CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Political opponents are pouncing on billionaire Jim Justice, a Democrat running for governor in West Virginia, for calling a police officer a "total lunatic" during a December 2014 traffic stop.
The Bluefield Daily Telegraph obtained video of the incident through a Freedom of Information Act request and posted it to the newspaper's website on Sunday (http://bit.ly/1PxFlNO). The video drew immediate criticisms from gubernatorial campaigns for Democrat Jeff Kessler and Republican Bill Cole and the Republican Governors Association.
The 12-minute video shows Justice, who owns Appalachian coal mines, agriculture holdings and The Greenbrier resort, exit his car and talk to the Lewisburg Police Department officer. The officer had stopped him for driving 54 mph in a 40 mph zone. During most of the video, Justice is in his SUV waiting for the officer to come back from his cruiser. The officer couldn't find Justice's vehicle tags on file.
"I am a long ways from being too big for the law," Justice told the officer during the stop. "But you have got to be a total lunatic. ... This is ridiculous. You have got to be crazy."
The officer said he was dropping the fine level from 54 miles per hour to 44. When he asks if Justice wants an explanation, Justice responded, "I want you to explain it to your boss."
Justice's campaign says he apologized to the police chief after the incident, which occurred before Justice entered the governor's race this May. Lewisburg Police Department Chief of Police Tim Stover said the ticket was voided because he and the officer agreed that Justice "had learned his lesson about speeding."
"When this happened last year, Jim said that night that no one is above the law," said Justice campaign spokesman Grant Herring. "He called the Chief of Police to apologize and let him know he thought he was pulled over outside of the city limits. Jim was with his wife and, like any of us, got frustrated during a long traffic stop at night."
The video elicited criticisms from opponents when it surfaced over the weekend. Kessler said the officer and police statewide deserve an apology.
"This shameful behavior is unacceptable, and calls into question whether or not Jim Justice is fit to be Governor," Kessler, the state Senate minority leader, said in a statement. "No man is above the law, and those in power — especially those who wish to seek the State's highest elected office — should lead by example."
Justice's campaign contended that Cole, the state Senate president, dug up the video. Cole's campaign said that was untrue.
"Jim Justice has been caught verbally abusing a police officer for doing his job. Instead of taking responsibility and apologizing to the officer, he blames someone else," Kent Gates, Cole's campaign spokesman, said in a statement. "That calls into question his character, temperament and leadership."
The candidates are vying in the 2016 election to replace Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, who is reaching a two-consecutive term limit.