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ACLU files FOIA in Cross memorandum incident

Staff report

The Inter-Mountain

ELKINS, W.Va.  — The American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia has filed a Freedom of Information Act request as part of its investigation into a memorandum issued by former Elkins Police Chief Craig Cross.

Joseph Cohen, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia, said the memo was a clear violation of the Fourth and Fifth amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

The Fourth Amendment guards against unreasonable searches and seizures of property and protects against arbitrary arrest. The Fifth amendment guarantees the right to a grand jury, forbids double jeopardy and protects against self-incrimination, as well as requiring due process of law.

“The memo is absolutely shocking,” Cohen said. “It shows a police chief that totally disregards any concern for due process. It shows a department that is completely unconcerned with the constitutional limitations on searches and seizures. It shows a culture of dehumanizing people based on where they live or how they dress.”

“To the Elkins Police Department, suspects are not human. They are cockroaches,” Cohen added. “The chief encouraged the use of violence to intimidate and harass people. Why would anyone in Elkins have faith in the criminal justice system? The police department clearly was not an impartial arbiter of the law.”

In the memo, Cross — who declined comment for this report — wrote, in part, “If you see any suspected cockroach walking around OUR town with a big a- knife or backpack or hoodie on with the hood up I want them stopped and identified, you know what I want them harassed if you know they are a cockroach. … I want people stopped and checked out! PUT THE FEAR BACK INTO THESE COCKROACHES! Stomp cockroach a- if needed! YOUR (sic) COPS AND AS LONG AS YOU WEAR THAT PATCH ON YOUR SHOULDER THIS IS YOUR TOWN! WE WILL EITHER MAKE PEOPLE RESPECT US OR FEAR US, PREFERRABLY BOTH!!!!”

By issuing the memo, Cohen said Cross has put the city and county legal system in peril.

“The chief not only would seem to have encouraged the violations of (the) rights of citizens, repeatedly, he also jeopardized any prosecutions that were handled under his leadership by flaunting the requirements of the Constitution,” the state ACLU chief said.

Cross resigned as chief in January, but stayed on as first sergeant until he resigned from that position on Feb. 6. Cross took over the department in April 2015.

J.C. Raffety is serving as interim chief until a permanent selection can be made.

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