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Thursday, July 9, 2009

Cop Pleads Guilty to Civil Rights Violations, Faces 2 Years

Montgomery officer pleads guilty to civil-rights violations
The Charleston Gazette by Gary Harki - July 9, 2009

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Kaleigha Reynolds was just 4 years old, sitting in her car seat and drinking some juice, when a police car with lights flashing pulled in front of her parents' car in Montgomery. She didn't understand what was happening as Montgomery Police Officer Matthew Leavitt pulled her parents from the car and then started beating her dad on Sept. 26. Leavitt pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor civil-rights violations in federal court on Monday. Leavitt pleaded to beating Twan Reynolds with a slap jack and illegally charging his wife, Lauren Reynolds, with driving under the influence. Chief U.S. District Judge Joseph R. Goodwin accepted the plea. After watching Leavitt plead guilty, Twan Reynolds said Monday he remembered hearing his daughter's screams that night. He said Kaleigha was terrified by what happened. Lauren Reynolds said she first saw Leavitt that day as she was in line at a concession stand at a football game. "He was standing behind me, looking at me," she said. "He kept rocking back and forth. ... I got an eerie feeling from it. It was chilling." When they left the football game, the Reynolds family stopped at the local Go-Mart to put air in a car tire. The machine was broken, and they drove to the 7-Eleven. There Leavitt and Officer Shawn Hutchinson pulled Lauren Reynolds from the car, telling her it sounded like she was slurring her words. They looked at her license, which had a St. Albans address. "They said, 'You're a little St. Albans girl. You haven't had the privilege of being introduced to the Montgomery police yet," Lauren Reynolds said.

Twan Reynolds started talking to the two officers as he also tried to calm his daughter. "She was crying and I was trying to look back at her," he said. "From that point it just got out of hand." 'This ain't no rap movie' Leavitt and Hutchinson pulled Twan Reynolds out of his car and tried to handcuff him. When Reynolds told the men he hadn't done anything that justified arrest, Leavitt pulled out a slap jack -- a small weapon with a weight at the end -- and hit him in the face with it, according to Montgomery Police Lt. J.D. Burrow. In December, Burrow told the Gazette that Leavitt and Hutchinson threatened to arrest him when he tried to stop them from attacking Reynolds. "These guys were on their own. They felt like they could do what they want," Burrow said at the time. "It seemed like they always had that little leeway to do what they wanted to, to me." Chuck Miller, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia, handled the case himself. He pointed out in the courtroom that slap jacks have been outlawed for police use because they can kill.


Department of Justice Press Release
For Immediate Release
July 6, 2009 United States Attorney's Office
Southern District of West Virginia
Contact: (304) 345-2200

Former Montgomery Police Officer Pleads Guilty to Civil Rights Violations

CHARLESTON, WV—A former Montgomery Police Officer pled guilty today before Chief United States District Judge Joseph R. Goodwin to a two-count information charging him with deprivation of rights under color of law. Matthew A. Leavitt, 31, of South Charleston, WV, admitted that on September 26, 2008, while acting as a uniformed police officer for the City of Montgomery, he intentionally struck an African-American man with a slap jack, an unauthorized piece of law enforcement equipment, thereby using excessive force and willfully depriving the victim of his Constitutional right to be free from unreasonable force by one acting under color of law. Leavitt further admitted that on the same day, he unlawfully and without probable cause detained and arrested the victim's wife on a charge of driving under the influence of alcohol or controlled substances. Leavitt, who is scheduled to be sentenced on September 24, 2009, faces up to two years in prison, a $200,000 fine, two years supervised release, and an order of restitution to the victims. The Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted the investigation. United States Attorney Charles T. Miller is handling the prosecution.

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