Lawmaker faces misdemeanor battery charge

CHARLESTON — Mike Caputo, the minority whip for the West Virginia House of Delegates, was charged over the weekend with misdemeanor battery for a March incident that allegedly left a House doorkeeper and fellow delegate injured.

Caputo, D-Marion, was charged Friday in Kanawha County Magistrate Court by the state Division of Protective Services who manage the Capitol Police.

Caputo faces one count of misdemeanor battery in connection to the March 1 incident. He will appear before Kanawha County Magistrate Jesse Bailes at 10 a.m., Sept. 30, to offer a plea. Caputo is being represented by Tim DiPiero and Lonnie Simmons, of the DiPiero Simmons McGinley and Bastress law firm in Charleston.

“I was very surprised and disappointed to learn today that I have been charged criminally regarding my actions back on March 1, 2019 at the West Virginia House of Delegates,” Caputo said in a statement. “I have already apologized for losing my temper that day, but I certainly didn’t intend to physically hurt anyone, and don’t believe I committed a crime.”

Jared Hunt, communications director for the House, said all questions should be directed to either the Division of Protective Services or the Kanawha County Prosecutor’s Office.

“This is a law enforcement matter that, based on our understanding, is being handled by the Capitol Police and Kanawha County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office,” Hunt said.

“House leadership has not been involved in this matter since the date the incident occurred and was referred to Capitol Police, therefore we would refer any comment on the investigation or decision to pursue a criminal charge to the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety and the Kanawha County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.”

The incident is connected to WVGOP Day, held March 1 at the start of the final week of the 2019 legislative session. The event, sponsored by the West Virginia Republican Party, featured Pro-Trump and county party executive committee displays in front of the House of Delegates chamber.

Setting up a display without approval from the state Republican Party organizers was Brenda Arthur with ACT for America — an organization accused of anti-Muslim hatred. This display included a poster showing the World Trade Center attack on 9/11 above a picture of U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Democrat representing Minnesota in Congress. Omar, a Somali refugee and Muslim, has been a lightning rod after she was accused of making anti-Semitic remarks regarding the U.S. relationship with Israel.

The display upset several Democratic House members who confronted the woman behind the display and causing a commotion as the House was gaveling in for the morning floor session. One verbal altercation between a delegate and former House sergeant-at-arms Anne Lieberman ultimately resulted in her resignation after she was also accused of making an anti-Muslim remark.

According to the criminal complaint, Capitol Police officer J.C. Chambers alleged that Caputo was approaching the door of the House chamber talking loudly and “saying nasty things.” Chambers said witnesses saw Caputo either push or kick the door to the chamber open, hitting doorkeeper Logan Casterline.

“The double door entrance of the chamber had glass windows in each door and would have allowed for easy visibility into the same,” Chambers wrote in the criminal complaint. “Mr. Casterline complained of pain and sought medical attention, on site and at a local hospital.”

According to the complaint, Caputo also allegedly pushed Del. Sharon Malcolm, R-Kanawha, out of his way with his elbow.

“(Caputo) stepped around her and advised her to get the ‘F’ out his way,” Chambers wrote. “(Malcolm) stated he then took his elbow and pushed her out of his way.”

Caputo, during floor remarks that same day, admitted to kicking open the front door to the House Chamber when doorkeepers asked him to wait until after the prayer and Pledge of Allegiance had been completed at the start of the floor session.

On March 2, Caputo apologized for letting his anger get the best of him and kicking the door open, though he has never acknowledged that any altercation occurred between him and Malcolm.

Caputo was removed from his committee assignments as punishment for the incident by House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay. An attempt by some House Republicans to censure Caputo and expel him from his House seat March 8 failed. An attorney representing Casterline had also announced a possible lawsuit, though none has been filed.

Belinda Biafore, chairwoman of the West Virginia Democratic Party, accused Republicans of trying to deflect from the recent arrest of state Sen. Mike Maroney, R-Marshall, who was charged in August with soliciting a prostitute.

(Adams can be contacted at sadams@newsandsentinel.com)

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