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The American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia is investigating the treatment of several protesters recently arrested by the Martinsburg Police Department.
At least 11 people were arrested in Martinsburg the weekend of May 30 and 31 during demonstrations protesting police brutality and racism.
On Thursday, the ACLU of West Virginia filed a Freedom of Information Act request to the Martinsburg City Attorney’s Office and the Martinsburg Police Department on behalf of the Berkeley County Unity Coalition, a newly formed group of civil and human rights organizations, educators, faith leaders and others.
The FOIA asks for bodycam and dashcam footage, names and badge numbers of officers involved, official law enforcement policies and procedures for interacting with community members at protests, and use-of-force policies.
Additionally, according to the ACLU, the protesters who were arrested were forced to sit in jail with “excessively high bails” amid the coronavirus pandemic that has hit jails and prisons in the United States especially hard. A news release also said multiple video recordings appear to show police using “excessive force” and “escalating tensions” during the protests.
“This situation could have been handled in a way that de-escalated the situation and afforded a learning opportunity for both sides,” said Damon Wright, president of the Berkeley County Schools Diversity Council in the release. “Some of the young people were school aged and these incidents could further traumatize them to think twice about the role of police in helping.”
Wright said de-escalation training is “desperately” needed for officers.
Dr. Zakee McGill, president of the Berkeley County NAACP, also called for transparency from the authorities.
The Martinsburg Police Department wasn’t immediately available for comment.
On May 31, someone fired at least eight gunshots during an evening protest in downtown Martinsburg, according to police reports. No one was injured, and the shooter fled on foot.