CHARLESTON, WV (LOOTPRESS) – The West Virginia Supreme Court has suspended and fined a State Judge after a traffic stop incident.
Judge C. Carter Williams was elected circuit court judge for the Twenty-Second Judicial Circuit (Hampshire, Hardy, and Pendleton counties) in 2016 and took the bench on January 2, 2017.
On July 11, 2021, Respondent visited an ice cream shop with his family and then left the shop alone, in his own vehicle. He returned to the shop because he believed he had forgotten his cell phone there but was unable to locate it.
While driving home, he heard something drop and, assuming it to be the missing cell phone, picked it up and transferred it from his left to his right hand while his hands were on the wheel. Officer Deavonta Johnson observed Respondent with the phone in his hand on the steering wheel and initiated a traffic stop close to 7:30 p.m.
Body cam footage shows that Officer Johnson approached the vehicle, and before Officer Johnson spoke, Respondent asked, “[w]hat’s the problem?” Officer Johnson greeted Respondent, “How you doing, sir, . . . the reason I’m stopping you is . . .” but was interrupted when Respondent said “I’m Judge Williams, and, I don’t . . . why are you stopping me?”
Respondent was visibly agitated and attempted to explain to Officer Johnson that he had just picked the phone up from between the door and the seat and was only holding it, not using it. Respondent became more agitated as the conversation continued, and Officer Johnson asked Respondent why he was screaming at him. The situation escalated when Respondent insisted that he had not done anything wrong and initially refused to provide his license and registration. Respondent then stated several times that the police are often on their cell phones and not on official business, asking Officer Johnson, “you’re never on yours?” in an angry tone. Officer Johnson again asked why Respondent was yelling. Respondent then provided his license and registration, his hands and body noticeably shaking.2 Respondent then motioned for Officer Johnson to go back to his vehicle and said “go ahead and give me a ticket. Give me a ticket.”
When Officer Johnson asked why he was shaking, Respondent answered “I’m irritated because you pulled me over for no reason.” Respondent again attempted to explain that he only had the phone in his hand and likened it to holding a cup. Respondent then told Officer Johnson, “Give me a ticket. Go ahead.” Respondent stated he would take the ticket up to the town office and take it to trial, then said “it’s ridiculous, what you’re doing.” He repeated that officers are on their phones and do not get pulled over, then stated “and don’t tell me it’s on official business, I hear your cases every day in court. Go give me a ticket. Give me a ticket. I’m really irritated about this whole . . . go ahead and give me a ticket.” Respondent repeated that he had been pulled over for no reason, to which Officer Johnson responded that he had pulled him over because he had a cellphone in his hand. Respondent said several more times for Officer Johnson to give him a ticket and motioned for Officer Johnson to return to his vehicle.
Officer Johnson then returned to his vehicle. There, he confirmed that Respondent’s license had expired a few months earlier. While in the vehicle, Officer Johnson received a call from his supervisor, Lieutenant Melody Burrows, whom Respondent had called once Officer Johnson returned to his vehicle. Lt. Burrows, in later testimony and sworn statements, elucidated that on the call Respondent told her that her “boy” had pulled him over, calling Officer Johnson “your boy” several times. Officer Johnson is African-American. Lt. Burrows testified that she knew he was referring to Officer Johnson because she does the scheduling and knew he was the only officer on duty in her department that evening. Lt. Burrows testified that Respondent did not ask her to direct Officer Johnson not to give a ticket, stating “[Respondent] was willing to take the ticket to begin with[,]” but the inference she got from the telephone call was that he did not want the ticket. According to Officer Johnson’s testimony (and as can be seen on the body cam footage), Lt. Burrows then called him and asked if Officer Johnson had already written the ticket, and if he had not, not to write it to diffuse the situation.
When Officer Johnson returned to Respondent’s vehicle, Respondent was on the phone with Lt. Burrows, who had apparently called Respondent back to let him know that Officer Johnson would not be issuing a ticket.
Respondent stated to Officer Johnson, “you can write me a ticket or not, I don’t care. I’ll take it up to town and we’ll go to a trial buddy. That’s fine with me. And I’ll tell you what, the next time I see any of you on the phone, I’m stopping right there and calling the state police. Any of you.” He then repeated that he was only holding his phone and was not using it, offering to Officer Johnson, “you can look.” When Officer Johnson asked, “why are you being like this” in response to Respondent’s increasingly agitated state, Respondent answered “because I’ve seen this crap enough and I’m tired of it[,]” grabbing his registration out of Officer Johnson’s hand, saying “give it to me. Let me have my license. Now.” Officer Johnson then informed him that his license was expired and needed to be renewed. Respondent did not answer but grabbed the license, put his car in gear, and said, “next time I see you . . .” as he drove off.
Respondent called Lt. Burrows again, around 8:15 p.m. On the call, he told Lt. Burrows that he always sees Moorefield police officers on their phones and that he will call and report it to the state police. Lt. Burrows also testified that Respondent said “he’s ever been treated so badly as a Circuit Judge and that he couldn’t believe that my boy would – wouldn’t take his word for it and why he would lie. He’s the Circuit Judge.”
Lt. Burrows further testified that during that call Respondent said that Officer Johnson “shouldn’t even have his job, that he couldn’t believe that we hired him back and brought him back[,]” referencing a wanton endangerment charge issued against Officer Johnson in Mineral County. The charges were dropped, but Officer Johnson was put back on a probationary period with the Moorefield Police.
Lt. Burrows also stated that Respondent said that “he heard our [Moorefield Police] cases all the time and that if we treated people like he treated – like we treated him today that it makes him question our cases that he comes across.” And, Respondent said that the encounter caused him to state something along the lines of having to “maybe reevaluate. Look at our cases.” Lt. Burrows stated that Respondent expressed that he was tired of Moorefield police officers “acted like thugs, harassing hardworking people[,]” and that their cases were sloppy. Later, in his testimony, Respondent vehemently denied that he insinuated he would change his rulings on Moorefield Police cases, and likewise denied using the term “thugs” during the call. After the call with Respondent ended, Lt. Burrows testified that she “was certain that our cases were through.”
For the reasons stated above, we impose the following sanctions:
(1) Respondent is suspended from his position as circuit judge in the Twenty-second Judicial Circuit for a period of six months, without pay;
(2) Respondent will maintain compliance with the JLAP monitoring agreement for a period of two years, violation of which is reportable to the JIC;
(3) Respondent is censured;
(4) Respondent is ordered to pay a fine of $5,000; and
(5)Respondent is ordered to pay the costs of this disciplinary proceeding, except that Respondent is not responsible for the costs associated with Dr. Clayman’s review of VCAP records.