Martinsburg, WV — In 2019, one of the most disturbing videos we've ever reported on involving the savage beating of a handcuffed 16-year-old boy was released. Though the incident happened in November of 2018, authorities refused to release it until later because the officer responsible for the most egregious abuse was indicted. Sadly, however, all these steps to hold the officers accountable were in vain.
For his role in the beating, officer Michael Kennedy, 29, of Morgantown, was charged with one count of deprivation of rights under color of law after being accused of using force so excessive that it resulted in severe bodily injury of the 16-year-old. However, a federal judge acquitted him and he and his co-conspirator in the beating of the child, Derek Walker, were reinstated and given back their jobs.
Kennedy was facing up to 10 years incarceration and a fine of up to $250,000. However, thanks to a severely flowed system, he will face nothing. The family's only option after the cops were let off with no consequences was civil action. But thanks to qualified immunity, this is no longer an option either.
The West Virginia State Supreme Court dismissed the family's lawsuit this week, with Chief Justice Evan Jenkins saying the teen failed to prove that state police should not be granted immunity from prosecution.
The AP reports, in his dissent, Justice William R. Wooton accused the majority of favoring form over substance in ordering the claims dismissed based on technical issues.
According to the now-useless indictment filed in federal court, Kennedy, “while acting under color of law, physically assaulted J.H., a person known to the Grand Jury, during his arrest, and thereby willfully deprived J.H. of the right, secured and protected by the Constitution and laws of the United States, to be free from unreasonable seizures, which includes the right to be free from the use of unreasonable force by one acting under color of law. As a result of the defendant’s actions, J.H. suffered bodily injury.”
Berkeley County Prosecutor Catie Wilkes Delligatti released the video in March 2019 of several police officers involved in the pursuit of the unnamed 16-year-old boy, whose name and face have been redacted to protect his identity.
According to police and the video, the boy rear-ended a cop and then led officers on a several minutes-long chase before crashing the vehicle he was driving.
After the vehicle stops, the officers rush to the window and rip the tiny boy from the car like a rag doll. Had he needed medical assistance, he was getting none. Had he had an injured back, officers couldn't have cared less and just the way they ripped him from the vehicle was enough to cause severe injury. But it got much worse.
After he's ripped from the car and slammed face first into the pavement, as the teen's body lay limp on the ground, he is immediately placed in handcuffs. Then, for several moments the officers begin kicking, stomping, and punching his unresponsive body.
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As if this wasn't enough, after the teen was bleeding out and entirely unresponsive, Kennedy is seen placing his knee on his back, pressing down with his full weight before unleashing a fury of punches to the entirely restrained and unresponsive boy's face. In that melee alone, the officer would dole out 8 punches to the teen's face.
A minute later, the 100 lb teen is yanked to his feet but remains entirely unresponsive and limp as he's thrown down to the side of the road like a piece of trash.
After the incident the teen was hospitalized for several days but has fortunately since recovered. Because of his age, details about the severity of his injuries remain sealed as well as whether or not he was actually charged with a crime.
Troopers Michael Kennedy and Derek Walker and two sheriff's deputies were all fired the January. However, they have all been reinstated.
This case was so over the top that even high-level government officials and the ACLU decried it.
"The brutality witnessed in this video is shocking but all too familiar," said Loree Stark, the American Civil Liberties Union's West Virginia chapter's legal director. "Law enforcement has a constitutional responsibility to avoid excessive force, and it is crucial for videos like this to come to light so that offending parties will be held accountable."
Gov. Jim Justice said the incident "cast a dark shadow" on law enforcement. Indeed, we agree. As you watch the video below, it is clear that these officers had no regard for the life of this teenage boy.
Yes, this teen made a mistake and he deserved to be held accountable for any alleged crimes he may have committed. However, the officers' job description does not include "punishment." That is up for the courts to decide, which would never hand down a sentence that included being beaten nearly to death for joy riding in a car.
After watching the video, consider the fact that officers involved were not only rehired but granted immunity by the state's high court.
This is why qualified immunity must be brought to an end immediately.