The City of Waynesville and four current or former city employees are being sued for allegedly covering up the circumstances surrounding a death in 2010.
Kelsey West, of St. James, filed a civil suit on Thursday against former Waynesville police officer Gary Brankel, Police Chief Robert Carter, Assistant Police Chief Clarence Liberty, dog catcher Brandon Robertson, and the City of Waynesville, accusing the city officials of covering up circumstances surrounding her mother Rhonda West’s death, which took place on Jan. 31, 2010, in Waynesville off Highway 17.
The lawsuit states that Brankel was operating a Waynesville police vehicle when he hit Rhonda West and killed her. Brankel continued to work for the City of Waynesville until December 2011 and “concealed and covered up” Rhonda West’s death during that time, according to the petition filed in circuit court.
The court documents further state that Carter, Liberty and Robertson were “vested with policy making authority” over how the City of Waynesville investigated the case and they allegedly “concealed and covered up [defendant] Brankel’s involvement” with Rhonda West's death.
The lawsuit states that Kelsey West is the only proper person to file the suit and was denied access to records on this case until this year: “As evidenced by police records and recordings made available to Plaintiff West more than three years after the death of Decedent West (records) that were affirmatively hidden from and denied to Plaintiff West and her family prior to February 2013 by [defendants] Brankel, Carter, Liberty, Robertson and Waynesville,” the lawsuit states.
According to the lawsuit, Brankel was driving to a burglary at 20885 Lacombe Road, with his lights on and Robertson proceeded a few minutes after him. He reported seeing Rhonda West “walking down the middle of the road” in the vicinity of Rice’s Laundry and Cleaners and asked another agency to check on Rhonda West.
Minutes later, according to the suit, Robertson passed Rice’s and reported seeing no one in the area.
A few minutes following, two eye witnesses called 911 and reported seeing a body in the vicinity of Rice’s, the lawsuit states. The witnesses reported in the document that they saw no other vehicles in the area besides the two police cars driven by Brankel and Robertson.
The lawsuit also states that “the time it took defendant Brankel to arrive at the scene of the burglary is inconsistent with his having gone directly to the Lacombe burglary and is consistent with his having made contact with Decedent West in the vicinity of Rice’s Cleaners prior to arriving at the burglary.”
The lawsuit states that Carter and Liberty named Brankel and Robertson in charge of the death investigation, despite knowing the two were the most logical suspects in the case.
Page 2 of 2 - Brankel was also made the primary point of contact for the media of Rhonda West’s death investigation.