By Bobby Bordelon
The town of Alderson now has a new officer in charge with Lieutenant Rusty J.R. Byer Jr. Greeted with a round of applause and several thank you’s from the audience and councilmembers, Byer explained that although he had previously left law enforcement in Ronceverte, where he served as chief of police, his mind was changed after a request from Copenhaver.
“I thought I was retiring from law enforcement in January, but Travis called me and asked me if I come down and help out, so I’m here,” said Byer. “… After I talked about it with the family, the people of Alderson, the town, needed a police department and I thought I’d come down and help them out and give them a police department.”
Byer will serve as the lieutenant in charge of the department while Chief Jeremy Bennett is out on military leave. Byer is taking over after a difficult period for the department, with several officers leaving the department, and a meeting of Town Council seeing an explosive meeting where Bennett voiced a number of issues he had with the town. Bennett is expected to return after his deployment has expired.
Byer was previously the police chief of the Ronceverte Police Department before leaving the position earlier this year to work for the city’s streets department. He explained to council he had nearly two decades of experience before changing departments.
“Most of you know me, I’ve got [nearly] 19 years of law enforcement experience,” said Byer. “I started in 2001 in Ronceverte and I spent six years as assistant chief and I was chief for about eight years.”
Shortly before departing his position to join Ronceverte’s streets department, Byer was placed on administrative leave then fully reinstated by the city following an internal investigation into a video aired on WVVA involving the arrest of Gavin Alderman by Byer in April of 2018. The video appeared to show Byer kick Alderman as he was handcuffed to a knocked over chair.
The investigation, as explained in a statement from Ronceverte “found no evidence substantial inappropriate force in Chief Byer’s treatment of the subject involved” and concluded it was “clear … that Chief Byer’s rapid response saved three vulnerable residents of the City of Ronceverte from the very real possibility of physical harm within their own home.”
Now the lieutenant in charge for Alderson, Byer told council the rebuilding of the police department continued to be underway.
“There’s two of us full-time, one part-time, and we’re in the process of hiring a third officer full-time,” Byer explained.
A major concern for several parents in previous council meetings is that of the K9 unit that was recently sold to the White Sulphur Springs Police Department when its handler changed departments. Copenhaver explained Alderson could soon see another.
“Just because everyone wants to know about the drug dog, … Devin Johnson is actually working on his own, through the GI Bill, to get funding for a K9 to replace the dog that was sold to White Sulphur. It’s pretty admirable that he took it on himself to figure out how to pay for it and will ultimately probably get most of it paid for, [as well as] his training.”
In addition, a new K9 unit-ready vehicle will be acquired for the city, thanks to local Margaret Hambrick’s grant writing and the liquidation of the older vehicle previously used for the task.
“We got a grant for two new vehicles,” Copenhaver explained in August’s council meeting. “One is going to be a sedan, the other is going to be a K9 unit. … We’ve replaced cars with grants that have not cost [tax payers] a dime and we’ve been able to do that through using the special fund, by doing the grants. The grant that Margaret [Hambrick] essentially pays for half of the two cars. … Council did authorize to purchase a vehicle previously and, if you all remember, I said no. The reason I said no was [because] it was not budgeted. If we had expended that money then, we couldn’t afford the match for the new brand new cars, not a used car, two brand new cars.”
With the recent departure of most of Alderson’s police force and controversies emerging after, the town is looking to create a better system for dealing with policing issues in the future and catch potential issues far before they create a problem. As a result, Byer, Copenhaver, and council are looking for potential communication solutions.
“There was a consensus among council that we wanted some sort of a community relations, intermediary board between us and the police department,” Copenhaver said. “Chapter 814 actually defines how that process can be done. While at times it’s thought of as disciplinary, [the board we’re looking to put in place as] a relations board, not a negative issues when you have a problem. Just a thought, there’s no sense in reinventing the wheel, we’ll look at it over time.”