Federal judge catches West Virginia cops in traffic lie

By Richard Diamond

A federal judge Monday was not impressed by the conflicting testimonies from police officers about a June 6, 2020 traffic delay in Chapmanville, West Virginia. That day, David Lee Bumgarner was driving a Chevrolet S-10 pickup that he had borrowed from his neighbor Keith McCloud. Chapmanville Patrolman Michael Hall was in an unmarked car when he drove past the truck from the opposite direction and realized he could give Bumgarner a penalty for not wearing a seat belt. He quickly made a U-turn and initiated a traffic stop.

The court noted that Patrolman Hall offered multiple accounts of how long he had followed the truck, ranging from twenty seconds to a minute, before Bumgarner safely pulled into a parking lot. During the stop, officers did not notice anything unusual about the driver and his passenger. The patrol officer had no reason to believe they were involved in criminal activity when he conducted a background check on the truck’s occupants.

It was then that Zachary Holden of the West Virginia State Police arrived at the scene and claimed to be familiar with Bumgarner based on second-hand information. He ran a scan and found no weapons. Bumgarner was handcuffed and locked in the back seat of the officer’s squad car. As he removed the passenger, the officer claimed he saw a gun inside the truck from his perspective when looking inside the vehicle from the outside. The weapon, a SCCY CPX-2 9mm handgun, was stowed entirely under the passenger seat, according to a photo taken at the scene (see photo).

The question before the court was whether the police officer was telling the truth when he saw the gun “in plain sight”, leading to Bumgarner being charged with a felon in possession of a gun. The court was not impressed by the official account of what happened during the traffic stop.

“Soldier Holden testified that he was standing upright in front of the passenger door and was not leaning into the truck when he saw the gun,” U.S. District Judge Irene C. Berger wrote. “Honestly, looking at the images, that line of sight doesn’t seem possible. The photos show that even from eye level with the gun, she is completely under the passenger seat and her color blends with the seat and floor panel in the shadow area.”

The judge found no justification for the search as the only “crime” lawfully investigated was Bumgarner’s decision not to wear a seat belt.

“Soldier Holden was unable to develop a probable cause that the pickup truck contained contraband or that the defendant and his passenger were currently engaged in illegal activities prior to getting into the pickup truck,” Judge Berger noted. Patrolman Hall’s testimony contradicted some of the key points of Trooper Holden’s testimony, was internally contradictory at times, and he responded that in response to questions he did not recall at least 14 times. Aside from the frequency with which he didn’t remember seemingly important details, Trooper Hall claimed to remember certain events with pinpoint accuracy while not remembering other events in the same period at all… As a result, the court establishes credibility of the evidence presented, including whether the weapon could be questionable at best from Trooper Holden’s alleged standpoint.”

Had the gun been visible, it still wouldn’t have been evidence of a crime because it’s not illegal to drive with a gun in West Virginia. None of the officers had direct knowledge that Bumgarner was a felon. As a result, the search was found to violate Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and the evidence against Bumgarner was thrown out.

A copy of the decision is available in a 500,000 PDF file at the source link below.

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