PARKERSBURG - The city's mayor issued two press releases Thursday afternoon concerning recently filed lawsuits against Parkersburg and some of its officials.
The city will seek immediate summary judgment of both cases and seek reimbursement of attorney fees and other costs, Mayor Bob Newell stated.
Monday, Parkersburg City Council candidate Joe Backus filed a pro se lawsuit in Wood County Circuit Court against the city, Newell and Police Chief Joe Martin for running what he alleges were illegal background checks. Backus is also suing for defamation and libel.
Tuesday, in federal court, attorneys representing Jerry Seabolt filed a lawsuit against the city and several officials, including Newell and Martin and former police officer Josh Vensel.
Seabolt, while being held in the county holding center, was handcuffed when he was struck by Vensel, knocking him unconscious. The incident was recorded by security cameras.
In May, Vensel pleaded guilty to battery on Seabolt and resigned from the police department.
A Glance At The Lawsuits
Joe Backus alleges the City of Parkersburg ran illegal background checks on him.
Jerry Seabolt alleges the City of Parkersburg encouraged excessive force by police department.
"All the evidence in the Vensel and Seabolt incident has been viewed and considered by a grand jury. The evidence is absolutely indisputable that Vensel struck Mr. Seabolt without provocation and Vensel has taken full responsibility for his actions and has pleaded guilty in Wood County Circuit Court. He resigned the same day as the plea was made," Newell stated.
Seabolt alleges the mayor, chief and city developed and encouraged "a policy, custom, pattern and practice of using excessive force against arrestees and pretrial detainees" and have continued to implement their policy of using excessive force.
Newell took issue with the assertion made by Seabolt's attorneys Michelle Rusen and John Bryan. He labeled the assertions "unwarranted and inexcusable."
In the suit, Seabolt mentions a letter drafted by attorney John Triplett to several civil defense attorneys on behalf of a client, police officer Nathan Deuley, regarding a meeting he was ordered to attend where Newell, as mayor, allegedly said he was tired of small, frivolous complaints against the department.
"He advised the officers to the effect that if they were in a scuffle, with arrestees and pretrial detainees, to 'beat their a ---- and put them in the hospital,'" the lawsuit alleges.
In the meeting, the letter and Seabolt allege Newell said he "knew how to deal with the insurance companies and for officers of the Parkersburg Police Department not to worry about the issue. He would 'handle' the insurance companies."
In the letter Deuley said the remarks were consistent with behavior he observed in the department and consistent with an admonition Newell allegedly gave Deuley when he was chief that "Parkersburg police doesn't breed p--.'"
Newell stated he was disappointed Rusen would use the information as a basis for naming the mayor and chief in a suit in which Vensel had already taken full responsibility.
As soon as the Vensel incident was reported to the Mayor's Office, the FBI and the United States Attorney's Office in Charleston were asked to conduct an independent investigation along with the Wood County prosecutor, Newell stated.
"These actions by police officers are not condoned nor tolerated," he added.
Rusen declined to comment.
"We are going to deal with it in court," she said.
Newell stated formal complaints have been filed with the Offices of Disciplinary Counsel in the State of West Virginia and State of Ohio against Triplett for his conduct.
In addressing the suit filed by Backus, Newell said there is no basis for a lawsuit.
"He is the only person to this day to inform the public through the local media of his private or public difficulties," Newell stated.
No information has been released by the City of Parkersburg about Backus or anyone involved with him, Newell stated. He stated Backus' name was never mentioned in an email to the general manager of WTAP Television or the publisher of the Parkersburg News & Sentinel.
Newell stated the city's insurance carrier has assigned an attorney and the case will be moved to federal court in Charleston for dismissal.
"We will seek reimbursement from Mr. Backus for any costs that occur in this frivolous lawsuit after dismissal," Newell said.
Messages left for Backus were not returned.