WV Deputy Sheriff’s Tasing of Firefighter At Accident Scene Leads to Federal Lawsuit

An assistant fire chief in West Virginia who took issue with a county deputy sheriff at an incident scene in 2015, is suing the deputy and the sheriff’s department claiming the same deputy tased him at an incident scene in 2016 and later had him arrested.

James A. Johnson, an assistant chief with the Berwind Volunteer Fire Department, has filed suit in US District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia naming the McDowell County Sheriff’s Department and Deputy Sheriff Ron Blevins as defendants. Blevins is sued personally and in his capacity as a deputy sheriff.

Chief Johnson alleges that following a motor vehicle accident on January 8, 2015 to which he responded, he wrote a report that was critical of Blevins. In particular, the report noted that Blevins failed to properly secure Xanax and Oxycontin pills as evidence at the scene.

In February, Blevins and another officer came to Chief Johnson’s house unannounced and in a “threatening manner” argued with him about the report. Thereafter, Chief Johnson had a series of run-in with Blevins culminating in an incident on April 7, 2016, at the scene of another motor vehicle crash where Blevins tased Chief Johnson and later had him arrested.

The suit contains four counts:

  • Federal civil rights violations under 42 USC §1983 (4th, 8th and 14th Amendments)
  • State constitutional rights violations
  • Battery
  • Negligence

The key allegations from the complaint:

  • On January 8, 2015, Plaintiff was dispatched as a first responder to the scene of an accident at Big Au gar/Rt. 1 7.
  • The accident involved a white Chevy Silverado being driven by a man named Martin Wright who had driven the vehicle off the road.
  • Upon arriving at the scene, Plaintiff detected the smell of alcohol on Mr. Wright and noticed a blue and white cooler in the vehicle, contact local authorities who arrived on scene, performed a field sobriety test, and arrested Mr. Wright.
  • Defendant Blevins was among the investigating officers on the scene.
  • Defendant Blevins performed no search of the vehicle or surrounding area at the time of arrest.
  • Defendant Blevins did take the blue and white cooler from the vehicle and placed it in the patrol car before leaving the scene.
  • After Defendant Blevins left the scene, Plaintiff discovered narcotics on the scene in the form of 30 blue Xanax pills, 15 peach Xanax pills, and 2, 20 mg Oxycontin tablets.
  • Plaintiff contacted emergency personnel to have Defendant Blevins return to the scene to recover the evidence.
  • Plaintiff was told that the Defendant Blevins would recover the evidence the next day.
  • On January 9, 2015, Plaintiff contacted the McDowell County Sherriffs Department at two different times attempting to have officers obtain the illegal narcotics.
  • Plaintiff prepared a report regarding the incident which was not favorable to Defendant Blevins and filed the same.
  • On February 6, 2015, Defendant Blevins and another deputy came to the home of Plaintiff, unannounced, and entered the premises to complain about the report.
  • Defendant Blevins and the other officer entered Plaintiffs residence in a threatening manner and argued with Plaintiff regarding the report.
  • Defendant Blevins was asked numerous times to leave Plaintiff, his wife, and his grandson in peace; but refused to leave.
  • Plaintiffs wife was forced to call 911 in order to have Defendant Blevins leave their home.
  • Plaintiff, Defendant Blevins, and the local prosecutor’s office had numerous interaction and confrontation regarding the January 8, 2015 arrest and Defendant Blevins’ subsequent, harassing conduct toward Plaintiff.
  • On April 7, 2016, Plaintiff was dispatched as a first responder to the scene of an accident on Horsepen Road involving a truck versus tree accident involving a multi-color Ford F-150 being driven by William A. Hagan, Jr.
  • In the performance of his duties, Plaintiff prepared a safe flagging system to allow traffic to continue while they worked the scene of the accident, which dealt with an injured driver.
  • Defendant Blevins arrived on the scene speeding, with no lights or siren, and drive through the barricades set up by Plaintiff.
  • Plaintiff ran after Defendant Blevins’ vehicle attempting to have it slow down and/or stop to avoid injuring pedestrians, first responders, ambulance personnel, and others on the scene.
  • When Plaintiff questions Defendant Blevins’ conduct, the two engaged in a verbal argument.
  • Subsequent to the verbal altercation, Plaintiff was walking away when Defendant Blevins pulled his agency-issued service taser and fired the weapon hitting Plaintiff in the back.
  • After being knocked to the ground, Defendant Blevins continued to tase Plaintiff numerous times to the point that Plaintiff could not stand or walk on his own.
  • Plaintiffs injuries required him to the transported by emergency personnel to the hospital for treatment.
  • Subsequent to receiving treatment, Plaintiff was shocked to learn that Defendant Blevins had obtained a Warrant for Plaintiff’s arrest for the charges of Obstructing an Officer, Fleeing the Scene (other than vehicle), and Disorderly Conduct.
  • Defendant Belvins ultimately obtained a conviction by plea agreement against Plaintiff for a sole count of Disorderly Conduct.
  • Plaintiff, at no time, deviated from his primary purpose as a first responder to protect the public and work the scene of an accident.
  • Plaintiffs record now includes a conviction for Disorderly Conduct for nothing more than performing his job as a first responder.
  • Defendant Belvins’ actions were done with malice aforethought, and with the motivation of vengeance for a personal grudge against Plaintiff.

Here is a copy of the complaint: Johnson v McDowell County

More on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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