MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The office of the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of West Virginia and the Criminal Section of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division are reviewing the case of the fatal shooting of Wayne A. Jones by five Martinsburg Police Department officers two years ago.
“We are reviewing the evidence gathered in the state investigation,” William J. Ihlenfeld II, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of West Virginia, wrote to Hubert Smith, president of the Berkeley County Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. “If our review of the evidence shows a prosecutable violation of a federal criminal civil rights statute, then appropriate action will be taken.”
At a special council meeting last month, Smith and Richard Anderson, chairman of the Berkeley County NAACP legal redress committee, told Martinsburg Mayor George Karos and council members that they were going to request an investigation of the Jones shooting by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Smith and Anderson provided The Journal with a copy of a letter they sent to Ihlenfeld requesting “a full investigation into the Martinsburg police department.”
The letter alleges that the five Martinsburg police officers formed a half-circle around Jones after shooting him two to four times with a Taser, choking him and throwing him to the ground.
“The officers opened fire at very close range,” the letter continues. “Jones was shot 22 times as he lay on the ground. It was murder and no one cares. The community is in an uproar and demands an investigation into the Martinsburg City Police Department.”
Copies of the letter were sent to Barack Obama, U.S. President; Eric Holder, U.S. Attorney General; Karos; Miller; Sylvia Ridgeway, West Virginia State President of the NAACP; and the local media.
At a special Martinsburg City Council meeting Tuesday, Smith read the letter into the record and provided a copy to the council and Karos.
After Tuesday’s meeting, Smith said he was “not real satisfied” with Ihlenfeld’s response, because the letter does not say that the U.S. attorney’s office is going to investigate the Martinsburg Police Department as requested.
“If there isn’t an investigation, we’ll probably write another letter to follow up, and we’ll press for an appointment with President Obama,” Smith said. “We expect to hear from the president – at least acknowledgment of our letter. If we get the right pressure applied, justice will be done.”
Jones, 50, of Stephens City, Virginia, who was black, was shot 22 times by Martinsburg police officers, according to an autopsy report, after he allegedly stabbed an officer with a knife during a scuffle on the ground.
The incident happened in the 100 block of South Queen Street in downtown Martinsburg in March 2013. Jones allegedly was walking in the middle of the street and would not obey officers’ instructions. He was shot twice with a Taser, which police say had no effect.
Jones, who was living at a residence on Kentucky Avenue at the time of the shooting, was diagnosed with schizophrenia, but his family has said he was taking medication for the mental health condition.
The West Virginia State Police investigated the incident. The evidence was presented to a grand jury, which did not return an indictment of the five Martinsburg police officers who were involved in the shooting.
Martinsburg attorney Sherman Lambert filed a $200 million civil lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the city on behalf of Jones’ family, accusing the officers of using unreasonable and excessive force. The case was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Gina Groh.
In February, an appeal of Groh’s decision was filed in the U.S. Fifth District Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia.
– Staff writer John McVey can be reached at 304-263-3381, ext. 128.