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W.Va. House Tables Resolutions to Further Punish Caputo; Doorkeeper's Attorney Eyes Lawsuit

Perry Bennett
West Virginia Legislative Photography
In this file photo, Del. Mike Caputo, D-Marion, speaks on the House floor on Saturday, March 2, 2019.

Updated Friday, March 8, 2019 at 3:14 p.m.

The West Virginia House of Delegates has tabled two efforts to further punish a Democratic member for his actions during a tense series of events last week. Members voted Friday to not act on resolutions calling for the censure and expulsion of Del. Mike Caputo, D-Marion.

Although additional punishment from the House of Delegates appears to be on hold, an attorney representing a doorkeeper who was struck by the doors has announced their intention to seek compensation for damages as a result of the incident.

Caputo admitted Friday, March 1, to kicking in the doors to the chambers that day. During that incident, the doors struck the House staff member.

It all started when a poster with anti-Muslim sentiments was displayed in the rotunda during “WV GOP Day” at the Capitol. A heated exchange ensued and Caputo has said he forced his way into the chamber to alert House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, about the display.

Hanshaw said in a floor speech that evening that the doorkeeper, identified later as Logan Casterline, sought medical attention following the incident. Multiple requests for comment from Casterline regarding his condition have gone unreturned.

Caputo publicly apologized for the incident Saturday. On Monday, he was removed from all committee assignments for the remainder of the session.

Rising tensions this week ultimately led some Republican delegates to offer additional punishments against Caputo. Introduced late Thursday evening, House Resolution 20 calls for Caputo to be publicly reprimanded via censure and House Resolution 21 seeks to have him expelled as a member.

During a Friday morning floor session, delegates addressed both resolutions targeting Caputo. However it didn’t take long for those efforts to fizzle out.

Del. Marshall Wilson, R-Berkeley, offered House Resolution 21, which calls for Caputo to be expelled for the remainder of his term. Wilson was the lone sponsor of that effort until Del. Joe Jeffries, R-Putnam, requested Friday to be added as a sponsor.

“We should and must condemn his behavior in terms strong enough to exact the requisite justice,” Wilson said on the floor, “to give the gentleman pause to consider the gravity of his offense and to convince others who might be inclined to engage in such behavior that the price for the offense is too high to bear.”

House Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison, moved to table the resolution to expel Caputo. The motion to table the expulsion resolution, not debatable under House rules, was adopted on a 65-35 vote.

Del. Tom Bibby, R-Berkeley, explained the effort to censure, House Resolution 20. He and 28 other Republicans signed on as sponsors.

“We can get passionate in our arguments. We can get very strong in our language with each other,” Bibby said. “But we cannot allow anyone to put a hand on anyone or to do violence to someone. That breaks down society, that breeds anarchy.”

Del. Sharon Malcolm, R-Kanawha, spoke in support of the censure. Earlier this week, she told a website ran by a conservative political commentator that Caputo shoved her out of the way during the incident.

“Free speech is free speech, but when you put your hands on somebody twice -- two separate people within three minutes -- you got some consequences coming and I guarantee you they're coming,” Malcolm said on the floor.

But before debate could continue on the censure resolution, Del. Steve Westfall, R-Jackson, moved to table the endeavor. Westfall’s motion was adopted on a 62-38 vote.

Del. Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan, was one of many in the majority party that voted to table the resolutions that sought to further punish Caputo.

“I thought he was punished for his improper actions,” Cowles said in an interview. “But, also, it was important to me that his apology was heartfelt -- and I think it was.”

Others, though, wanted to see each resolution go to a vote, regardless of their position on respective efforts to censure and expel. Del. Dianna Graves, R-Kanawha, said in an interview she feels Caputo is sincere in his apology and was understandably upset last week.

Still yet, Graves said that the incident warranted more punishment than Caputo’s removal from committees for a handful of days. She said overturning the will of those who elected Caputo through expulsion would have a been drastic measure, but a censure would have been appropriate.

“You can be sorry and you can be really angry about something. Neither one of those two things frees you from consequences,” Graves said. “So I do think it was appropriate to censure -- which is, after all, just a public reprimand to say that we don't condone violence.”

Following the floor session, Caputo spoke to reporters.

“There was a lot of anger coming through that door. I won't deny that,” Caputo said. “Certainly, my actions were inappropriate. I've already admitted that and I just hope that we can move beyond this point.”

He also took issue with Malcolm’s account of last week’s events.

“I assure you, I didn't physically harm her at all,” Caputo said.

He thanked members of his party as well as Republicans who voted to table the resolutions to censure and expel him.

“I hope that's an indication that people have forgiven me, because I've asked them to forgive me. We can just move on and get on with the business of the people of West Virginia, get our lives back to some normalcy because I've admitted to my mistake. I've never hid behind it and I apologize again to all of West Virginia for my actions,” Caputo said.

But, an email from Charleston attorney Chris Pritt to West Virginia Public Broadcasting indicates this may not be entirely over. Pritt, who ran unsuccessfully for the House of Delegates in 2018 as a Republican, identified himself as counsel for Casterline -- the doorkeeper who was hit by the door in the incident.

“Delegate Caputo’s conduct on the premises was in no way justified,” Pritt wrote in the email. “The actions of Delegate Caputo caused Mr. Casterline significant pain, requiring that he seek medical attention.  He deserves to be compensated for this and all other damages he has sustained.”

Now that action on the resolutions appear to be indefinitely on hold, Caputo -- asked about the possibility of the lawsuit -- remains optimistic.

“I haven't had time to think about that. I mean, it is what it is,” Caputo said. “I'll have to deal with it as if something like that comes along. I certainly hope not. But, you know, anything's possible.”

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