A fatal West Virginia shootout has prompted a new law, marked by a ceremonial bill signing Monday, that aims to ensure that all deputies have body armor.
Roane County Deputy John Westfall was wounded in August by a suspect who had earlier murdered two state troopers. The suspect was killed. Though Westfall was shot several times, the married father of three survived thanks to a bullet-resistant vest — borrowed from the city of Spencer, where he has also served as a patrolman.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin held Monday’s ceremony for the resulting measure, which requires all 55 county sheriffs to provide vests to their deputies starting July 1.
A number of law enforcement officials, including county sheriffs and top State Police brass, and several legislators joined the governor at his Capitol reception room for the event.
Westfall was at a doctors’ appointment Monday, said Delegate Bob Ashley, a Roane County Republican and the bill’s lead sponsor. Wounded in the hand and shoulder, Westfall continues to require medical care, Ashley said.
There are just over 1,000 sheriff’s deputies statewide, according to an analysis presented to lawmakers during their recent session. Only around 50 do not have their own vests, Ashley said. He also noted that the West Virginia Beer Wholesalers Association has pledged money to buy them vests, while the group representing county sheriffs has funding available as well. The new law encourages counties to seek needed funds from federal and other law enforcement programs as well.
“While they say crime is down in West Virginia, violent crime is up,” Ashley said after Monday’s ceremony. “This has our deputies protected from violent situations.”