County to close courthouse early Friday amid plans for downtown rallies

The Morgan County Commission has made the decision to close the county courthouse an hour early on Friday, August 21 to let county employees clear the downtown area ahead of two planned rallies.

Commission President Joel Tuttle confirmed that decision to close the courthouse at 4 p.m. on Friday was in response to concerns about large crowds, unusual amounts of traffic and potential conflict in the downtown area.

Tuttle said the early closure was the recommendation of law enforcement.

A Black Lives Matter rally will be held at the Berkeley Springs State Park from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday evening. An event flier being circulated on social media says there will be music, refreshments and local speakers at the event. Organizers, identifying themselves as The Berkeley Springs Allies, have said the gathering will be held in support of community members of color. Masks and social distancing will be required, the event page says.

A second rally has grown up in response to the Black Lives Matter gathering. The Mountaineer Warrior Alliance has said it will  come to Berkeley Springs with a presence of motorcycle groups to ensure the Black Lives Matter protestors are peaceful and don’t “dishonor” the American flag or damage property. Organizers have said they will “stand and observe” the Black Lives Matter protest. Their event page on social media has said they don’t desire any violence, but warns those who are concerned for their safety not to attend the Friday rally.

Morgan County Sheriff K.C. Bohrer, also via social media, released statements that his department and the Berkeley Springs Police Department have had planning meetings about the rallies and are prepared to ensure public safety on Friday in the downtown area.

He recommended that local residents seek out alternative routes around the downtown square in Berkeley Springs on Friday evening.

“We also recommend staying clear of the area if you have safety concerns,” the Sheriff posted.

“We respect the right of every citizen to exercise their First Amendment rights but we want things to remain peaceful!” he wrote.

Bohrer urged residents to limit spreading rumors about the two events as one way to keep them peaceful.

Two protests were held in the area of the Berkeley Springs State Park in June without incident. The first was in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and the second, two weeks later, showed support for law enforcement officers.