A small-town police department in Milton, West Virginia, is facing more scrutiny after another troubling video surfaced of a questionable arrest. The newly obtained video contradicts the sworn statement of a Milton police officer who said the man who was arrested resisted arrest and tried to escape. PAR investigates the case and delves deeper into the finances of the town, which has nearly doubled its collections of court fines and fees over the past decade.
Pre-Production: Stephen Janis
Studio/Post-Production: Stephen Janis, Dwayne Gladden
Taya Graham: Hello, my name is Taya Graham, and welcome to the Police Accountability Report. As I always make clear, this show has a single purpose: holding the politically powerful institution of policing accountable. And to do so, we don’t just focus on the bad behavior of individual cops. Instead, we examine the system that makes bad policing possible.
Today we’re going to achieve that goal by following up on the story we broke last week about an illegal search of a man’s RV by Milton West Virginia Police. But the fallout since we aired that video has been so intense and revealed so many new facts about the town where it happened that we felt compelled to report on what we’ve learned. Specifically, we will be showing you a video of another questionable arrest by Milton police that raises even more questions about the imperatives driving law enforcement in this small rural town.
But before we get started, I want you to know that if you have evidence of police misconduct, please email it to us privately at email@example.com. And please like, share, and comment on our videos. You know I read your comments and appreciate them. And of course, you can always reach out to me directly @tayasbaltimore on Facebook or Twitter. And of course, if you can, please hit the Patreon Donate link pinned in the comments below because we have some extras there for the PAR family, which includes me thanking every single Patreon at the end of this episode including our super friends Shane Busta and Pineapple Girl. Okay, we’ve gotten that out of the way.
Now, as you may remember, last week we reported on the arrest of Coty Cecil. Coty was in his RV when Milton West Virginia police started breaking down his door. At the time, police claimed to have a search warrant. But even though Coty asked to see it before he let them in, police entered his RV without providing it and proceeded to arrest him. Throughout the ordeal Coty continually asked police to provide him with a copy of the warrant but they declined. Making matters worse, the entire basis for criminal charges against Coty were premised upon roughly eight immature Delta-8 hemp plants. Let’s watch.
[VIDEO CLIP BEGINS]
Coty Cecil: Can you explain it?
Officer 1: We’ll explain everything as soon as you open this door.
Coty Cecil: I need a warrant.
Officer 1: I know what you need.
Coty Cecil: See what I’m saying? Why isn’t that my Constitutional right?
[VIDEO CLIP ENDS]
Taya Graham: Now, once the video was posted, we started to receive multiple messages from people in Milton who told us they had similarly troubling encounters with police. In fact, we received so much feedback we felt we had to follow up to continue to cover what was going on in the small town. The feedback prompted us to dig deeper into both how the police department operates and the intriguing finances of the town that suggests a troubling imperative underlying the problematic over policing that we have uncovered. But what really made up our minds about doing yet another report on Milton was this, a video of the arrest of Milton resident Caleb Dial. A police encounter that only raises more questions about law enforcement in this city which we will unpack for you now.
Caleb had called police to his parents’ home after a dispute with a relative, but it’s what happened when Milton police arrived that is more revealing. A case of police seemingly fabricating an arrest that forces us to examine how this police department operates. Watch the video on our screen as the officer arrives. Caleb sits on the porch quietly waiting. As the officer approaches, he tells Caleb he’s putting him in handcuffs for so-called officer safety. As Caleb told us in an interview, he was surprised by the move. But what’s even more stunning is how the officer describes the same sequence of events in a sworn statement under oath. Let’s watch, and as we do, I’m going to read what the officer claimed happened.
[VIDEO CLIP BEGINS]
Officer 2: [inaudible].
Caleb Dial: Yeah, that’s fine.
Officer 2: You’re not under arrest. [inaudible].
Caleb Dial: I understand.
Officer 2: – What’s going on.
Taya Graham: [speaking over video] “I observed the defendant struggling to stand. As I began to speak with the defendant, he became very agitated and kept on raising his voice at me. I asked him several times to calm down and then decided to detain him for officer safety.” Really? Is this really what happened? Does Caleb appear agitated? Does he sound disrespectful to the officer? Let’s continue.
Caleb Dial: I understand.
Officer 2: – What’s going on.
Caleb Dial: My father and I are arguing.
Officer 2: Okay. [Inaudible]
Taya Graham: [speaking over video] “I then walked over to my cruiser with him and tried to ask him what happened. He continued to raise his voice at me and became even more agitated. The defendant then became very irate and pushed me with his shoulder and tried to pull away from me. I asked him to calm down, quit yelling, and get into the cruiser. He got very aggressive once again and was trying to pull away. I asked one more time and then assisted him into my cruiser.”
[VIDEO CLIP ENDS]
Taya Graham: Okay, I want you to think about what you just saw and compare that to what the officer wrote. I mean, does his narrative of the events bear any resemblance to what happened? In journalism, we have a word we use when the depiction of an event diverges entirely from what actually happened. The word is fiction.
But that’s not where the story ends, because police weren’t done with conjuring crimes that Caleb allegedly committed but evidence suggests did not happen. And for more on that, we’re going to be talking to Caleb soon. But in the meantime, we’ve also been delving deeper into the finances of Milton and have uncovered some disturbing trends that might explain why police there are so aggressive. For more on that, I’m joined by my reporting partner Stephen Janis who has been continuing his investigation into city budget documents. Stephen, thank you so much for joining me.
Stephen Janis: Taya, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
Taya Graham: Last week we talked about how fines in the city have increased along with the growth in size of the police department, but you’ve been digging into these numbers and uncovered some troubling trends. Can you talk about them?
Stephen Janis: Well, I went back 10 years in Milton City’s finance and budget and looked at 10 years of data going between 2012 and about the current date. And over those 10 years, the amount of fines that the city has been assessing through court fees and fines has nearly tripled while the police department budget has doubled. So both of them are very troubling trends. In other words, the police department was about half the size it was before they started ratcheting up these fines. The fines have gone up triple and the police department has doubled in size. So what we see here is a perfect example, I think, of a political economy of policing.
Taya Graham: You also looked into the crime rate. Is there any actual justification for increasing the police department with regards to the crime rate?
Stephen Janis: What was really interesting is that during the same period where they were starting to ratchet up fines and ratchet up the number of police officers, the crime rate was actually going down. And since then the crime rate has gone up. Now I think that would be because they’ve been making more arrests and because crime is usually represented by arrests. Which sometimes can be misleading because if police are generating stats by arresting people it can make the crime rate look like it’s going up. But really what they’ve been doing is creating business.
Taya Graham: Stephen, we have heard from multiple residents of Milton about their run-ins with police. What have we learned?
Stephen Janis: Well, Taya, it’s very troubling. I mean, people have called us and said they get harassed, they’ve been stopped by police 15 times, they can’t drive outside their home. One person told us a horrible story about how he thought his girlfriend had overdosed and the police arrested him even though she hadn’t. I mean, it’s really just an ongoing drama where police seem to be generating problems and generating crimes and people in the town are not happy.
Taya Graham: And now we’re joined by Caleb who has a firsthand perspective on how the numbers Stephen uncovered and the problematic growth of the police department can actually impact people’s lives. Caleb, thank you so much for joining me.
Caleb Dial: I appreciate you taking the time of your day as well.
Taya Graham: First, I just want to understand why you reached out to us. What was it about Coty Cecil’s story that resonated with you?
Caleb Dial: The fact that it was the same exact police department that violated my rights a couple months ago. Back in 2021 I had a not so fun interaction with that department. More specifically one officer.
Taya Graham: Now, set the scene of your arrest. As we can see in the video, you had called police and were waiting on your porch for them to arrive. Why did you call them and where were you exactly?
Caleb Dial: I was at my parents’ house and there was just a little verbal dispute between my father and I. I won’t go into details about that. We’ve reconciled. Anyways, lo and behold, I contacted the police so that way they would send an officer to my parents’ house so that way nothing would get out of hand, so that way everything would be mediated properly. I wanted to sit on the front porch and just wait for the officer to arrive because anytime I’ve contacted the officers before, which isn’t often, I’ve waited around in open sight for them to be able to see me. I didn’t think about sitting in front of the camera on purpose, but that ended up being my saving grace in the end.
Taya Graham: So the officer almost immediately puts you in handcuffs. Why did he do that and what were you thinking at that moment?
Caleb Dial: I was actually really confused. I asked him why he was doing that. He states for officer safety, which in the police report it states that he placed me in the cuffs because I was becoming irate with him, which you can see in the video I was not irate with him. I was actually pretty respectful towards him the entire time saying, yes, sir. No, sir. At one point he tried to get me in the back of his vehicle and I asked him why. He said something to the tune of like me not needing [to know]. I said, sir, I know my rights. He responded back saying, you have no effing rights.
Taya Graham: What happened after you were placed in the car? What did the officer do?
Caleb Dial: The officer, Officer [Higginbotham], he went back into my parents’ house to talk with them. While I was in his vehicle I had actually contacted the department. Well, I had contacted 911 to report that I was being falsely detained. Because I know enough about my rights to know that something was up and that I shouldn’t be sitting in the back of the vehicle especially since I was the one that had called him initially to mediate something. I could tell something was not going right.
Taya Graham: And so, what were you eventually charged with and what was the outcome?
Caleb Dial: I can’t remember exactly the charges. I think it was disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. I’ve got the full police report. And he charged me with felony escape, which I’ll get into that in a second. In the end all the charges got dropped because the video was shown to the prosecuting attorney and they showed it to the state attorney. They actually asked me not to sue the department if they were willing to drop all charges. I didn’t buckle to that because I knew enough that I knew that my charges would get dropped because that’s a straight case of corruption pretty much if they would’ve convicted me.
But back to that escape charge. Actually, whenever the officer took me down to the station, I had actually slipped my hands from the cuff and went out front and smoked the cigarette and I knocked on the door whenever I did that. My lawyer told me I wasn’t breaking the law by doing that, but he didn’t suggest that I do that again. But he said I was well within my rights to resist a false arrest like that. I’m lucky I had that doorbell video camera to back up all the things that the officer said happened that didn’t actually happen because it would’ve been his word against mine.
Taya Graham: So, the officer said you were obstructing and resisting arrest. Where does this take place?
Caleb Dial: He claimed that me calling the report false detention was obstruction which, if you look at the code of obstruction, it’s left open for interpretation to where it can be applied to literally anything whatsoever. But you could see in the beginning of the video whenever he’s walking towards the edge of the pavement, I also asked him what I was doing. He said, I’m going to put you in the back for disorderly conduct. I said, disorderly conduct only applies to – You can barely hear it – Disorderly conduct only applies to public incidents and I’m on private property. He purposely pulled me across the line of my parents’ yard onto the concrete and he’s like, you’re on public property now.
Taya Graham: Is there another video I don’t see? Because I don’t see any evidence of resisting arrest or shouting or disorderly conduct or the officer being pushed by you.
Caleb Dial: He also stated that whenever he was walking me over to his cruiser that I pulled away and pushed him, which in the video… He says that in the police report, but in the video you don’t see that anywhere at all.
Taya Graham: So the officer says he shouldn’t have 1015-ed you. What does that mean?
Caleb Dial: That he detained me without probable cause, essentially, and that he screwed up. I think in the video at one point you can hear him say that he effed up.
Taya Graham: Caleb, how has this impacted your life?
Caleb Dial: I was pretty scared because I’ve been trying to live the straight life for the past, for a long time actually. See, I’ve been in trouble one time in my life and that was before my 20s, and I pretty much straightened my life up after that. I didn’t want something else on my record to just make my past look bad. But whenever my father told me that we had the video I was kind of confident that we would win the case. But at the same time I was a little scared that the department would try to fabricate some sort of false, other false evidence against me, and try to get me put away for a long time.
But while the case was active – It got delayed a couple times – While the case was active I had coworkers that were coming to me just spouting rumors that they had heard. They asked me, did you really hit that girl? I was like, what are you talking about? I couldn’t really talk much about it, I could just say it had nothing to do with another girl, it was an incident between my father and I. But it was kind of devastating that people would come to me and say that stuff because I’ve got an eight year old daughter and I would never do anything like that. But I’ve been exonerated of all that now. But it’s just the social impact still kind of sucked, honestly, because I ended up having to leave that job because I had to go back and forth to court so much, so it impacted that as well. I’ve still had issues finding solid work in the area because of this and how it’s impacted my ability to not look over my shoulder and stuff.
Taya Graham: We’ve uncovered how the police department has grown exponentially along with fines and fees. Do you think this had anything to do with your arrest and the charges?
Caleb Dial: I don’t know about their personal police quotas, but I just know that, honestly, a bunch of bullies work at that department and they pick on a lot of poor people in that town. I got lucky because I was afforded things to me, outside help to be able to help me battle this case, because I had substantial proof that I was innocent. They just get away with arresting people for random things in that town that we don’t know are true or not because we have officers there that falsify stuff. And then they plaster people’s pictures on Facebook and write denigrating stuff trying to get [people riled up]. Whenever they posted my picture, which they did remove because of the court case, people were saying all kinds of things like, that’s what happens when you mess around with meth. Like people were just implying the dumbest stuff and it had nothing to do with that.
I feel like there are officers at that department who get off on that. They might have quotas to send people to Western Regional Jail. Which, while I’m talking about that jail, while I was there, I swear that jail needs to be looked at by more news stations because they’re on 23-hour lockdown. They only let the people in the jail shower twice a week. The food that they feed those people is subpar dog food, honestly. So while I was actually in that jail… I’ve got a form of epilepsy. I ended up having a seizure while I was in that jail and my cellmate actually found me seizing out. He ended up trying to get COs and there were only two people down in the general population area because it’s 23-hour lockdown. So those people were banging on the windows and doors of the outside of the pod trying to get COs and it took them about 30 minutes to come to my cell.
I was previously requesting medical assistance just to follow up on it and not a single nurse came by. I requested that probably about once every three hours, anytime the COs would do their rounds there. No nurse ever came by. Whenever I got to talk to the charge nurse the following day she said she was never informed about it. Then all the other nurses said the same thing. So they’re lacking with their healthcare inside that jail. I know that at South Central Regional Jail, someone just hung himself. The COs should be a little bit more attentive to the people inside these jails. Even though they’re there for crimes or alleged crimes, which jail is typically pretrial or petty misdemeanors, but they treat people like they’re subservient rugs.
Taya Graham: Now, as the story of Caleb and other people we spoke to in Milton suggests, increasing the size of the police department disproportionate to the amount of crime can have unforeseen consequences. In fact, in cities like Milton with both negligible crime rates and increased funding for police, we have what might be called a classic imbalance between supply and demand. That is, too many cops for too few crimes. But of course one could argue, why does it matter? Isn’t it better to be prepared? A few extra cops is just a way to ensure that if something really bad happened we’d have more than enough police to solve the problem. Well maybe, but like most public policy choices the decision to add more cops can create a series of perverse incentives that can cause more problems than it solves.
What do I mean? Well, consider the fact that Milton, West Virginia, is hardly the first town we encountered where crime and police budgets don’t necessarily match. And in each of these communities we see how police overreach creates more lasting damage than any benefits from keeping a bunch of cops on the payroll.
Well, let’s just consider a few past shows where we uncovered the fact that small town policing was simply disproportionate to the crimes which they were allegedly employed to fight. And then let’s consider how this imbalance affected the people’s lives that we spoke to.
There was a case of Randall Thompson who was pulled over by Denton, Texas, cops after he bought a car at a police auction. Police charged him with possession of methamphetamine after they searched his car four times and found a single baggy in the gear shift that was left behind by the previous owner. Despite the fact that Mr. Thompson had proof he had recently purchased a car, from the cops no less, police charged him with two felonies. During our reporting, we found out that Denton police wrote thousands of tickets for minor traffic infractions like changing lanes without a signal or a broken taillight, and seemed to focus their exceptionally large police department on pulling over out-of-town motorists. After our investigation, the charges were dropped against Mr. Thompson, but not until he had lost work, time, and spent thousands of dollars on lawyers. He also lost his home in the process.
Then, there’s the case of Otto the Watchdog, a cop watcher who is arrested in Royce, Texas, for the heinous crime of holding a sign. Turns out, when we looked into the town’s arrest data, we found a troubling trend. Almost 25% to 30% of all the calls made to police were for suspicious persons. These are not crimes. This is people calling cops just to harass someone who apparently made them unreasonably fearful. Otto, too, lost his home fighting those and other charges, which resulted from his initial so-called crime. Oh, and his sign case is still pending.
Then there was a case of Blind Justice, the cop watcher who was arrested for not giving his ID to a cop after he was accosted for playing Pokemon Go in a church parking lot in Madison, North Carolina. Turns out that the Madison Police Department that arrested him has 17 employees for another tiny town with a little over a dozen violent crimes. Years later, his case is still being prosecuted.
The point is what all of these examples illustrate is that the real crisis of American policing is that we simply have too much of it. That the proportion of criminals to cops in these small towns is simply out of balance, and that this over allocation of community resources to law enforcement has real consequences for people who have to live with them.
But of course there’s something deeper going on here. An institutional ailment that plays out in ways both unseen and often unacknowledged. To explain what I mean, consider this story in The New York Times about a community in California that was dealing with a catastrophic economic loss. The town, called Susanville, was up in arms because a major employer was planning to close a facility that was no longer needed. Now, this calamity was not the result of a manufacturing plant closing or a school shutdown. No. It was due to the fact that the state of California was faced with a shrinking prison population and had decided to shutter a major prison located in the rural community for good.
I think what was so intriguing about the story was the attitude of the residents. That they had become so accustomed to making a living off other people’s misery that they, in fact, felt entitled to it. That the entire economy of the town was feeding off the housing and incarceration of human beings was more important than the devastating consequences of mass incarceration.
The reason I bring this up is because it’s also illustrative of the problem with monetizing arrests and law enforcement. That’s because this small city had become so dependent on the corrupt process of keeping people in cages it had not developed any other way to survive. Isn’t that, in a way, a possible outcome for a town like Milton? A town that spends so much money on policing that it could succumb to the same fate. I mean, how many fines and fees and court costs can you squeeze out of a town of 2,500 people before the community itself starts to wither? How many bad arrests and bogus crimes can you contrive before the people themselves become so entangled in a legal system they can imagine nothing else.
As you might recall, in a previous show we talked about David Graeber, the noted anthropologist who posited that state-sponsored bureaucratic violence created dead zones of communal imagination. Well, think about the scale of what we’re witnessing in policing in these small towns. All of the communal resources are sunk into the same institution: policing. [And if] all the economic community that grows around it is oriented towards law enforcement, is it any wonder when we report on one bad arrest in a small town that we get calls from multiple people with the same complaint?
To really illustrate the point I’m trying to make, let’s take a page from a book that might seem obscure, but in fact is quite relevant to the topic at hand. It’s Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy. It is considered one of the definitive histories of Western thought written by a thinker who himself was considered a great interpreter of life and the inherent contradictions of consciousness. In the book he cites the history of Plotinus, a philosopher he said would’ve been better known had he not come of age during a treacherous time for the Roman Empire in which he lived. Turns out, Bertrand writes, the Praetorian guard, the veritable police force for emperors, have found it more profitable to murder the head of state and then sell the throne to the highest bidder. Unfortunately for Plotinus, Bertrand argues, the resulting chaos obscured his work and ultimately consigned him to a diminished role in the history of philosophy.
I cite this passage to make a point. When we report on communities where policing becomes the predominant employer or economic engine we also have to recognize that policing comes with its own prerogatives that can constrain or limit other facets of society. What I mean is, as law enforcement grows and it becomes the central focus to which our lives are lived it consumes resources and time and thus defines the lives of the people immersed in it. I mean, think about our guest today. After his arrest, he was ridiculed on Facebook as a drug addict, he had a seizure and he could have died in jail, all because a police officer made up a story about an encounter that didn’t occur. He had to retain a lawyer and fight to reclaim his freedom and his reputation.
Add to this calculus our first story about Milton police, the arrest of Coty Cecil. At this very moment Cecil is being forced to pay $2,000 for his freedom even though, in my opinion, he has not committed a crime. He will have to retain and pay a lawyer. And more than likely he will have to travel back and forth to the state to clear his name. Think about how much time and resources dealing with police overreach has been consumed in just these two lives. Thousands of dollars, hundreds of hours, and days of freedom lost. Then, think about this cost multiplied across the lives of hundreds and thousands of people across the country who have been similarly ensnared by illegal arrests or false charges. And then try to imagine what these same people could have done or accomplished if they had not been so encumbered.
That’s the point I’m trying to make. Policing turned into a profit center or a political agency consumes lives. It’s simply inevitable. When a person with a gun or a badge is incentivized to book a stat, make an arrest, or collect a fine, the consequences are not just devastating, but exponential. That’s why, even though a town like Milton is small and its problems are perhaps minor compared to the country at large, we have to pay attention. Because what we witness in Milton is that unchecked policing creates a destructive force that can have unforeseen consequences. It can literally consume us, which is why we will continue to follow the story of over policing in rural America’s cities just like Milton and beyond, wherever it leads us.
I want to thank Caleb for his time and for sharing his story with us. Thank you, Caleb. And of course, I have to thank intrepid reporter Stephen Janis for his writing, research, and editing on this piece. Thank you, Stephen.
Stephen Janis: Taya, thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.
Taya Graham: And I have to thank friend of the show Noli Dee for her support. Thanks, Noli Dee. And a special thank you to our Patreons, our super friends Shane Busta and Pineapple Girl, and Keith Bernard Morgan, Joe6, Gary T., Ryan P., Mark W., Noli Dee, Kyle R., Guy B., Calvin, M., Allen J., Trey P., Julius Geezer, Umesh H., John P., Ryan, Lacey R., Rod B., Andrea J., RBMH, Ziggy Young, PT, Talya B., Peter J., Joel A., Ronald H., Tamara A., Artemis LA, Tumblebug, Dante, Jimmy Touchdown, and of course, Truetube Live. I want you watching to know that if you have evidence of police misconduct or brutality, please share it with us and we might be able to investigate for you.
Please reach out to us. You can email us tips privately at firstname.lastname@example.org and share your evidence of police misconduct. You can also message us at Police Accountability Report on Facebook or Instagram, or at @eyesonpolice on Twitter. And of course you can always message me directly @tayasbaltimore on Twitter or Facebook. And please like and comment. I do read your comments and appreciate them, and I try to answer your questions whenever I can. We have a Patreon link pinned in the comments below so if you feel inspired to donate, please do. We don’t run ads or take corporate dollars, so anything you can spare is greatly appreciated. My name is Taya Graham and I am your host of the Police Accountability Report. Please, be safe out there.