Review clears detective in mall shooting

PARKERSBURG – An internal review by the Parkersburg Police Department found a detective acted appropriately when he shot and killed a suspect at the Grand Central Mall in January, Chief Joe Martin said, but the incident will likely still be presented to a Wood County grand jury.

“It’s just a check and balance (so) that the public has confidence in what we do and how we do it,” Martin said Wednesday.

Wood County Prosecutor Jason Wharton said it’s been his practice to submit an incident involving a law enforcement officer to the grand jury, even if he does not believe a crime has been committed.

“Because we work so closely with them (officers), this allows the public, who form the members of the grand jury, to review and evaluate the evidence,” he said.

Steven Lewis Pfalzgraf, 24, of Parkersburg was fatally shot on Jan. 14 in the parking lot outside the mall food court after he allegedly drove his car toward Parkersburg Police Detective P.M. Edelen. Edelen and other area law enforcement officers were in the food court for a Homeland Security training exercise, when Pfalzgraf ran from the food court with Newport resident John Ragalyi, 27, who had stolen a woman’s purse, according to the West Virginia State Police, who are investigating the incident.

Edelen and fellow Parkersburg Detective J.M. Stalnaker identified themselves as police and pursued the men into the parking lot. When the suspects got in Pfalzgraf’s car, Stalnaker attempted to reach through the open window and grab the keys.

Pfalzgraf reportedly began to drive with the detective hanging on to the car, and when he got free, Pfalzgraf turned and drove the vehicle toward Edelen, investigators have said. At that point, Edelen fired his weapon multiple times.

The State Police investigation is wrapping up, but troopers are still waiting on some lab results, Lt. Michael Baylous said.

Martin said he received a preliminary report from the State Police, and that was used in the department’s internal review of the incident.

“It was pretty thorough,” he said. “We looked at our use of force policy and our deadly force policy.

“(The review) cleared Detective Edelen of any wrongdoing. He acted in accordance with our policies and procedures,” Martin said.

The department’s policy on deadly force states that “an officer may use deadly force to protect themself or others from what they reasonably believe to be an immediate threat of death or serious bodily injury to the officer or others.”

“The definition of reasonable belief is: A conclusion a reasonable person would draw from the totality of circumstances,” the policy states.

The chief has said previously that Edelen was justified in his use of force because he feared for both his safety and Stalnaker’s.

After the review concluded last week, Edelen, who had been on administrative duty since the incident, returned to his regular work, Martin said.

In addition to the grand jury presentation, Martin said he’s asked the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of West Virginia to examine the case as well.

“They definitely will review to see if there were any civil rights violations,” he said.

Martin said he’s confident Edelen “acted appropriately and within the confines of his departmental authority.”

The chief said he was able to speak with Pfalzgraf’s mother and she indicated no ill feelings toward the department.

“I had a very nice conversation with the boy’s mother,” he said. “He comes from a good family. He just made a terrible choice that day.”