalton and Feckso argued that the alleged assertion concerned “exploring settlement” with Howton and mentioned the try to supply the alleged recording was solely an effort to “additional bias” the officers and “sensationalize” the case.

However Dalton made waves within the metropolis once more simply months after Howton’s arrest with the August 2019 arrest of William Cox, a 52-year-old white man.

In accordance with a lawsuit filed by Cox, Dalton and Westover Police Division Officer Justice Carver confronted him after driving previous his automobile of their patrol automobile one morning, and noticing him videotaping the officers together with his telephone. The swimsuit claims the officers pulled as much as Cox and requested why he was recording. After Cox allegedly asserted his proper to proceed, the officers obtained out of their automobile and “violently attacked” Cox, in accordance with the swimsuit, “subjecting him to a cruel onslaught of punches, kicks, and pepper spray when he was defenseless, and posing no threats.”

Cox was charged with disorderly conduct, obstructing an officer, and battery, however all his prices have been later dropped. Neither Cox nor Carver responded to requests for remark.

Westover Mayor Dave Johnson

westoverwv.org

In a police report obtained by The Day by day Beast, Carter mentioned he stopped to talk to Cox as a result of he believed he wanted “help.” He mentioned as quickly because the officers appeared, Cox shouted at Dalton to “flip his physique digital camera on!” Carver mentioned Cox later cursed on the officers repeatedly and allegedly disobeyed a disorderly conduct warning. Carver claimed that when he stepped out of the automobile and requested Cox to place his fingers behind his again, Cox punched him within the face and he hit again to “defend himself.”

Carver mentioned Dalton then “tackled” Cox to the bottom.

In his personal police report, Dalton mentioned he’d arrested Cox on a earlier event, and since then, Cox would scream “fuck you” to him and do different “scary” issues. He mentioned that along with tackling Cox, he hit him 3 times within the higher leg as a result of Carver was at risk at one level throughout a scuffle on the bottom.

These experiences, nonetheless, got here into query after a close-by surveillance video was launched and didn’t seem to point out Cox throwing any preliminary blows, as Carver claimed. The incident grew to become additional coloured by the truth that Cox’s telephone, which recorded the interplay, went lacking shortly after he was arrested.

In accordance with filings from the Metropolis of Westover in Cox’s swimsuit, his cellphone was taken into proof in August 2019, however the metropolis was unable to find it once more till this previous August.

The disappearance of the telephone, together with the letter from officers in August 2020, led to Dalton being positioned on administrative go away in August 2020 and, in September 2020, to an investigation by the West Virginia State Police as ordered by Monongalia County Prosecutor Perri Jo DeChristopher.

The report interviewed quite a few members of the Westover Police Division and included officers chatting with Dalton’s historical past of alleged misconduct within the division, in addition to his ties to the mayor.

In accordance with the report, Panico informed investigators that when he first assigned a lieutenant to conduct an inner investigation into Cox’s lacking telephone, Johnson requested him, “Why can’t you simply make this go away?” Panico additionally claimed to investigators that Johnson had beforehand informed him Dalton “works for the mayor,” and even requested him to “bury” an investigation into Dalton that concerned him allegedly having intercourse with a girl on obligation, in accordance with the report.

Carver, in the meantime, testified to investigators that he didn’t have his physique digital camera on in the course of the encounter with Cox in 2019 as a result of he knew “how Dalton would react,” chatting with the officer’s alleged historical past of telling others to not activate their physique digital camera in his presence.

Carver informed investigators that after the arrest of Cox, he wished to get a search warrant to obtain the contents of the telephone, however that Dalton took the telephone and threw it into the grass outdoors of the police division and mentioned he would “handle it.” In accordance with the report, Carver final noticed Dalton place the telephone in a submitting cupboard. He mentioned Dalton had informed him he was “fucking silly” for wanting info from the telephone.

Fecsko, in the meantime, informed investigators that he was accountable for the storage of movies within the division and mentioned that, after he’d acquired the surveillance footage of the Cox incident, he positioned it in Dalton’s file, however observed it was deleted each week for six months. He additionally testified that whereas most officers had massive numbers of body-camera movies of their information, Dalton solely had three. Like different officers, Fecsko testified that he was conscious that Dalton had develop into “shut” with Mayor Johnson in the course of the previous 12 months.

Each Carver and Fecsko have been among the many different division officers who signed the August 2020 letter publicly calling out Dalton.

Throughout his personal interview with investigators from the State Police, Dalton mentioned that after Cox was taken to the station in the course of the 2019 arrest, Dalton spoke to the mayor, although he didn’t expose the small print of the dialog. Dalton did inform investigators that when Carver confirmed him the telephone which was “stomped on” and had pepper spray on it, he informed Carver he “may as nicely throw it within the rubbish.” Nevertheless, he denied taking the telephone or hiding it.

In a Jan. 2021 interview with investigators, Mayor Johnson denied having any involvement with the police division, however mentioned he was conscious of an “ongoing dispute” between Panico and Dalton and that Panico “hastily” wished to fireside the officer. Johnson admitted to investigators that Dalton had develop into “one in every of his favourite guys” within the police division as a result of he was “like a bulldog” when it got here to imposing legal guidelines, notably these referring to deserted automobiles within the metropolis that have been a selected nuisance for him. Nevertheless, he denied placing a cease to any investigations into Dalton.

In March, the county’s prosecutor, DeChristopher, concluded that though the investigation into Dalton confirmed possible trigger to cost him with destruction of property, the statute of limitations on that cost—and another crimes associated to Cox’s arrest—had run out.

DeChristopher didn’t reply to a request for remark.

Joe Adams, the present police chief in Westover who took over the job in November 2020, amid the fallout from the officer’s letter, informed The Day by day Beast that, in Could, he opened a brand new inner investigation into Dalton.

Among the many complaints lodged towards Dalton, in accordance with a evaluation of a memo outlining his self-discipline historical past, are allegations that he challenged Carver to a struggle and threatened to have him fired by the mayor. This, along with the complaints specified by the letter from division members to the mayor in August 2020.

Adams mentioned the investigation was accomplished in October, however didn’t remark additional on the findings. “It’s a pending personnel matter,” he informed The Day by day Beast.

Additionally in October, Johnson revealed that he wouldn’t run for one more time period as mayor within the upcoming election, leaving a seat he’s held within the metropolis since 2008, in accordance with a report from WBOY. He made the announcement throughout a metropolis council assembly, and mentioned that whereas his 14 years in workplace have been “productive,” he admitted that as of late, it “has gotten tougher and tougher to cope with the latest negativity which is counterproductive to our success.”

However Huy, the Westover resident who mentioned he’s been a thorn within the facet of metropolis council members and Mayor Johnson, wouldn’t name the announcement a victory for reformers.

“Do I believe issues have modified? No,” Huy mentioned.

He defined that simply because Johnson says he’s stepping down, he received’t imagine it till January 2022, when candidates must declare their intentions to run once more. “He’s nonetheless operating for mayor in my thoughts. Simply because he put out some letter saying I’m not going to run… he can change his thoughts.”

Because the almost three-year saga within the metropolis barrels towards January, when selections about Dalton and Johnson’s fates will seemingly be made, Adams, the present chief of police, mentioned he was attempting to maintain his head down and desperately work to alter the notion of his battered division.

Adams, who beforehand served as a State Police officer, mentioned he’s already revamped use-of-force insurance policies and instituted methods to have physique cameras mechanically activate. He’s additionally within the technique of attempting to get grant funding for sprint cameras. “Mainly holding guys accountable,” he mentioned.

“We’re engaged on issues,” he mentioned. “There’s quite a bit to untangle.”

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