It seems, at least for the last four decades or so, the West Virginia State Police has had some new scandal or controversy.
The most recent scandal that finally resulted in some hard information and the resignation of State Police Superintendent Jan Cahill broke Monday when Gov. Jim Justice released a handful of specific incidents involving State Police officials.
The drama has been percolating behind the scenes for a while, mostly within the state TV news world. It all stemmed from an anonymous letter sent around in September, including to WCHS-TV reporter Kennie Bass. That started an investigation into the allegations in the letter by Department of Homeland Security Cabinet Secretary Jeff Sandy.
The actual anonymous letter and allegations were unknown until WCHS-TV broke the story in February. After that, the story mostly was batted around the Charleston-area TV news media.
I didn’t see the specific allegations until I got a hold of an additional anonymous letter sent to legislative leaders in February. Allegations included the placement of cameras in the women’s locker room at the State Police Academy in Institute, the use of ghost accounts to get around state purchasing rules, misuse of state purchasing cards for personal purchases, extramarital affairs between officers and fights, misuse of federal grants, overtime abuse and more.
It’s always hard to report about unsubstantiated allegations. I get anonymous tips from time to time. Some are a little out there, but others warrant digging deeper. I have a feeling had I received this letter I would have been all over it. Good for Kennie Bass for taking his time to substantiate what he could.
On Monday, Justice confirmed the women’s locker room camera allegation. While it appears that the taping took place prior to Justice taking office and Cahill taking the superintendent job in 2017, when the thumb drive was found belonging to the now-deceased trooper, another trooper tried to crush it with his boot.
Another allegation that came out separate from the first anonymous letter was the theft of money from a patron of Mardi Gras Casino and Resort in Kanawha County by an off-duty State Police captain. The officer turned the money over the next day after he was contacted by the casino.
Another trooper assigned to the West Virginia Lottery, the regulator of casinos, that should have reported the incident up the chain of command did not. When brought to the attention of the Governor’s Office, Justice Chief of Staff Brian Abraham told Cahill both troopers need to be gone. Instead, the captain was allowed to retire.
Justice said there was a lot more being looked at. Sandy has completed his initial investigation (which really should be released in whole versus coming out in dribs and drabs). Interim Superintendent Jack Chambers is going to conduct his own internal investigation. And it sounds like there are additional investigations separate from those others.
Was all of this handled appropriately by the Department of Homeland Security and the Governor’s Office? That remains to be seen. It does certainly seem that Cahill not only thinks he handled things correctly, but based on his interview with WV MetroNews Talkline host Hoppy Kercheval, he thinks Sandy had no business investigating the State Police and he should have been involved in the investigation.
I don’t know too many investigations of an organization’s top brass that bring in the leader of said organization, especially if that leader’s actions are also under investigation. I also found Cahill’s comments interesting in light of a legislative committee meeting I covered where lawmakers were considering a bill to create an independent inspector general position within DHS.
“What brought to light the need for codification of this is our inspector general conducting high-profile-type investigations within some of our agencies and our agencies pushing back and saying, ‘What authority do you have to actually investigate us?”’ said Rob Cunningham, deputy cabinet secretary of DHS, during committee testimony.
Cunningham didn’t say what agency within DHS was pushing back on being investigated by Sandy. But in light of these State Police allegations, one can only imagine.
And what effect would this have on Gov. Justice’s timing for running for the U.S. Senate? Justice was supposed to announce a decision at the end of February, then he said he would announce it at the end of the legislative session. We’re almost to the end of March and there’s still no announcement.
If I were advising Justice, I’d tell him to wait a little longer before announcing and let the State Police drama die down. But considering Politico has now written two articles this week about the pressure on major U.S. Senate Republican backers to get Justice in the race, I’m not sure how much longer he can hold out.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is working Justice hard. Understandable, as McConnell and U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., do not get along. But that also will set up an internal Kentucky battle as Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is backing U.S. Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W.Va., in the West Virginia Republican Senate primary.
Steven Allen Adams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org