Federal lawsuit filed against Westover Police Chief, officers over alleged civil rights violation

The Westover police chief and two officers have been named in a suit alleging they violated the civil rights of a Monongalia County man.
Published: Jul. 27, 2020 at 10:27 AM EDT|Updated: Jul. 27, 2020 at 6:36 PM EDT
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WESTOVER, W.Va (WDTV) - A lawsuit has been filed against the Westover Police Department Chief and two officers. It claims a Black man, Andre Howton was unlawfully pulled out of his home and assaulted by officers on New Years Day in 2019.

The lawsuit was filed on July 10th in the U.S. District Court of Northern West Virginia. It names Westover Police Chief Richard Panico and officers Zachary Fesko and Aaron Dalton as defendants.

“When I asked Mr. Howton, ‘what do you want from this?' He says ‘justice, of course. What does justice look like? He doesn’t want them to do this to anyone else. Both officers are still working,” said Beth Lebow, the attorney representing Howton.

She says the lawsuit was filed so late because of COVID-related restrictions on courthouses.

There is 22-minutes of body camera footage from Dalton. It shows the interactions between Howton and the officers, including the incidents cited in the case. Howton alleges Fecsko struck him at least 13 times.

Howton suffered fractures to his facial bones and broke at least three teeth during the confrontation.

Howton says officer struck him at least 13 times.
Howton says officer struck him at least 13 times.(Andre Howton | Beth Lebow)

Police were at Howton’s home because he requested the officers assist in removing a woman from the house, according to the lawsuit. An argument took place between the plaintiff and the woman because of her drug use.

Fesko then threw Howton onto the concrete and “maliciously assaulted and battered him—beating him in the torso and face, striking him no less than thirteen (13) times, ultimately fracturing multiple facial bones, breaking out at least three (3) teeth, and causing other serious and permanent injuries,” according to the lawsuit.

At the time of the attack, Fesko’s partner, Dalton had his body camera running, the lawsuit states. Much of the incident was caught on camera.

“Show it, I want the whole world to see. So we can stop this. Because I did not do anything wrong. I did not do anything, I did not deserve that. How about that, I did not deserve that,” said Howton.

The lawsuit claims Dalton encouraged the beating by Fesko. He also attacked a bystander trying to protect the plaintiff.

The lawsuit states “Dalton was forced to resign from his previous position after tasing and beating a man in handcuffs with multiple other officers; a fact that was known by the City of Westover at the time of hiring.”

According to the lawsuit, the officers didn’t provide medical aid to the plaintiff. They instead charged him with four crimes- none of them related to their reason for being at his home- which was to remove another person.

The plaintiff was taken to the Westover Police station, then to court for an arraignment and driven to North Central Regional Jail, the lawsuit alleges. When they arrived to the jail, he was turned away due to the “severity of his injuries.”

The lawsuit claims Fesko drove the plaintiff back to his home and stated something in the effect of, “don’t say I didn’t show you any mercy.”

The charges against the plaintiff were dropped just before going to trial in 2019.

“Once I saw that video, I know that the complaint was mostly fabricated,” said Lebow.

The lawsuit claims the defendants were in violation of the First Amendment and Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution. The plaintiff is asking judgement against the defendants for compensatory damages, general damages, punitive damages, pre-judgement and post-judgement interest, costs incurred in this action and other further specific and general relief.

5 News reached out to Westover Police for comment, but Chief Panico says they will not comment on this suit as there is a new investigation into Howton not related to the previous charges. Lebow says this investigation is another example of harassment by the police against Howton.

“From the time the incident occured, they have been, unfortunantely, harassing him and consistently bullying him and this is just another instance,” said Lebow.

The full lawsuit can be found here.

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