The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

State News

June 23, 2013

Hearing set on Bluefield's civilian police review board

CHARLESTON — A federal judge has scheduled an August hearing on whether the city of Bluefield should release information about a civilian police review board’s work to a lawyer.

Bluefield agreed to establish the board to review police misconduct allegations as part of the $1 million settlement of a lawsuit filed against the city in 1998 by the late Robert Ellison. Ellison, a black man, alleged that he was beaten by two white Bluefield police officers outside a nightclub and dragged. Ellison was left paralyzed and died in 2002. The lawsuit was settled in 2000.

Charleston attorney Ed Hill, who represented Ellison, submitted state and federal Freedom of Information requests last September for records and other information about the board’s work since it was established. Hill told the Charleston Gazette that Ellison’s family is concerned about what the city has done since the incident.

“Had (the panel) done anything they were supposed to have done, some of that information would have been available. I think their thoughts are, assuming anything has been done, they don’t want a police officer’s criticisms to be publicly exposed,” Hill told the newspaper.

After Hill requested the records, City Attorney Brian Cochran filed a motion in federal court asking U.S. District Judge David Faber to clarify the settlement agreement, which states that all information obtained by the review panel is confidential. Faber presided over the lawsuit.

“Federal judges usually are concerned when their orders are ignored and I think it’s important for Robbie Ellison — he died,” Hill said.

Cochran told the newspaper that he does not have any problem with turning over the information sought by Hill, if the court decides it should be released. He said he filed the motion “out of an abundance of caution.”

Cochran said the board might have become lax over the years and changes in city administration but that the city mostly likely had complied with the settlement’s terms.

“I think the city did have numerous meetings for many years and I think then they started probably having them based on complaints,” Cochran said. “Different mayors come in, different city managers come in — I don’t know how many — different police chiefs, a lot of new employees that have come in that weren’t even aware of (the settlement).”

Faber scheduled a hearing on the matter for Aug. 19 in U.S. District Court in Bluefield.

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