Lawrence County deputy sued after accident
Published 6:24 pm Tuesday, August 18, 2020
A Lawrence County deputy is being sued after he allegedly hit a car while drunk.
And issues are being raised about if he was treated differently because he was a law enforcement officer, and that will be investigated by people from outside the county.
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The officer in question is Lawrence County Sheriff’s deputy Jason B. Newman.
Newman is being sued, along with two bars and two unnamed bartenders and the person who loaned him the car he was driving.
The incident occurred on Wednesday, Aug. 5 at 10:43 p.m. in Chesapeake.
According to a crash report, his car was traveling north on Sixth Street, failed to stop for a red light at the intersection and hit a car with three teenage girls that was turning east on Third Street. Newman was cited for running the light. But questions have been raised since he was allegedly drunk at the time of the accident, but was not given a field sobriety test.
Lawrence County Sheriff Jeff Lawless said he is asking for an outside investigator because there are some questions that need answered.
He said he had been looking into the matter and had consulted several times with Lawrence County Prosecutor Brigham Anderson.
“He decided a special prosecutor should take a look at the situation as well,” Lawless said. “We’ve forwarded information and the report to the prosecutor’s office for that to happen, too.”
He said he will be asking the outside investigator to look into whether his on-duty officers did anything wrong, whehter they violated any policies or any laws or if there is any evidence of wrongdoing.
Newman was off duty at the time of the accident and his actions could be investigated by a special prosecutor to see if any additional charges are merited.
Anderson said his office filed a request with the Lawrence County Municipal Court, which has jurisdiction in the case, since the collision occurred in Chesapeake, for the court to appoint a special investigator.
“I don’t get to pick, the court chooses who that is,” Anderson explained. “I am doing that because Jason Newman is a detective with the sheriff’s office and he works with our office, obviously. So, I wanted someone else to look at it, just out of fairness. I thought that was appropriate.”
Special prosecutors are generally brought in from another county and are generally requested when there is the potential for conflict of interest.
“So the court brings in a special prosecutor to review it and they can file whatever charges they deem appropriate,” Anderson said. “Anytime we have a conflict, we file a motion with the court to bring in a special prosecutor. Here, you have a detective who works with our office frequently and any decision I make will be second guessed, so it is better to have someone who is not involved with this individual make the decision.”
Tracy Brumfield, who as the parent of the driver whose car was struck, filed a lawsuit in the Circuit Court of Cabell County, West Virginia on Aug. 14, against Newman.
Lawless said the lawsuit didn’t have a bearing into how he is handling the matter and he was looking into it before the suit was filed last Friday.
“I have investigated police officers during my career and helped put seven of them in jail since I’ve been a law enforcement officer,” he said. “It is not something I am proud of, but it shows that if someone is doing something wrong and I can deal with it, I will deal with it.”
The suit alleges that Newman was at Jockey Club and St. Mark’s Place, both in Huntington, West Virginia, to celebrate his engagement and the unnamed bartenders continued to serve him alcohol “past the point in time at which Newman was visibly intoxicated” and “at approximately 9:32 P.M. on August 5, 2020, Newman’s fiancée posted a video on social media announcing their engagement” and “that video, upon information and belief, was taken at St. Mark’s and shows a visibly intoxicated Newman.”
The suit says the pair left Huntington, West Virginia and traveled back to Lawrence County in a vehicle owned by the fiancée’s mother, who is also named in the suit.
The suit says Newman drove across the Robert C. Byrd Bridge, ran a red light and hit the Brumfield car.
A Chesapeake police officer saw the accident and Newman told him he worked for the drug task force and showed him his police ID.
According to the suit, Brumfield arrived at the accident scene and spoke with Newman and that Newman had a “strong odor of alcohol.” The Chesapeake police officer called Lawrence County Dispatch to request an Ohio State Highway Patrol trooper to do a field sobriety test.
The suit says that four Lawrence County Sheriff’s deputies arrived at the scene and “one or more of the LCSO deputies either instructed or requested OSHP not to dispatch a trooper to the scene” and Deputy Steve Sisler took over the investigation.
The teenage driver and a teenage passenger were taken to a hospital to be treated for injuries.
Newman was charged with failure to yield to a highway traffic signal, steady red signal indication.
The two bars are being sued for emotional distress because they “have a statutory duty to not serve and/or to not sell” to an individual who was visibly intoxicated.
The relative who loaned the car to Newman is being sued for emotional distress because they “knew or should have known that Newman planned to consume” alcohol and should have known that he would be unfit to drive.
Newman is being sued for negligence because he had a duty to drive the vehicle in accordance with the law and breached that duty by being intoxicated and for assault and for battery for striking the other car and the driver was injured; and for emotional distress.
The suit asks for damages to compensate for injuries, medical expenses and damage to property.
Lawless said Newman is still on duty.
“He is an American citizen and is entitled to due process,” he said. “I don’t have any evidence against him that would allow me to put him off duty,” since putting him off duty would violate the bargaining agreement between officers and the sheriff’s office.
“Part of this investigation would be to see if evidence is there,” Lawless said. “In my investigation, there were conflicting reports from witnesses, some saying they smelled nothing, some saying they may have smelled something. At this point, I can’t prove that any crime besides running the red light has been committed. The special prosecutor will be looking into if there was more to it than just running the red light.”