Sustained Outrage

Policing the police: More on the video and timeline

Twelve minutes is a long time to sit and watch a video of anything, let alone just a guy sitting at a table and talking. But that’s the video you’ll find at the top of my story about the West Virginia State Police today. The video is of an interview with Roger Wolfe, who says he was beaten at the hands of State Police.

I don’t think I’ve ever had an interview where I needed to ask fewer questions (most of which were edited out helpfully by Douglas Imbrogno, who produced the video.) Mr. Wolfe simply sat down and told his story.

The reason it’s so long is to give you, the reader, a chance to listen to Mr. Wolfe tell his own story in its entirety.

People call me all the time with stories of how one police officer or another hurt them or abused their authority. Not even half of those stories are believable, and only a small percentage of the ones that are ever have a chance of becoming something you’ll read about in the paper.

In Roger Wolfe’s case, from the beginning we had a Kanawha County Magistrate and his lawyer, Ben Bailey, who were willing to go on the record about the incident, not to mention his mug shot. It was an easy decision to print the first story back in 2007. I didn’t even talk to Mr. Wolfe until earlier this year.

But most of the time the decision to print one of these stories is not easy. When someone calls me with some horrible tale of police brutality, the first thing I do is try to decide whether that person and their version of events is believable or not.

Even if I do think they might be telling the truth, that doesn’t mean they are and it doesn’t mean it’ll ever make the paper – but you have to start somewhere.

I also wanted to give you a little more information about the timeline by Gazette Graphic Designer Kyle Slagle that goes with the State Police story.

In Monday’s story police accountability expert Sam Walker said, “We have news stories about a particular officer when misconduct results in a very serious problem. We don’t really have a professional system to prevent these kinds of problems.”

That’s exactly what I found when I started researching this stuff.

The single best source for information has been newspapers, especially the Gazette’s archive. To assemble the timeline, I asked Steve Campbell, who takes care of the Gazette’s electronic library, to run a special search giving me listings of stories mentioning the State Police. The lengthy files aren’t perfect, but they give me just about all of the stories mentioning the State Police in chronological order going back to 1985.

I took those files and put them in DocumentCloud, a really neat tool that helps journalists examine and share documents. From there, I just had to pick out the most important dates and edit the information down to something someone other than me wouldn’t mind reading.

Below I’ve embedded the DocumentCloud files, which list in chronological order stories about the State Police going back two-and-a-half decades.You can make the document full-page by clicking the box in the bottom right-hand corner. The notes you’ll see to the right are my own and mostly just list what certain stories are about.

State Police stories from 1985-1989

State Police stories from the 1990s

State Police stories from the 2000s