CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A sweeping investigation into misconduct at the West Virginia State Police has brought new scrutiny to the mysterious roadside death of a man who was hit by a trooper’s Taser during a struggle with the officer that the governor labeled “very very concerning” in ordering a major shakeup of the agency.
The death of Edmond Exline last month had received scant attention until Gov. Jim Justice cited it Monday as one of several alarming incidents involving State Police troopers. In one instance, a video camera secretly recorded women in their locker room. In another, a trooper allegedly stole an envelope of cash from a gambler at a casino. Justice accepted the resignation of the agency's superintendent and named an interim chief.
On Tuesday, a police official provided new details about Exline’s death, including a trooper's use of a Taser on him along Interstate 81 near Martinsburg.
A State Police news release cited by news outlets at the time said Exline was walking along the interstate when he got in a “struggle” with troopers, became unresponsive and later was pronounced dead at a hospital.
State Police Capt. Eric Burnett in Charles Town confirmed the Taser's use on Exline, 45, of Hagerstown, Maryland, who died at a hospital after the Feb. 12 incident.
“He ran into traffic and wouldn’t listen to any commands from the trooper,” Burnett said. “That’s something I probably don’t want to get into right now. I don’t want to get too far into this because we’re still doing a full investigation into it and I don’t want to taint anything.”
Exline’s cause of death hasn’t been released. It’s unclear whether he was having a medical or other type of episode, and Burnett said his office has not received the results of an autopsy and blood analysis. Three troopers remain on paid administrative leave as investigations continue, he said.
Still unanswered was why Exline was on the interstate, including whether he had been in a vehicle.
“I guess the best thing for me to say is I don’t want to cast judgment on this guy,” Burnett said. “The best thing for someone to do once it comes out, and it’s going to come out, is to view the video and people can make their own determination as to how he was acting. I don’t want to speculate on anything.”
State Police on Tuesday denied a request by The Associated Press to review the video, citing the ongoing investigation.
In announcing the “all-out investigation” of State Police, Justice said he watched the police video of the Exline encounter and that it was “very, very concerning.” Justice said after appointing Jack Chambers, deputy director of the Capitol police, as the interim State Police superintendent in place of Jan Cahill that Exline’s death would be part of the overall review.
Troopers from the same Eastern Panhandle county where Exline died were involved in a November 2018 incident that Justice previously said “cast a dark shadow” on law enforcement.
A police dashcam video showed an officer kicking and punching a handcuffed teenage boy on the ground and kneeling on his shoulder during a traffic stop. State Police said the teen was involved in a crash with a sheriff’s cruiser before a pursuit ensued, his vehicle crashing again before he was apprehended. Two troopers were fired before one of them won his job back. Two sheriff’s deputies also were fired and later reinstated.
The governor said that besides Exline's death, Chambers also will look into allegations that a State Police employee hid a video camera in the women’s locker room at a State Police facility in Kanawha County and that money was stolen by a trooper from a man at a casino in a Charleston suburb.
“We need to clean up our own houses when we have a problem,” Justice said. “It’s a bad day. It’s been a bad day ever since people started coming out with allegations. And the more we dug, the worse it stunk.”
Justice did not specify when the lockerroom situation occurred but indicated it was several years ago, perhaps before Cahill took over, and that the employee involved has since died.
Justice said three troopers eventually found a thumb drive “and from that they found the video.” At least one of the troopers “jerked the thumb drive out, threw it to the floor and started stomping on it," destroying the evidence.
Justice acknowledged that “maybe we won’t be able to recover much information. Maybe many troopers are long gone. Maybe there’s no way to recover evidence. But we ought to try, because we’re better than this.”
In the casino incident, a man was playing a video machine with a trooper close by, Justice said. As the man got up to go to the restroom, an envelope with him fell out of his seat. The trooper picked up the envelope and kept the money inside.
The governor said State Police should have immediately begun a investigation, but “we didn’t do that.” The governor did not specify whether the trooper was disciplined.