Police chief reinstated after internal investigation

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By Sarah Richardson

In early July, Ronceverte Police Chief J.R. Byer, Jr., was placed on paid administrative leave after a video surfaced that appeared to show him kicking a handcuffed man in the face.

The video, which seems to be from a security camera located in the Ronceverte Police Station, shows Chief Byer, Assistant Chief E.D. Vaught, and detainee Gavin Reed Alderman on Apr. 18, 2018. Alderman is pictured with his hands cuffed behind his back, and his feet chained to the floor. Alderman tries stand up out of his chair when he falls to the ground. He remains on the floor as Byer is seen walking toward him when he raises his leg and appears to make contact with Alderman’s face.

Ronceverte City Administrator Reba Mohler released the following statement after the video was released, “The City of Ronceverte just became aware of this video on July 2, 2019. The officer involved has been placed on paid administrative leave until an investigation is complete.”

This week, the city of Ronceverte released the following statement:

“The Ronceverte Chief of Police, J.R. Byer, Jr., was removed from administrative leave and fully reinstated by the City of Ronceverte upon completion of an internal investigation conducted by independent investigator, Michael Spradlin, retired West Virginia State Trooper. The investigation was prompted by the release of a video involving an arrest by Chief Byer on Apr. 18, 2018. The abbreviated video was first aired in July 2019.

“The investigation found no evidence substantiating the use of inappropriate force in Chief Byer’s treatment of the subject involved. The investigation consisted of interviewing multiple fact witnesses for the day in question, including civilians and law enforcement officials. Associated medical records and toxicology reports were also reviewed. Both fact and opinion interviews included members of the Ronceverte City Police Department, the White Sulphur Springs City Police Department, the Greenbrier County Sheriff’s Department, the West Virginia State Police, and the Greenbrier County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office regarding their review of the video as possible evidence of abuse. The finding by Mr. Spradlin was supported by a former Lt. Col (ret.) WV State Trooper who spent part of his career conducting use of force investigations for the WV State Police and is presently employed as an investigator with the Greenbrier County Prosecutor’s Office.

“Chief Byer requested medical services due to the intoxicated condition of the subject. Approximately two and a half hours later the Greenbrier County Sheriff’s Department was called by 911 services to assist medical personnel as the subject had become unruly and threatening at their facility and was arrested again with additional charges.

“It is clear from the internal investigation 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. That rapid response also saved them from the very real ramifications of the use of deadly force. At least one resident felt compelled to arm herself to protect her sister and their elderly mother from a complete stranger who appeared to be out of control and was attempting to force his way into their home.

“It should be noted that during the 15 months form the arrest, the investigation did not find evidence the subject ever alleged any abuse. He was represented by counsel during the court process and no assertions were made alleging any abuse.

“As a result of Chief Byer’s actions, the subject has received the opportunity to recover from a poor choice that could have been life changing for two families. It is the hope of everyone involved that he has been able to deal with the legal ramifications and is moving on to what is hopefully a happy and productive life.

“The City of Ronceverte is proud of the exemplary, 18-year career in law enforcement of our Chief of Police, J.R. Byer, Jr. We look forward to his continued leadership of the City of Ronceverte Police Department.”