New details released in WVSP Casino Case
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WDTV/WSAZ) - Colonel Jack Chambers -- making his first public appearance Wednesday as interim superintendent of West Virginia State Police -- became emotional about past experience that’s led him to the new job ahead.
“Twenty-six years been at every rank,” Chambers told reporters Wednesday.
The appointment was announced Monday by West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, after former head of State Police, Col. Jan Cahill, resigned.
Chambers promised to dig into allegations of wrongdoing by high-ranking members of State Police -- those allegations made in anonymous letters sent to state officials last month.
One of those letters, also sent to 5′s sister station WSAZ, states a senior trooper stole cash from a man at the casino in Cross Lanes. It also states the case was never presented to the prosecutor, no criminal charges were filed, no internal investigation and that the trooper was allowed to retire.
WSAZ immediately filed a request for the video after receiving the letter.
The governor released it on Tuesday. It shows a man stand up to get a drink, all while not realizing that he left an envelope of cash sitting in a slot machine chair.
The man eventually walks away, a few minutes before another man and a woman walk into frame.
The second man, who the governor has identified as a state trooper, looks at the envelope and picks it up. His face has been blurred since he hasn’t been criminally charged.
Justice, on Monday, called the incident theft.
“There’s no way to look at this other than just this -- the trooper picked it up and took the money,” Justice said Monday. “Basically, any way you cut it, that money was stolen.”
After watching the video Tuesday, Political Reporter Curtis Johnson reached out for an interview with Justice. His staff told Johnson the governor was unavailable.
So Johnson followed up with an email asking why criminal charges have not filed in relation to the alleged theft. He didn’t receive a response. So he took the question directly to Justice on Wednesday during the governor’s virtual press briefing.
“Can you give an update with regards to the filing of any criminal charges related the alleged theft?” Johnson asked. “And, if there’s been no charges filed, why has there not been any criminal charges filed?”
“Brian (Abraham), I think you take it from here and everything,” Justice replied in deferring to his chief of staff. “I can answer an awful lot of the questions, but the net of the whole thing, I think you take the whole thing from here.”
“Obviously, that would have been a decision to have been made by the prosecuting attorney of this county. However, given the delay between the discovery of the incident by Homeland Security and this coming to the public eye, the statute of limitations has most likely run that would prohibit a prosecution of that charge,” Abraham said in response.
Johnson also asked how much money was taken.
“The amount of money involved was just a little bit more than $750 in cash, which would have labeled that as a misdemeanor petit larceny, thus the statute of limitations,” Abraham said. “I don’t believe even if we intended to turn that over, there’d be much that could be done at this date.”
While the governor’s office stated criminal charges in the casino case now unlikely, the chief of staff has taken issue with how the investigation of the casino incident was handled by the investigating trooper and the now former head of the agency.
“Now I will draw your attention, particularly, that were made yesterday by Colonel Cahill on the WSAZ report, where he was questioned about the individual that had investigated the theft and had done nothing about it, nor reported it to his superiors,” Abraham said during Wednesday’s briefing.
The chief of staff was referring to comments made Tuesday by Cahill.
“I feel like the person assigned to there, absolutely should have reported this incident since it involved one of our senior staff to his next supervisor, there’s no argument there,” Cahill told Johnson on Tuesday.
“So was he inappropriate in not reporting that?” Johnson asked.
“I think he absolutely should have reported it,” Cahill replied.
Despite no report to superiors, Abraham went on to say a recent review of that trooper’s actions, by the former colonel’s administration, found no wrongdoing.
“And that exonerated that officer from doing nothing wrong, that despite the fact that he failed to notify his chain of command or his superior officers of this incident, and again, that contrasts with what Jan Cahill said yesterday when he thought that person absolutely had an obligation to report that,” Abraham said during the briefing.
“So it appears that this was on its way to a whitewash,” he continued. “Again, this is why there’s no involvement by the leadership team there in this ongoing investigation. When given something that clearly, as we’ve all seen in the media, was an absolute theft of that money, and when given an opportunity to investigate it, they let one individual retire and the other was going to be absolved.”
After the news conference Wednesday, Johnson spoke with Chambers what he’ll be doing going forward. He says he’s already taken action.
“I have reviewed the internal report. There were some things that could have been done that weren’t,” he said about the Cahill administration’s report into the investigating trooper. “I’m going to not concur, and then I’ll circle back around and break through the investigation, and where there’s shortcomings, they’ll be addressed.”
Some of the other allegations Chambers will be looking into include a hidden camera system in the women’s locker room at the State Police Academy and what the governor calls a “loss of life” incident involving a trooper, which occurred last month on Interstate 81 in the state’s Eastern Panhandle.
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