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New superintendent of State Police apologizes to women who used locker room, and notice is filed for lawsuit

The new superintendent of the State Police issued a written apology to women who might have used a training academy locker room where a video camera was revealed to have been placed.

Meanwhile, an attorney representing women who used the locker room has notified the state of an impending lawsuit.

The revelation of a video recording device that was placed in the locker room about 2015 was identified last week as a significant piece of a broader investigation into the West Virginia State Police.

Gov. Jim Justice, who took office in 2017, called the revelation intolerable, also objecting to the apparent destruction of a thumb drive described as containing images from the video surveillance. State Police Superintendent Jan Cahill, who took that office in 2017, resigned last week and was replaced by an interim superintendent, Jack Chambers.

Jack Chambers

Chambers wrote in an open letter, “I join Governor Justice in sharing my deepest apologies to any female who was victimized by the hidden camera in the State Police Training Academy locker room.”

Chambers has been assigned the responsibility of continuing to investigate the video recording. He wrote in the letter that includes developing a timeline and working to identify all potential victims. “All victims will be offered counseling and therapy services, and we will also continue follow-up services,” he wrote.

He wrote that the Department of Homeland Security is in the process of hiring an independent ombudsman with experience in counseling or psychology to be embedded with the State Police “so that our men and women have a trusted voice to go to for support going forward.”

Jim Justice

The governor’s initial comments about the recording device indicated the state employee suspected of placing it died several years ago.

“I don’t know how in the world many things could be much, much worse than that,” Justice said at a press conference last week. “You know, wouldn’t you absolutely think that a women’s locker room ought to be a safe place, an absolute safe place?

“And now we’ve got a situation to where — whether it was in 2014 or 2016, whether it was before Jan, before the governor, whatever it may be — our State Police did stuff that was really bad. To put a video camera in the women’s locker room, to me it is absolutely not to be tolerated in any way.”

The governor said the situation was worsened when three troopers found a thumb drive that had stored video from the locker room.

“And then, from what I understand, one if not all immediately jerked the thumb drive out and threw it on the floor and started stomping on it,” Justice said. “You can’t make this stuff up, can you? Really and truly, now we’ve got law enforcement officers destroying evidence. You can’t make it up.”

The governor said he wants investigators to continue examining the situation with the video recordings, although he acknowledged the possibility that it would be hard to determine more specifics at this point. “Maybe there’s no way to recover evidence, but we ought to try,” he said.

A Wheeling attorney has notified state officials of intent to sue on behalf of women who used the locker room and whose images might have been captured by the recording device.

“As an alternative to filing suit, we would request a meeting to discuss these allegations and a possible resolution to the same,” wrote attorney Teresa Toriseva.

Toriseva’s letter indicated her firm already represents two retired State Police uniformed employees and another civilian.

“Our clients regularly used the female locker room at the West Virginia State Police Academy during their career and after their retirement as West Virginia State Police employees,” Toriseva wrote.

“The civilian female, as a dependent of a uniformed State Police officer, also utilized the private areas of the academy facilities.”

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Woman pleads guilty to 2 counts of DUI with death in connection with 2022 Charleston interstate crash

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Sentencing is scheduled for late-May for a Charleston woman who pleaded guilty Tuesday to causing a wrong-way crash that killed two people.

Edriene Sutton (WVRJA)

Edriene Sutton, 25, pleaded guilty to two counts of DUI causing death before Kanawha County Circuit Judge Maryclaire Akers. Prosecutors are seeking a 3-15 prison term on each count with the sentences to run concurrently.

Akers has set sentencing for May 24.

Sutton was driving drunk in the early morning hours of Feb. 26, 2022, when she got on the interstate going the wrong way at the Leon Sullivan exit in Charleston.

Sutton’s vehicle was going north in the southbound lanes when it struck a southbound car being driven by Joshua Robinson, 37, of Charleston, head-on at 3:01 a.m.

Robinson was killed along with Brittany Weldon, 27, of Charleston, who was riding with Sutton. Sutton was initially hospitalized but released a short time later.

Sutton got on the Leon Sullivan ramp from the exit ramp that connects to Shrewsbury Street, Charleston police said.

“We were able to track her with cameras from throughout the city to figure out which way she was going,” Charleston Police Traffic Division Commander Sgt. Kevin Oldham previously told MetroNews.

Sutton had just recently moved to Charleston from North Carolina when the wreck occurred, police said.

Sutton remains in the South Central Regional Jail on $200,000 bail.

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Order calls for garnishing governor’s wages, and Auditor’s Office says it will comply as it would for anybody

A court judgment proposes to garnish the wages Jim Justice earns as governor to resolve a big business debt, and the state Auditor’s Office says it is prepared to comply just the way it would for any similar court order affecting a state employee.

“When we receive a wage garnishment order issued by a court, it is processed as directed by applicable statutes, rules and regulations,” stated Kallie Cart, spokeswoman for the Auditor’s Office in response to a MetroNews question about how the matter would be handled.

“This is done without regard to whom the order is directed, whether a state official or employee, including the Governor.”

The wage garnishment order was filed this month in circuit court in Randolph County on behalf of Citizens Bank of West Virginia. The garnishment was first reported by the West Virginia Record.

The garnishment is a response to a judgement from last October for $850,000 in debt by Bluestone Resources, the coal business owned by Justice’s family. The total amount also includes $13,793 in interest plus a cost of $27 for the court filing.

The court order calls for withholding 20 percent of the governor’s wages after state and federal tax deductions or the amount of the governor’s post-withholding wages that for each week exceeds 50 times the minimum hourly wage.

Withholding would continue for a year unless the full amount is paid sooner than that.

West Virginia’s wage for governor is set at $150,000, although Justice has often said he donates his to charity. His most recent state ethics disclosure form specifies that he donated all of his 2022 earnings as governor to the state Department of Education’s Communities in Schools program.

Since becoming governor, Justice has declined to place most of his family’s business holdings into a blind trust, instead saying he has turned over their operation to his adult son and daughter.

Justice, a two-term Republican governor, is considering a high-profile run for U.S. Senate. As Politico noted last week, if Justice enters that race he would have to file personal financial disclosures that could lead to heightened scrutiny of his financial holdings.

Justice’s ethics form, which says he resides in Kanawha County and works at the Capitol, lists two pages of businesses, including the Bluestone operations.

The form includes a mark boxed attesting that Justice does not owe anyone more than $5,000, although there is a specific exception for “debts resulting from the ordinary conduct of your business, profession, or occupation.”

In this case, Citizens Bank contended that it loaned Bluestone $2,371,764 to buy six large pieces of machinery in April 2018. It made a second loan for $278,014 to purchase more equipment.

Justice had signed documents personally guaranteeing all obligations of Bluestone. The original complaint contended Bluestone defaulted on its obligations, accusing the defendants of breach of contract.

Earlier this month, Justice acknowledged steps to sell at least some of the Bluestone assets to resolve another, bigger debt.

The possibility of a sale was raised last year as Justice’s coal company, Bluestone, worked to resolve millions of dollars in debt to the international lender Credit Suisse. The Justice family has hired the global investment banking firm Perella Weinberg Partners to explore the sale.

“Bluestone is a great big footprint,” Justice said during a March 15 news briefing about a range of topics, describing the regional character of the company.

“What I think they’re doing is, they’re carving out some specific assets and trying to get the specific assets running in a really prudent way to be able to market those at a time when the market is really good, and if they can pull that off that lowers their debt load if not eliminates their debt load — and that just makes things better in their lives.”

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One charged in Randolph County homicide

ELKINS, W.Va. — A dispute over a dog being shot escalated Monday evening into a homicide in Randolph County.

Randolph County Sheriff Rob Elbon said his department was on the way to a call on Chenoweth Creek outside Elkins when they got a second call indicating a man had been shot at a different address.

“It was a white male shot while riding a side-by-side. They gave us a different address from where the dog call was,” said Elbon.

Elbon and his deputies arrived and learned from witnesses after the shooting the suspected shooter had retreated back inside the home.

“We set up a perimeter, called our SWAT guys, and my Lieutenant got on his car speaker and started communicating,” Elbon explained.

Elbon said they also learned there were children in the house and they were careful to try and avoid any further conflict or gunfire. The Randolph County 911 center was able to call the house and make contact with the alleged shooter. After several minutes, he came out peacefully and was taken into custody.

The victim, whose name has not been released, suffered five gunshot wounds as he sat in the shooter’s driveway on the side-by-side.

“There were a total of seven shots fired and he was hit five times,” said Elbon who added the victim was not armed.

According to statements, the shooter had admitted to shooting the dog earlier to the victim’s son who was speaking to him from the roadway in front of the house.

“How the victim ended up getting that information, we’re not sure, but then he showed up in the suspect’s driveway on the side-by-side and that’s where we found him deceased,” the Sheriff said.

The suspect, who also hasn’t been identified, was taken into custody and will be charged with murder.

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Fire damages Clay County sawmill overnight

CLAY, W.Va. — Members of at least four volunteer fire departments in Clay County are on the scene of a fire today at a local sawmill.

The blaze was reported just a little after midnight at Pierson Lumber sawmill just outside of Clay. The Clay, Lizemores, Newton, and Big Otter Volunteer Fire Departments have been on the scene this morning.

Officials say the fire was contained, but crews have remained on the scene throughout the morning to mop up hot spots.

No word on a cause and there are no reports of any injuries.

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MetroNews This Morning 3-28-23

Today on MetroNews This Morning:

–PEIA begins to lay out the bitter pill state employees will be asked to swallow

–Governor Justice is expected to announce a new airline partnership for Yeager Airport

–WVU President Gordon Gee says the university needs to reposition some finances

–In Sports: Marshall hires Kim Stephens as its new women’s basketball coach

Listen to “MetroNews This Morning 3-28-23” on Spreaker.

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Charleston residents bring discussion, questions to first PEIA public hearing

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Public Employees Insurance Agency held its first of a few upcoming public hearings Monday evening at the state Culture Center in Charleston.

A few dozen people sat in on a brief presentation given by PEIA Interim Director Jason Haught who broke down three separate plan options.

PEIA will either move ahead with premium increases of around 24 percent or will pick a different option that would increase premiums slightly less but still make up the difference with increased deductibles, and out-of-pocket and prescription costs.

The state Legislature mandated a return to an 80-20 cost share between government employers and state employees.

Sen. Amy Grady

Senator Amy Grady (R-Mason), a public school teacher, was the first to speak at the public hearing. She described what all makes up the “three-legged stool” of the PEIA changes. It involves the 80-20 fix, the 21.25% personal income tax and the state employees pay raise.

“We wanted to make sure the state employees weren’t hurt by this needed premium increase,” Grady said Monday. ” We haven’t seen an increase since 2012.”

Del. Mike Pushkin

Delegate Mike Pushkin (D-Kanawha) was another lawmaker in attendance at the public hearing. He spoke with distaste at the fact that the governor before claimed premiums would in fact not go up. He quoted the governor himself, “When asked if he would raise premiums he said ‘not on my watch.'”

One concern of the public employees with the future of PEIA was spousal coverage. Imposing a spouse surcharge for active employee policyholders from state agencies whose spouses are offered employer-sponsored insurance coverage but who choose to get coverage through a PEIA plan is one of the major changes that’ll be effective July 1 this year.

Resident John Quisenberry proposed an idea to the board.

“Look and see if it’ll be feasible to buy into PEIA as a secondary coverage,” he said.

Aside from the elected officials who spoke, a handful of residents gave their thoughts to the PEIA panel, most of them current or former educators. Also, most of the discussion began to be centered around retirees.

Now retired John Riddle had spent more than 40 years in an education-related role. He doesn’t see a good situation currently for retirees.

“If you look at the current cost of living, retirees on a fixed income are not in a very good spot,” he claimed. Riddle has been retired for 18 years now.

Dale Lee

West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee was concerned about retirees being taken care of as well. He suggested money from the state’s Rainy Day fund be used to offset costs for retirees.

“Are you gonna look at a $600 to $650 increase in deductibles and out-of-pocket costs for retirees,” he asked. “If you do plan three, you’re looking at $1,200 to $1,500 in out-of-pocket costs.”

That’s where he argues the Rainy Day fund could come into play. Lee claimed less than $30 million of $74 million in the Rainy Day fund could prevent an increase on retirees.

“I would urge the Legislature to look at that,” he added.

Rosa Huffman, a teacher in the Kanawha County school system, said more time would help her figure out which of the plans she believes to be best for her. Others agreed.

There are two hearings on Tuesday, one in Morgantown at the Hampton Inn at Granville Square, and another at Mountain Health Arena in Huntington. Both hearings are at 6 p.m. The final public hearing is at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Holiday Inn in Martinsburg. On Thursday, the PEIA Finance Board will meet again to decide on which plan to select.

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Charleston mayor speaks on public safety in nation’s capital

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Charleston Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin made a trip to Washington, DC this week for talks with other mayors and white house officials on everything from substance use disorder and mental health to homelessness.

Mayor Goodwin delivered remarks during a public safety panel at the National League of Cities’ Congressional City Conference in DC Sunday. She shared both the good and the bad about what’s been happening in her city from a public safety standpoint and spoke to the success of the City’s CARE Team.

“It was a tremendous honor to be invited by the National League of Cities to share insight – during the public safety panel alongside Mayors Giles, Lumumba, and Scott – on the establishment of the CARE Team to address substance use disorder, mental health, and homelessness; and the work Charleston is doing to address public safety, specifically the partnerships we have with federal agencies,” said Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin.

On Monday, she met other mayors across the U.S. where they shared their experiences and how they handle different circumstances of public safety in their city. She made sure to boast about the massive meth bust in the state that just happened last week.

“I’ve been listening and learning from them on what they’ve been doing in their communities,” said Goodwin.

That evening, mayor Goodwin met with officials of President Biden’s administration where she thanked them for the funding the state received from the infrastructure legislation. The ARPA funding has been a huge boost to the state the mayor claimed.

“This is an administration that has invested in West Virginia,” the mayor said. “The ARPA funding has been next level for the mountain state.”

On Tuesday, the mayor said she plans to meet again with members of the Biden administration along with teams of U.S. Senators Shelley Moore Capito and Joe Manchin for more discussions at the White House. They’ll breakdown pieces of legislation related to infrastructure. Goodwin said the infrastructure needs are heavy in the state and more investments are needed.

“This isn’t just about investing in roads and bridges and sidewalks,” she said. “We’re talking about investing in our kids, and our seniors and neighborhoods.”

Goodwin said a lot of issues happening in Charleston are similar with other smaller cities in the country. The city’s CARE team deals with a lot of calls related to substance abuse disorder, something the mayor said is a problem nationwide.

“It’s okay to say you need help,” she said. “That’s the conversation we’re having.”

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Ford-Wheaton opts for light Pro Day after strong showing at NFL Combine; Stills betters his bench press

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Less than a month ago, West Virginia wide receiver Bryce Ford-Wheaton made a strong impression at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis.

So satisfied with his showing at the combine was Ford-Wheaton that on Monday, during West Virginia’s annual Pro Day at the Caperton Indoor Practice Facility, he opted not to partake in any of the official events — bench press, broad jump, vertical jump, 40-yard dash, 20-yard shuttle and three-cone drill.

At the NFL Combine, Ford-Wheaton, who stands nearly 6-foot-4, completed the 40 in 4.38 seconds. He also ecorded a 41-inch vertical jump during an eye-opening showing. 

Over the last 20 years, Seattle Seahawks wide receiver D.K. Metcalf and cornerback Tariq Woolen are the only players 6-3 or taller to break 4.4 seconds in the 40 and record a vertical of at least 40’.

“Every time you do what they say you can’t do, they’re going to add something on and you can’t do this now,” Ford-Wheaton said. “I’m still hearing it, but I’m still going to prove them wrong at the end of the day and just keep working.”

Instead of partaking in timed and measurable events, Ford-Wheaton showcased his route-running abilities and brought in passes from former Mountaineer quarterback Jarret Doege at Pro Day.

“He came up here on Thursday. We threw together Thursday, Friday and Saturday. We didn’t really need to do much else,” Ford-Wheaton said. “We knew we had the timing down because we played together so long.”

Ford-Wheaton wasn’t the only WVU receiver working with his previous signal-caller. So, too, was Sam James, who like Ford-Wheaton spent five seasons in Morgantown, including a 2018 redshirt season under former head coach Dana Holgorsen.

However, unlike Ford-Wheaton, James wasn’t invited to the NFL Combine, which only added to the importance of Pro Day at a venue he’d countless hours in previously.

“I thought I was disrespected and thought I should’ve been at the combine,” James said. “I was mad, but I prayed to God, found my peace and knew I was going to have an opportunity. I just went with it, stayed down and worked.”

James, at 5-11, ran the fastest of WVU’s five players to take part in the 40 Monday with a time of 4.5 flat. He also had a 36.5 inch vertical, 10’2 broad jump and 4.24 20-yard shuttle.

“I’m extremely satisfied with what I did today. I hit my goals and that was the biggest thing so I’m happy about it.”

Defensive lineman Dante Stills, who joined Ford-Wheaton as the Mountaineers’ two participants at the NFL Combine, repped 225 pounds 26 times on the bench press — six higher than his showing in Indianapolis.

Stills, who didn’t participate in timed drills or either jump Monday, had a reason behind his substantial increase in reps in Morgantown.

“I was going to get 24 or 25 reps [at the combine], but I hit the rack on the way up. I was going out of control and I kept scooting back on the bench and I hit the rack,” Stills recalled. “It messed up like my whole flow and I got 20. I wanted to do the bench and I felt like it definitely helped myself.”

At the combine, Stills ran a 4.85 40 and recorded a 28.5’ vertical with a 4.61 finish in the 20 shuttle.

“I have five years of film and feel like I did all I can,” Stills said.

Representatives from 28 of 32 NFL teams were on hand for Pro Day, in which eight WVU players from 2022 joined Doege and Morgantown native Maverick Wolfley as participants.

Outside of Stills, Ford-Wheaton and James, WVU defenders Jasir Cox, Exree Loe and Wesley McCormick joined tight end Brian Polenedy and kicking specialist Parker Grothaus as participants.

Cox ran a 4.59 40 with 20 reps on the bench press and a vertical jump of 39, while Loe was clocked at 4.71 on the bench.

McCormick, a 200-pound defensive back, had a 4.57 40 and equaled the 39-inch vertical Cox had.

Polendey, primarily a blocking tight end throughout his college career, joined Ford-Wheaton, James and Wolfley in pass-catching drills. 

Wolfley began his college football career with a brief stint at WVU and then transferred to Akron before winding up at Division II West Florida to conclude it.

They were thrown to by Doege, who played two years at Bowling Green, three at WVU in what were head coach Neal Brown’s first three seasons in Morgantown and then most recently one at Troy after originally moving on to Western Kentucky but transferring again in the fall.

“It’s good to throw to Bryce and Sam again. It’s good to be back,” Doege said. “I put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into this place and I’m grateful that I got to do this pro day.”

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Living out a dream: Stephens set to get going at Marshall

— By Bill Cornwell

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — In living out a dream she shared with her father, Kim Stephens was introduced Monday afternoon as the new Marshall women’s basketball coach inside the Cam Henderson Center just hours after the school made official Stephens’ hiring.

Stephens led her alma mater, Glenville State for the last seven seasons and guided the Pioneers to the NCAA Division II final four last week one season after Glenville won the National Championship.

Now she gets to work in Huntington under a seven-year contract — something Stephens had aspired to do having grown up in Parkersburg, played for her late father Scott Stephens at Parkersburg South High School and then continued her career on the hardwood in college at Glenville State.

“I used to come home from practice and I’d see how hard he was working, watching film,” Stephens said. “I just want to live up to his legacy and honor it.”

Stephens compiled a 191-24 record at Glenville that included victories in 68 of 72 games over the last two seasons. She believes she’s joining an athletic department on the rise at Marshall.

“Great things are happening here,” Stephens said. “You walk around this building and you see the changes that indicate things are headed in the right direction.

“I’m also excited by the talent on the roster and I’m excited to work with them.”

Stephens is replacing Tony Kemper, who resigned earlier this month to become head coach of the women’s basketball program at Central Arkansas. Kemper led the Thundering Herd to a 17-14 record in his sixth season as head coach at Marshall, which marked the Herd’s first season as a Sun Belt Conference member. Kemper finished his Marshall tenure at 79-90.

Despite losing more than 90 percent of the offensive production from its National Championship squad, the Pioneers recently wrapped up a 33-3 season in which they won the Mountain East Conference regular season and tournament championships and then four games in the NCAA Tournament before bowing out to top seed and unbeaten Ashland.

Stephens was the recipient of the Pat Summitt Trophy following the 2021-22 season after being named as the WBCA NCAA Division II National Coach of the Year. She also earned the 2022 Mickey Furfari Award, which is given to West Virginia’s College Coach of the Year by the West Virginia Sports Writers Association.

“I love Glenville — part of my heart will always be here,” Stephens said. I have had some of the best moments of my life there and have met the most wonderful people. I am so thankful to this community, our athletic department and loyal, yet, rowdy fans. Mostly, I want to thank every player who’s worn a Glenville jersey for me. Without you, I wouldn’t have this opportunity. Thank you for your hard work and your trust. I wouldn’t be where I am today without you. And I want to thank the fans for filling the stands and making us feel special. I hope to keep making you proud in Huntington.” 

Stephens’ Glenville teams were known and praised for their aggressive style with a fast-paced attack that was predicated on pressure defense and utilizing the majority of her roster in games. 

She hopes to continue that with the Thundering Herd.

“Coach Kemper didn’t leave the cupboard bare when he left,” Stephens said. “I’ve already talked with the current players and told them what I expect from them. I’ve been in their shoes since I played for three different coaches during my playing career at Glenville.”

She also played for her father Scott, who won three state championships at PSHS (2006, 2008 and 2013). Kim Stephens was a member of Scott’s first title-winning team. He later joined his daughter’s staff at Glenville after stepping down from his position with the Patriots. Scott Stephens passed away from an aggressive brain tumor in 2020.

The Pioneers now try to move forward following the departure of one of the more successful coaches in school history, whose success in Gilmer County won’t soon be forgotten.  

“Coach Stephens has been an honor to work with,” Glenville State President Mark Manchin said. “She has brought a great deal of honor and prestige to our university. Our institution has a great relationship with Marshall, and we wish Kim the best with this move.”

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