WHEELING - Ohio Valley Black Caucus President Delores Wiggins said she is taking complaints of racial discrimination and corruption leveled against Wheeling police and Ohio County prosecutors, magistrates and judges to the U.S. Justice Department in Washington, D.C.
However, Police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger said he doesn't believe any such discrimination is taking place - and if evidence is given to him proving otherwise, he will deal with it.
A flyer circulated in the city this week announced a community meeting Thursday led by Wiggins at the Doc Horton Center in East Wheeling. About 40 people gathered to discuss their concerns over what they believe is happening in Wheeling.
LISTENING — Roy Cochran, chairman of the Ohio Valley Black Caucus, took notes while Queenie Waitts sat nearby during a Thursday meeting at the Doc Horton Center in East Wheeling. — Ian Hicks
"For the last five months, we've had complaints after complaints after complaints from the citizens of Wheeling," Wiggins told the group.
Queenie Waitts' son, Duncan, was arrested by police last week at her home in East Wheeling for being drunk in public. She accused officers of unlawfully forcing entry into her residence to apprehend her son, shoving her aside in the process.
The arresting officers referred to 37-year-old Duncan Waitts as "boy," Queenie Waitts claimed.
Waitts said she was shocked to receive a summons in the mail three days after her son's arrest notifying her she would have to appear in Wheeling Municipal Court for allegedly obstructing officers while they arrested her son.
Bonnie Grewe's son, Cory Henry, was indicted on charges he abducted a woman from a bar and sexually assaulted her at a home in Elm Grove. Grewe, whose house is where the alleged crime occurred, questioned how her son could abduct the woman when she willingly left the bar with him.
Others complained of what they believed to be high bond amounts set by magistrates, prosecutors with a "vendetta" against some residents and municipal judges who unjustly punish defendants - all of which they claim was racially motivated.
Wiggins said she wants to see the Justice Department come in and overhaul the police department, as it did in Steubenville in the 1990s.
"In other words, this valley is just polluted," Wiggins said. "We live in an area where it's so political - it's not what you know, it's who you know."
Schwertfeger defended his officers late Thursday, and said he has neither witnessed nor heard about misconduct within the department.
"I don't tolerate that type of behavior by officers," Schwertfeger said. "I don't believe it's going on, but if it is, I'll deal with it."
He also pointed to the department's Office of Professional Standards, which he established shortly after taking over, and encouraged anyone with a complaint to voice it there.
Councilman Robert "Herk" Henry, a retired police officer, said he doesn't believe any of the department's officers are discriminating against those they arrest.
"I think all of our officers here in Wheeling operate the same way, and that is that they don't discriminate against anyone," Henry said. "If you do something wrong, you get treated the same way, no matter who you are. ... The police officers in Wheeling do their jobs, plain and simple."