Chris Schulz Published

Superintendent Of State Police Provides Updates On Investigations, Reforms 

Big Building with West Virginia State Police logo displayed.
West Virginia State Police Headquarters in South Charleston.
Randy Yohe/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

It’s been a year since allegations of illicit recordings of cadets and other women at the West Virginia State Police barracks launched federal and state investigations into the law enforcement department. 

In the aftermath, Col. J.C. Chambers was named superintendent of the state police. He spoke with reporter Chris Schulz to provide some updates on the investigations, as well as to discuss reforms he has implemented during his tenure.  

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Schulz: Can you tell me a little bit about your tenure so far? We’re approaching the one year mark? 

Chambers: It’s been a long year, I would have to tell you that. One year since I’ve been back to the state police. Been a very trying year, but it’s also been a very successful year. I feel we have great people in this organization, whether that be troopers you see running up down the road every day answering calls or our civilian staff. We have a great mixture of civilians and sworn members in the West Virginia State Police, which is one of the reasons and my love for the state police to come back, as asked by the governor’s office, as superintendent.

Schulz: We’ve been talking about this timeline of a year. And I want to be clear, we’re talking about the allegations of recordings in the women’s barracks, potentially of underage minors, as well as some allegations and accusations of sexual misconduct and abuse. As I understand, this has been under investigation now for almost an entire year. Can you tell me a little bit about why these investigations are ongoing and have not been concluded yet?

Chambers: There were numerous internal investigations opened up as quickly as we could once we figured out what direction we needed to go in. There were federal investigations opened up working with the US Attorney’s Office and the FBI. One of those is still pending. I can’t comment on that one. But the other ones, I have a Department of Justice letter that I’ll read to you stating that they no longer consider the West Virginia State Police or any of its members to be a target. And like I say several members, names that were out or come up in investigations are no longer with the State Police. We’re just we’re moving forward the best we can. We’ve changed everything from training hours at Academy to accountability of hours. We put in a $450,000 security system camera system in the state police academy. Just for checks and balances. We’re working hand in hand with a lot of other state agencies now. Our purchasing and our purchasing accountability agreements have changed drastically. We work with everybody trying to improve to make our agency better and make sure we don’t have anything like this happen in the future. 

I’ve got a letter here, dated from Will Thompson. He’s the U.S. Attorney of the Southern District. And it basically reads like this: 

‘This letter is to inform you that consistent with Justice Manual 911-155, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District no longer considers former Trooper Mike Miller to be a target of an ongoing civil rights investigation in the Southern District of West Virginia. Additionally, the United States Attorney’s Office Southern District no longer considers the West Virginia State Police or any of its members to be targets in an ongoing investigation in the Southern District of West Virginia, involving a camera being placed in the West Virginia State Police locker room, a claim of religious persecution at the West Virginia State Police Academy and the misuse of the West Virginia State Police fleet.’

Chambers: Which is our cars and our vehicles and things like that. It says:

‘Please be advised this, this letter does not preclude the United States Attorney’s Office from re-instituting an investigation into the allegations detailed above and identifying any member as a target should circumstances change. The US Attorney’s Office Southern District appreciates the cooperation from you…

Chambers: Which was me

…the superintendent and the West Virginia State Police to have provided this office and the federal investigators in the investigations of potential wrongdoing by its members. The West Virginia State Police has been and continues to be a vital partner to the US Attorney’s Office and look forward to continuing to work with you and other members of the State Police.’

Chambers: Signed by the US Attorney.

Schulz: What possible action needs to be taken to ensure that these investigations are concluded in a timely manner. It sounds like you’re waiting for external factors. If I understand you.

Chambers: You’re right on point here, Chris. And also that we’re looking into this stuff as well. We’ll look into stuff even after they conclude what their findings are whether they decide to move forward with something or not. And if it’s something administrative, then we’ll handle it from that point on. 

I know a year is not a long time. I mean, it seems like five years to be honest with you. But we have completed a lot of this stuff within a year. And there’s stuff that we can control and get done and I feel that we’ve done it as aggressively and as fast as we can. I mean my senior staff and the members in this agency are ready for this stuff to be done, completed so they can go about their jobs and feel right about the West Virginia State Police. I think it’s changing, I think it is. Our people are working. They’re out. They know they have the support from headquarters and doing this job day to day when you’re out in the field, you want to feel you are supported when you’re out here dealing with what we have to deal with daily.

Schulz: I would like to hear more about the changes that you’ve implemented. 

Chambers: Culture is what members understand as an acceptable behavior. I think for me coming back, once you’re held accountable, I want them to do their job, but also want them to feel secure in knowing they’re going to be backed out here when they’re trying to do the right thing, Chris. They have to have that, they have to have that feeling. I think it is coming back. Culture’s what a community perceives as acceptable. We in the state police feel we have support in West Virginia, they don’t want to see things like this happening. 

As far as changing culture, putting in a camera system, making the changes we have at the academy. We’ve been around 104 years, Chris, and to sit here and tell you, we haven’t had to make changes through that104 years, we’d be lying to you. But to change your culture overnight, it’s been around 104 years. You want to try to change things as positively as you can in a progressive, positive way. And I think that’s what we’re trying to do all the way down to our people reporting to the academy. 

I’ve been asked in the past, well, how are females going to do when they come to the academy now as a cadet or a basic officer? Well, a couple things we’ve done. We put a full time female officer supervisor at the academy, they’re engaged with her. She’s doing a great job over there. The deputy superintendent meets with any female coming on that property up there when they report, then midstream, they’re talked to and at the end of their training they’re asked questions to make sure that they felt comfortable there. We have expectations for them. But they also have an outlet if they need to talk to someone or need to speak with someone. We’ve implemented things like that, that, now it’s just a normal procedure or protocol that we do.