NAACP, family of man shot by police file FOIA request
MARTINSBURG, W.Va. – Not satisfied with the response from the U.S. Department of Justice, the NAACP and the brothers of a man shot 23 times by Martinsburg City Police have filed a Freedom of Information Act request for additional information relating to his 2013 death.
“We don’t know what the DOJ looked at,” Berkeley County NAACP President Hubert Smith said. “The only way we can find out is to do what we have done, a FOIA request.”
Wayne Jones, a 50-year-old black male from Stephens City, Virginia, was shot 23 times by city police, according to the autopsy report. The victim had 22 bullet entrance wounds and one graze wound, according to the report.
The shooting took place in the area of the 100 block of Queen Street on March 13, 2013, after police say an altercation involving a knife took place with officers and Jones, who suffered from schizophrenia. Police said an officer was stabbed in the incident.
Police say Jones was hit with a tazer twice after refusing a police order before being shot.
Bruce and Robert Jones, in collaboration with the NAACP and legal consultation, said they did not believe the DOJ spent enough time reviewing the case.
“We don’t think that there was much done by the Justice Department,” Smith said. “We feel this is a phony investigation and they played us. We aren’t going to sit back and be played.”
In an April 18, 2016 press release, the DOJ stated it had insufficient evidence to pursue federal criminal civil rights charges against five Martinsburg Police Department officers.
“It is mine and many others concern that your decision has only empowered and justified local law enforcement to continue the behavior depicted in those videos dashcams; that is to say, that when you’ve indicated you cannot find evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to charge the five Martinsburg Police officers,” Smith said. “I was under the impression that the standard to charge these individuals with a crime and probable cause and reasonable doubt was reserved for a jury of their peers to convict them of the crimes (your) office prosecuted.”
Smith and the Jones brothers met with Northern District of West Virginia U.S Attorney William Ihlenfeld before the press release was issued last month.
“During the meeting we asked a lot of questions and weren’t satisfied with the answer,” Smith said. “We were told we could make requests for certain things. We got our heads together and the Jones brothers compiled their thoughts.”
Bruce Jones, 52, echoed Smith’s concerns with the decision.
“The Justice Department could not find enough evidence to prosecute and we just want answers,” Bruce Jones said in a telephone interview. “There are so many questions…we just want answers.”
Smith said the FOIA request was sent this week requesting additional information specific to the number of federal authorities on the investigation team, their job descriptions, and how many hours they spent on this investigation by role/title. Additionally, the group is requesting the team’s files, notes, memorandums related to the investigation. The request also asks for any emails between the team’s experts and any Martinsburg Police Department employees, city of Martinsburg employees or West Virginia State Police officials.
One concern that Bruce Jones and Smith share is the lack of evidence, including DNA with the knife that police said was used to stab an officer.
“There was no residue or anything on the knife,” Bruce Jones said. “Officers are still insisting there was a knife.”
Bruce Jones continued that he would like to know if the vest the stabbed officer was wearing was tested.
“Does the knife fit the cut in the vest the police allegedly found,” Smith said.
Tara Tighe, public information officer for the United States Attorney’s Office Northern District of West Virginia did not comment if the DOJ collected DNA evidence from knife or the officer’s vest and referred information requests back to the original press release.
“We hear officers saying drop the knife on the recordings, but no where do we see an actual knife,” Bruce Jones said.
Smith and Bruce Jones said they believe the footage released from officers’ dashcams was edited.
“Why isn’t there any video before the shooting? Did the officers just turn them on before they told him to drop the knife?” Bruce Jones asked. “No one can explain it.”
The DOJ’s press release stated the team of experienced federal prosecutors and federal authorities reviewed the evidence to determine whether the involved officers violated federal law by willfully using unreasonable force against Jones. To establish willfulness, federal authorities must show that the officer acted with the deliberate and specific intent to do something the law forbids.
The Jones brothers wrote in the FOIA request that during their meeting with Ihlenfeld they were informed that he, nor DOJ Jared Fishman of the civil rights division, ever physically examined any evidence, not even a knife.
The Jones brothers say that Fishman never saw, examined or counted shell casings fired from the weapons used to execute (their) brother.
Fishman refused to consider that removing portions of a video and tampering with evidence can reasonably be interpreted as an attempt to hide incriminating evidence from the public, they said.
Tighe did not comment if the DOJ performed their own investigation, if investigators traveled to Martinsburg to perform their own interview or obtain statements.
“I just feel that Mr. Jones was murdered. There is no DNA on the knife that was found. Someone could have dropped that. You have five white officers testifying against a dead black man,ã Smith said. “
“The NAACP stands behind us and wants the information put out and explained,” Bruce Jones said. “I don’t feel like they went out and investigated things on their own.”
“I hope we get the answers that we are looking for,” Bruce Jones said.
Calls to Martinsburg City Police Chief Maurice Richards were not returned at press time.
Staff writer Todd Bowman can be reached at 304-263-3381, ext. 128, at
firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @toddäbowman87.