Seventeen outspoken, frustrated and, in some cases, very angry residents from three different areas of the county attended the June 28 Special Session of the Pocahontas County Commission. Many were upset with local and state law enforcement’s responses to their repeated 911 calls about drug activity in their neighborhoods, while others were more frustrated that law enforcement’s inability to solve their problems is a result of too many legal protections for the criminals as opposed to the rights of innocent citizens to enjoy a peaceful life in their homes. Complaints included late night, loud and recklessly speeding vehicles, open drug dealing, firearm discharges, threats against innocent residents, and even the discharge of loud explosive devices.
The citizens came from Buckeye, Seebert and Brush Country Road, and each area seemed to have its own alleged drug house. One resident said one of those houses keeps 17 vicious and unvaccinated Pitbulls that roam the neighborhood and Greenbrier River Trail. She said they bite people, including herself who was bitten in the face. Another said that a trailer in the Seebert Road area, in addition to being a drug den, is also discharging raw sewerage into the Greenbrier River.
While most requested that their names not be published for fear of threatened retaliation, one of the more outspoken citizens at the meeting, Agnes Doyle, who is also an on-air volunteer at Allegheny Mountain Radio, told this reporter she wanted to be named in our story. Doyle, who lives in the Brush Country Road area, said one of her adjoining neighbors is a drug dealer and he continually harasses her to the point she cannot ever get a good night’s sleep. Doyle told the commissioners that her paid property taxes should be reimbursed because she doesn’t really own her property, since the neighborhood drug dealer actually controls her property, by firing guns along her property border, trespassing at will on his ATV, screaming threats at her, creating loud noises and firing guns all night long, even setting off explosive devices that literally shake her house. Doyle, as well as many of the other citizens at the meeting, said when they call 911, the Sheriff’s Deputies or the State Police officers who respond say there is nothing they can do since the alleged suspects are on their own property and not doing anything illegal when the officers respond. One citizen said that a deputy told her that even if he saw a drug deal going on inside the alleged dealer’s property, he could not do anything since it is private property. Magistrate Cynthia D. Broce-Kelley and Prosecuting Attorney Terri Hel-mick, who were present, said that officers certainly can arrest for any crime they witness.
Doyle responded to other citizens who complained about Sheriff Jeff Barlow by saying he was a good sheriff who took the time to talk to her, but that his hands seemed to be tied by the way the laws are structured.
A number of the citizens asked the commission to purchase a drug dog for the Sheriff’s Department, which might help them charge some of these suspected drug dealers and their customers. Commission President Walt Helmick said the commission has not received a request from law enforcement to purchase a drug dog, but would certainly consider doing so if that request was made. Helmick said that the commission is not directly involved in making law enforcement decisions, but is committed to financially supporting the Sheriff’s Department. He added that Pocahontas County spends more money on it’s Sheriff’s Department per capita than any other county in West Virginia. The commissioners were very concerned about these situations and are willing to do whatever they can to help solve the problems.
Sheriff Barlow was present for part of the meeting until called away to respond to a law enforcement matter. Barlow said he is covering one of the largest counties in the state with seven deputies, and for the past two years has been unable to fill the remaining deputy vacancy since law enforcement state-wide has been struggling with hiring officers. Barlow said drugs are the biggest problem here, but it is very difficult to get a search warrant to enter a suspected drug house. He said even getting an officer or informant to make a controlled buy from a drug dealer is hard to do legally, since the first buy cannot be secretly recorded, only the second one.
Prosecutor Helmick said that when an officer makes an arrest, the paperwork and possible prisoner transport to the regional jail will likely tie up an officer for many hours. Magistrate Broce-Kelly said the law requires that people who are arrested have to be provided a chance to post bail, so even if the officers could arrest some of these people, they will likely be quickly released back into the community. She added that citizens who are upset with that situation need to talk to law enforcement or the county prosecutor instead of to a magistrate, because magistrates cannot discuss pending cases with concerned citizens before a trial or they would have to recuse themselves from presiding at the trial.