Former Westover council member takes fight to federal courts

  • In US
  • 2022-09-30 04:01:00Z
  • By The Dominion Post, Morgantown, W.Va.

Sep. 30-Former Westover City Council member Ralph Mullins is taking his fight for civil rights and accountability for alleged rights violations by previous City of Westover administrators to a federal level.

Mullins, who is represented by attorney Ryan J. Umina, Esq. of Umina Legal, LLC, filed a civil complaint in United States District Court naming defendants as former Westover Mayor Cranston David Johnson, city attorney Timothy P. Stranko, city clerk Sandy Weiss, current and former council members Ida "Edie " E. Viola, Duane Tartar, Steve Andryzcik, Gary Weber, and Jeffrey Friend, as well as the City of Westover.

The lawsuit alleges that Johnson and other city officials retaliated against him for speaking out about issues within the city's police department, their violation of city council charter and state codes, and its gross mishandling and attempted coverup of the events surrounding police brutality lawsuits against the city.

"[Mullins ] has faced only hostile and retaliatory actions by the defendants in response to his pursuit to root out corruption in Westover and namely, within the WPD, " the civil complaint reads. "He has been defamed, slandered, libeled, accosted, had his civil rights violated, and was ultimately assaulted and battered by none other than the City's sitting Mayor."

During a city council meeting in February, a verbal argument between Mullins and Johnson escalated to a physical altercation for which Johnson was later charged with misdemeanor battery after shoving Mullins, who said he suffered a torn meniscus as a result of the encounter.

After the altercation, Mullins submitted a request to Stranko to appear at the March council meeting remotely, which was denied. The complaint states that during that meeting in March, "while fully knowing that [Mullins ] would not be present, the Westover City Council voted to censure [Mullins ] based on false accusations surrounding the February 22, 2022, meeting."

Accusations in the lawsuit include retaliation in violation of the First Amendment, violations of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, slander, assault, battery, violation of the West Virginia Whistleblower Law, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

City of Westover attorney Timothy Stranko did not wish to comment on the allegations of the lawsuit at this time.

Umina, Mullins' attorney, said the lawsuit will provide actual transparency to the public about what was happening in Westover and will show the types of things that can happen in local government if there is no one there to shed light on the truth.

"Until today there has never been an independent investigation and people held responsible for the numerous civil rights violations that have occurred in Westover during the last administration, " Mullins said in a statement to The Dominion Post. "Those holding a public office and a position of public trust should not be exempt from accountability by simply resigning or dismissing one's position. To the contrary, they should be held to even a higher standard than the average citizen whether they're the mayor of a small town or the president of the United States. Those responsible for the abuses perpetrated upon the citizens of Westover and those responsible in covering them up need to be held to account."

"It is our hope that Mr. Mullins' case will finally hold accountable those within the City of Westover who tried desperately to cover up the ongoing wrongdoing within its police department and administration. We believe that it will shed light on the repeated retaliation by these officials against anyone who tried to expose their actions to the public, " Umina said.

"This case represents the best and worst of local government-those fighting for accountability and transparency for the citizenry and those with a nefarious agenda. It is our hope that this case will be a reminder to all that "justice dies in darkness, " and this action will bring the truth about what really happened in Westover to the light."

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