$135K settlement reached in brutality lawsuit

PARKERSBURG – Parkersburg Mayor Bob Newell said he is satisfied with a settlement reached in federal court this week involving a police brutality lawsuit against a former Parkersburg police officer.

Newell said Saturday he received confirmation of a settlement from the city’s attorneys in the suit filed by Parkersburg resident Jerry Seabolt against Joshua A. Vensel, who was a sergeant with the Parkersburg Police Department at the time of the incident.

Seabolt had filed a civil suit in U.S. District Court in Charleston against Vensel and also named Newell, Parkersburg Police Chief Joe Martin, the Parkersburg Police Department and several other police officers.

Newell said he received notification from the city’s attorney that a settlement was reached in federal court on Thursday awarding Seabolt $135,000 in the suit against Vensel. The settlement was made with the insurance company on behalf of Vensel as a city police officer at the time of the incident, he said.

Seabolt’s attorney, John Bryan of Union, W.Va., said after this case he does not see civil rights issues will come up again.

“I first became involved with civil rights issues in Parkersburg in June of 2010. With this settlement, I sincerely believe that these issues will not be coming up again,” Bryan wrote in an email statement. “We’ve been through three years of federal court litigation, three six-figure settlements, two jury trials, and two trips to the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. I’ve interacted with local leaders, police officers, citizens, local lawyers, and Charleston defense lawyers, and I believe everyone is on the same page regarding Parkersburg’s future – which means that my time in Parkersburg has probably come to an end.”

In October 2011 Vensel was alleged to have struck Jerry Seabolt while he was being booked on charges of obstruction, disorderly conduct and public intoxication. In his statement in support of the plea, Vensel stated he struck Seabolt with a closed fist.

The settlement dropped the police department, Martin and Newell as defendants. Claims against Vensel were dismissed with the case as part of the settlement, Newell said.

Newell said he always knew that the case would be settled on behalf of Seabolt, since the video evidence clearly shows Vensel’s actions. However, he did not agree with the inclusion of himself, Martin or the police department in the case.

“We’ve always contended there was no basis for this suit,” he said of the inclusion of anyone beyond Vensel in the filing.

“We are satisfied with the results and feel good about this settlement,” Newell said.

Bryan said he did not condemn Vensel.

“Joshua Vensel is a good person who made one mistake. I uncovered no evidence of any prior acts of excessive force by him. In the end, he did right by Mr. Seabolt, and I have no doubt he will go on to lead a successful life,” he wrote. “Lastly, I want to thank my co-counsel Michele Rusen and my opposing counsel Jim Muldoon for being great lawyers who are not afraid to do the right thing.”

The suit involves an incident on Oct. 15, 2011, in Parkersburg when four officers arrested Seabolt after receiving complaints he was drunk outside a Parkersburg store. The suit alleged that the officers forcibly handcuffed Seabolt and slammed his head into a police cruiser’s hood after he became aggressive.

While detained in the Wood County Holding Center, Seabolt allegedly assumed a fighting stance toward the officers. At that point, Vensel struck Seabolt with a closed fist to the head, which was captured on surveillance cameras.

Vensel was indicted Oct. 31, 2011, by a special grand jury in Wood County for battery following an investigation by the West Virginia State Police at the request of the Wood County prosecutor.

On Aug. 23, 2012, Vensel pleaded guilty to battery, agreed to surrender his law enforcement license and never again seek employment as an officer.

At his sentencing Vensel said the incident was a result of bad judgment, saying his decision to strike Seabolt was made in a split-second. Vensel was sentenced to 200 hours of community service, ordered to pay a supervision fee of $5 a month, a community corrections fee of $5 a month and $152 in court fees.