The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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December 1, 2012

‘Stunning’ — Legislators plan to set focus on WRJ allegations

CHARLESTON — A revelation that 15 officers were put on suspension without pay while under suspicion of beating inmates at  Western Regional Jail was “stunning” and definitely will be pursued in this month’s interims, a key legislator declared Friday.

Just this week, Regional Jail Authority Director Joe DeLong advised a legislative panel that the officers were the focus of both an internal inquiry and one by the State Police.

Just how many inmates were involved in the alleged brutality wasn’t disclosed, but DeLong confirmed that one was sent to a hospital for treatment of a collapsed lung, and a broken back and ribs.

“I was stunned because no one had shared the information and there was no report of it, or awareness,” said Delegate Dave Perry, D-Fayette, a co-chairman of the Legislative Oversight Committee on Regional Jail and Correctional Facility.

“No one seemed to be aware. I was never contacted. My biggest concern I have is that there’s been no action. It wasn’t reported to the central office. Or, if there was a report, why wasn’t there action taken against the administration, or supervision, at Western?”

Perry said the matter definitely will be visited when his committee meets Dec. 10 at the start of December interims.

“I think there are additional questions that have to be asked as to administratively how did this go unnoticed and why was there no report done to the central office. Obviously, it’s uncalled for. There is a culture there. There’s a breakdown somewhere in supervision and/or oversight.”

Perry said he cannot understand why the inmates were beaten, if this indeed did occur.

“In this day and age, it makes no sense at all,” he said.

Perry also wants to know how the jail is functioning with 15 of the 85 officers assigned to it on suspension.

The jail is located at Milton and it hasn’t been the only one drawn into a controversy over alleged mistreatment of inmates, Perry said.

“Northern seems to have been a problem, also,” he said.

“For a while, we were having complaints out of the Southern Regional Jail, until we made a few on-site, unannounced visits.”

Perry said the time possibly is right for some more surprise visits throughout the 10-jail system — an approach the committee has undertaken in recent years at Mount Olive Correctional Complex in Fayette County.

In his remarks before the committee, DeLong said he found the attitude among the officer staff more troubling than the alleged beatings.

“I have a greater concern about the buddy system in the Western Regional Jail — see nothing, hear nothing, report nothing — than I do with the rash of incidents,” the director said.

The bottom line is that Perry says he is determined to get a full accounting when his committee returns to action this month.

“Yes, there will be additional questions to follow,” he added.

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com

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