ELKINS (AP) — A prosecutor is reviewing a former West Virginia police chief’s instruction for officers to harass and put fear into “any suspected cockroach” in the community.
The Inter-Mountain reports that in a memorandum, Elkins Police Chief Craig Cross said he wanted officers to harass people carrying knives or backpacks or wearing hoodies.
“PUT THE FEAR BACK INTO THESE COCKROACHES!” reads part of the memo, which also singled out two residences and their inhabitants.
The memo order officers to make Elkins residents respect — and fear — them.
“YOUR [sic] COPS AND AS LONG AS YOU WEAR THAT PATCH ON YOUR SHOULDER THIS IS YOUR TOWN!” the memo continued. “WE WILL EITHER MAKE PEOPLE RESPECT US OR FEAR US, PREFERABLY BOTH!!!!”
It wasn’t clear when the memo was issued. Cross stepped down as police chief last month and resigned from the department last week.
Law enforcement veteran J.C. Raffety has been named Elkins’ interim police chief. Raffety said the memo does not represent the views of his officers.
“The officers here, from my short perspective, are professional, want to re-establish trust with the Elkins community, and to some degree are embarrassed by the notoriety of the contents of the memorandum,” Raffety said.
In an interview in the Charleston Gazette-Mail, Raffety said he will work to rebuild trust with the local community.
“Harassment is not — and I’ll repeat that very strongly — harassment is not an effective law enforcement, and it will never be,” Raffety said. “In the time I’m the interim chief, I will move to increase professionalism and hopefully the public will reassess what has been a difficult time for the police department.”
After confirming the memo was written by Cross, Elkins officials turned the memo over to Randolph County Prosecutor Michael Parker. In a statement, the city said the memo also has been distributed to attorneys representing defendants charged with crimes being investigated by Elkins police.
American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia executive director Joseph Cohen called the memo “absolutely shocking.” He said it was a clear violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, which guards against unreasonable search and seizure, and the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of due process rights for citizens.
“Why would anyone in Elkins have faith in the criminal justice system?” Cohen said.
Cross told WDTV-TV last week that he was frustrated when he wrote the memo and his officers knew he wanted them to do their jobs, not violate anyone’s rights.
According to the Charleston Gazette-Mail, Parker said in a statement that “perhaps the sentiments contained in the memorandum are borne out of frustration in attempting to deal with an overwhelming substance abuse epidemic that has resulted in increased crime and has taxed our law enforcement community to its limits. Regardless, we cannot allow frustration to result in ignoring the requirements of the constitution.”
West Virginia University sociology professor Jim Nolan compared Cross’ instructions to the case of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed black teenager who was wearing a hoodie when he was fatally shot by Florida neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman while walking back from a convenience store in 2012. Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder.
Nolan said the sentiment in Cross’ letter “is an element of dehumanizing people. Once dehumanized, it is easy to commit atrocities,” Nolan said.