After being charged in September with misdemeanor battery, West Virginia Delegate Mike Caputo recently cited a piece of state code that gives him immunity from criminal charges.
Since the incident took place while Caputo was performing his duties as a legislator, the statute applies and grants him immunity from civil and criminal prosecution. Caputo’s lawyer, Tim DiPiero of DiPiero Simmons McGinley & Bastress, PLLC, made the argument that Caputo was attempting to enter the House chamber “in an effort to carry out his privileges and obligations as a member of the House of delegates,” which means charges should be dismissed.
Citing this immunity statute was a twist that even the magistrate and prosecutors did not expect. It’s so rarely used that Magistrate Pete Lopez delayed the hearing to give the prosecution more time to look into the statute and figure out how they wanted to proceed.
Even with his vast experience, DiPiero said, “I’ve never had a case involving a legislator being charged with something while performing his duties as a legislator.”
Delegate Mike Caputo’s original criminal charges came from an incident on March 1 where he stormed through the House chamber door. The force caused the door to strike a doorkeeper, Logan Casterline, who experienced enough pain to seek medical treatment. Caputo was also accused of elbowing Delegate Sharon Malcolm, which caused her soreness in her shoulder.
The cause of the incident was a poster that Caputo said angered him. The poster showed an image of the Twin Towers on 9/11 juxtaposed with a photo of Congresswoman Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, a native of Somalia. Caputo said he became angry because the poster was racist. He announced it was a racist poster before kicking open the House chamber door.
The criminal complaint filed by the Capitol Police says that he was “making a commotion, talking loud and saying nasty things as he started up the steps [toward the door].”
Caputo publicly apologized for the whole ordeal, calling it “probably the stupidest thing I’ve ever done in my political career.” He also had a private conversation with the doorkeeper to apologize.