By Sarah Mansheim
This week, Greenbrier resort owner and gubernatorial candidate Jim Justice was dealt another blow to his campaign, this time by a dash-cam video of him arguing with a police officer during a traffic stop.
The video was first released by the Bluefield Daily Telegraph after being acquired by the newspaper through a Freedom of Information Act request to the Lewisburg Police Department. Journalist Samantha Perry stated that she had been tipped off about the existence of the video, and, after gathering information for months, was able to acquire it from the LPD.
The video shows Justice’s large, black SUV being pulled over for going 54 mph in a 40 mph zone. The portion of the video that has created outrage occurs when Justice exits his vehicle and tells the ticketing officer, Sgt J.A. Vance, in part, “I am a long way from being, you know, too big for the law, but you have got to be a total lunatic. This is ridiculous. You have got to be crazy.”
When Vance attempts to explain the speeding ticket, Justice says, “I don’t want you to explain anything. I want you to explain it to your boss.”
According to the Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Justice was given a speeding ticket, and Vance also informed Justice of an issue with his license plate, which the officer had been trying to get information about in his cruiser, as Justice waited in his car.
Justice’s controversial statements occur after Vance exits his car to give Justice the ticket. At that point, Justice exits his vehicle and begins to argue with the officer.
The uproar across social media and across the political spectrum was fast and loud. The Republican Governors Association was quick to release it via social media and an email blast, and gubernatorial candidate Jeff Kessler, Justice’s direct opponent for the Democratic nomination, released a public demand for an apology. Justice’s campaign manager swiftly dismissed the video release as a politically motivated power play by Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Cole.
For his part, Justice insists he wasn’t arguing about the ticket itself, but the fact that he was left parked in the middle of a wet, two-lane road at night for over 10 minutes while Vance ran his tags.
“First and foremost, I have been a very strong supporter of the Lewisburg Police Department, the Greenbrier County Sheriff’s Department and the West Virginia State Police,” Justice told the Mountain Messenger. “I am a rock-solid supporter of law enforcement. But, I was clocked for speeding at Lewisburg Elementary School, in the vicinity of Jim’s Drive-In, and pulled over on Houfnaggle!” Houfnaggle Road is a secondary road off of Rt. 60, 0.7 mile away from Jim’s Drive-In.
“It was peculiar to me,” said Justice of the distance Vance drove to pull him over. “I will always be appreciative and supportive of the men and women in law enforcement, but that doesn’t mean people don’t make mistakes.”
Justice said that when he was pulled over on Houfnaggle Road, it was after dark and the roads were wet. Further, he said, he had to park in the road and traffic had to drive around him as Vance prepared his ticket.
“It caused a situation that I felt very uncomfortable. It created an unsafe situation on a wet road. It became so bizarre,” said Justice. “It created a lot of anxiety.”
Justice said that the anxiety about being pulled over on a wet road and left in the car for what he said was 15 minutes is what created the situation where he exited the vehicle and argued with the officer – not the ticket. The time stamp on the You Tube video of the incident indicates that Justice and his passengers were left in the car for seven minutes and 25 seconds while Vance ran Justice’s tags.
Justice dismisses the publicity of the video as a “Bill Cole, Washington-style ugly politics machine.”
“(The incident) happened a year ago. It’s pure politics to drag up something old. People need jobs. People need new ideas. I think it’s just plain terrible,” he said.
Perry, the Bluefield Daily Telegraph reporter who originally broke the story, said this week that she was tipped off about the incident by people who are unaffiliated with Cole.
Justice reiterated his support for local law enforcement, noting that he utilizes the local municipal, county and state police departments to help direct traffic during The Greenbrier Classic golf tournaments, giving them positive exposure and extra hours. He could, he said, utilize private security.
A spokesperson for the Greenbrier Sheriff’s Office confirmed Justice’s use of area police as a positive experience for local law enforcement.
As far as the apology Kessler is demanding, Justice said this: “I am apologetic about being a human being.” He admitted his anxiety about the traffic stop led to the argument and doubled down on his insistence that Vance was equally to blame for the incident, stating that Vance could have easily pulled him over at the intersection of Rt. 60 and Houfnaggle Road at the Little General gas station, which, he said, was better lit and provided a parking lot.
“There were mistakes made on both sides,” said Justice.