Updates from the Pocahontas County Sheriff's Department.
Let's get right to it: The rumors.
Sheriff Jonese is aware that there are rumors, in abundance, regarding the conduct of oneﾠor more law enforcement officers in Pocahontas County.
The Sheriff is in an awkward position, because he would like to get out in front of this story for a number of reasons, not the least of which is to protect his department. The officers, on the job right now, have the total confidence of the Sheriff, but he does acknowledge that there is an on-going investigation of an officer who was suspended, and is now no longer a member of the department.
At this point there areallegations, but no charges have been filed. For that reason Sheriff Jonese cannot make any comments beyond the fact that there is an investigation into the matter. The investigation is being handled by two detectives from the Internal Affairs Division of the Raleigh County (Beckley) Sheriff's Department, along with other outside agencies, at the request of Sheriff Jonese. Because of this on-going investigation Sheriff Jonese can go no further than to acknowledge such an investigation is taking place.
At some point the investigation will be finished, and then, and only then, can the Sheriff expound upon the details of the case. He has stated that he will provide those details when appropriate.
Moving forward with something positive:
December 22 marks the first day of winter, but by then that official designation will be rather anticlimactic considering we had measurable snowfall in late October. The coming of severe weather often taxes the stamina and resources of many people in the county, this is particularly true of the elderly. If you are a person, or know of a person, that is dealing with hardships as a result of weather conditions Sheriff Jonese wants you to call 911, and request a deputy to come to your aid. If you have a problem with insufficient fuel for heat, or are stranded because of snow accumulation, or any type of condition that finds you in distress, call 911, and request a deputy. Be sure you leave your phone number.
Project Christmas, 2011
The Sheriff's Department is teaming up with the Family Resource Network (FRN) to provide toys and other necessities to the children of needy families. They need your help, and offer two ways to participate. You can take an unwrapped, new toy to City National Bank in Marlinton for delivery to the kids on December 22. Even easier: make a cash donation, and Santa's Helpers will buy the toys for you.
In addition you may choose to become involved as an Angel. This program allows you to pick a specific child and buy the item(s) on that child's wish list. Go to City National Bank or to the Snowshoe Career Center on Main Street in Marlinton and pick an Angel from the board there. On the back of the Angel is a sticker with a description of a child (no names), and the things that child needs, to have a Merry Christmas. Simply buy the items on the list and put them in a bag, with the sticker, and know you have helped make a kid happy at Christmastime. The bags need to be returned before December 19 to City National Bank.
For more information, call Laura Young at FRN, 304-799-6657 or Cory Rose at the Sheriff's office, 304-799-4445.
Transitional Living Facility:
The Sheriff, through his Advisory Board, is desirous of establishing a facility for individuals that have been through a drug rehabilitation program, but need continuing support to stay clean. If you read Pam Pritt's column several weeks ago you realize that many organizations, often faith-based, are trying to do something to help one individual, or a particular group of people, to either get help, or support, to take the next step after initial treatment. The drug epidemic is so pervasive in Pocahontas County that it challenges the very survival of our way of life. Drugs steal the soul from our young people, the very people who represent the future of Pocahontas County.
This matter was discussed in the last Sheriff's Roundup, and will continue to be "out there" until the ball advances down the field. If you are reading this and have ideas, or experience that could help us, please step up. Let's do what we can to save a few lives. firstname.lastname@example.org
The drug problem in Pocahontas County is like the weather; everyone talks about it but no one does anything about it. Trying to describe the nature of the problem is even difficult, because if you ask 10 people about it you get 10 different opinions. Then ask for a solution and you get 10 more.
On Tuesday, October 18, a meeting of the Sheriff's Advisory Board was held and the agenda focused on one small step to end the cycle of the drug culture here. This meeting was the third such meeting on this subject, and each time a baby step forward is taken.
Sheriff Jonese has been involved in one part of the drug war and that is the arrest and incarceration of those that violate drug laws. That becomes frustrating because the process is a revolving door, and those arrested are back on the streets at some point, and their behavior is typically unchanged.
The Sheriff understands that to break the cycle a new step needs to be taken. Individuals that are victims of drug abuse, aka, addicts, have choices. If they ask in the right places they can get help, and many have sought help. The problem is that the assistance they get is usually not done in a controlled environment. As patients, these addicts are still in the same surroundings that fostered their drug abuse in the first place. If an individual endures a detox program and returns to the same world where others are still routinely getting high what is the likelihood that the now clean person remains that way?
It is on this issue that the Advisory Board has been concentrating. After several meetings a germ of an idea has taken hold. The concept is a transitional living facility. What is envisioned is a place where recovering addicts can live, and where their struggle is understood. They would get support, and give support to other residents. They would have to agree to a set of rules, in return they would receive benefits, including: room and board, recreation and social activities, counseling, job placement assistance, 24/7/365 staff availability, education to develop independent living, relapse prevention, and more.
Individuals in residence there will be subject to random drug and alcohol testing, and they will be responsible for the management of the day-to-day operation of the home, with guidance.
There are many counties that have programs such as the one described, and several counties have more than one. Some communities have tried and failed, but does that mean that Pocahontas County should not pursue such a project? There is growing support here in the county to continue this objective.
One hurdle to clear is getting past regulators, and government involvement. One is reminded of a comment made by President Reagan when he said (paraphrased) that if a man from Washington comes around and offers to help, send him away.
The Sheriff's group wants this small step to happen, and will avoid, to the extent possible, being dragged down by bureaucratic stagnation. Step one is obtaining a house, and a possibility has surfaced. A local church has a house that is currently vacant, and it would fit the criteria. Discussions are taking place, and there is hope for a positive resolution, but if that fails other possibilities will be explored.
Because there are other organizations that work with drug and alcohol abuse victims on a daily basis, the Sheriff's group invited three such agencies that function in Pocahontas County. Attending were representatives from: Seneca Health Services, the Family Resource Network, and the Pocahontas Prevention Coalition. All of these providers had useful information to help move the ball forward. If a transitional living facility becomes a reality these organizations can provide the type of aid that will make the local program a success.
Sheriff Jonese was quick to point out that his group is not an exclusive club, and anyone with ideas, or experience is welcome to be involved. This is a grass roots endeavor, and a learn-as-you-go process. In short, HELP.
A prototype of a transitional living facility can be found in Buckhannon. Interested parties can see this program online at ourhouse wv.com
The $4 biscuit
Picture yourself sound asleep in your home at 1:30 a.m. when the phone rings. You would probably curse a bit under your breath, then maybe feel some panic for fear it was bad news. This is just what happened to Cheryl Hart, a member of the Sheriff's Auxiliary, a few nights ago. In Cheryl's case she was 90 percent sure of the nature of the call. She was needed to transport a patient to a mental health facility in Huntington.
Cheryl lives south of Hillsboro, and after getting dressed drove to Marlinton and met up with Donald Sharp, another auxiliary officer, and at 2:30 a.m. they left Marlinton, Huntington bound. They returned to Marlinton eight hours later at 10:30 a.m. Cheryl went home, showered, and got dressed for her job at Watoga State Park, getting to work a few minutes late, with no sleep.
Her partner on this assignment, Donald Sharp, drives an ambulance for Pocahontas Memorial Hospital, and is also an active member of the Marlinton Volunteer Fire Department.
From this little story there are several points that can be made about the Sheriff's Auxiliary:
ﾕ Because the auxiliary is able to do transports, Sheriff's deputies are not called away to do transports which takes them away from their primary function; law enforcement.
ﾕ Auxiliary members are paid $8 per hour for doing transports. The clock starts when they arrive at the courthouse, and they are not paid mileage from their home to the courthouse. (Members of the County Commission are eligible to be paid mileage from home to the courthouse when they travel to their job.)
ﾕ Most counties in West Virginia do not have an active auxiliary; much less use their auxiliaries to make transports. They must utilize their deputies to do this job. In Pocahontas County, Sheriff Jonese has an auxiliary that does this important, but time-consuming job. At $8 an hour the auxiliary is a financial blessing for the county. Most transports are done at night and if done by deputies it would often be at overtime pay, thus the utilization of the auxiliary is a savings of at least two to three times the cost of utilizing deputies.
ﾕ When auxiliary members are on assignment they are provided with a credit card and have an $8 allowance to buy food when traveling. You may agree that this is a reasonable consideration.
ﾕ The Sheriff's Auxiliary is under-appreciated.
At a recent County Commission meeting Sheriff Jonese was put under the gun about the expenses generated by the auxiliary. For example, it was suggested that when making transports auxiliary members file expense vouchers and be reimbursed for money spent on food, in lieu of utilizing a credit card.
Sheriff Jonese feels that issues involving the costs of maintaining the auxiliary are nit-picky, and he admittedly gets defensive about the auxiliary. He was later quoted as saying, facetiously "They (County Commission) get all upset over a four dollar biscuit, they don't see the bigger picture."
After a somewhat heated discussion the issues involving the auxiliary were dropped, and it was agreed to maintain the status quo. The issue with the Sheriff isn't really about this one skirmish, but more about the lack of appreciation shown the auxiliary and the role they play in making the department more efficient. Of course, the bottom line is all about money. The county commissioners are charged with trying to stretch fewer dollars to cover more demands, a thankless proposition, at best. For his part, the Sheriff wants to do his job and that requires a good bit of cooperation from the Commissioners because they hold the wallet. It isn't always easy.
In preparing to write this article I interviewed auxiliary officer Cheryl Hart. It could have been any number of auxiliary officers, but getting hold of Cheryl was the easiest because I knew right where to find her. She told me about several transports in which she has participated recently.
Called at home around midnight, arrived at the courthouse at 12:30 a.m., and along with auxiliary officer Gail Murray, transported a female prisoner to the regional jail in Elkins. That is about 70 miles one-way. Arrived back at 5 a.m. Cheryl was home at 5:30 a.m.
Called at 9:30 p.m. departed Marlinton at 10:30 p.m. with auxiliary officer Barry Sharp, they transported a male and female prisoner to the regional jail. This couple was verbally abusive toward the transport officers during the two-hour drive, and they were uncooperative upon arriving at the regional jail by refusing to get out of the vehicle. Officers at the jail took over at that point.
Ask yourself, would you get up in the middle of the night, drive to the courthouse, then spend anywhere from five to 10 hours in a car, driving to Elkins, Huntington, Beckley or Princeton? (For $8 an hour, and a $4 biscuit.) If that doesn't sound too bad maybe you should join the auxiliary.
By the way, transport officers face little danger in the commission of their duties. Transported prisoners are cuffed to a wrist belt and shackled, then loaded into a caged vehicle by a deputy. There are no stops if the individual(s) is a prisoner, and upon arrival at the jail regional jail officers meet the vehicle. If it is known that a certain prisoner is capable of violence auxiliary officers are not used. I have personally been involved in numerous transports and have never feared for my own safety.
The auxiliary is also utilized in "mental health" issues. If an individual is in the custody of the state (Sheriff or State Police) they must, by law, be accompanied by an authorized member of the agency involved. If a patient is taken to a local hospital for evaluation someone must be with that person every minute, and that job usually involves an auxiliary member. If it is determined that a patient needs treatment at a mental health facility it is the auxiliary that makes the trip.(This includes voluntary and involuntary patients.)
In addition the auxiliary provides other services that are strictly voluntary, providing no compensation. For example, auxiliary members served to direct traffic in Marlinton during the River Race. Of interest, auxiliary member, Ali Burns, did a late transport to Elkins getting back just a matter of minutes before the event. She worked that event, directing traffic, without even going home first.
This past spring the auxiliary served to provide security at the Pocahontas County High School Prom. The previous year the school paid an outside concern to do the security at a considerable cost, and while the school made a donation to the auxiliary, it was far less than it cost them the year before. The members who worked the prom were not paid.
So, if Sheriff Jonese goes to the mat with the County Commission on issues involving the auxiliary, remember the importance of the auxiliary to the Sheriff. Also understand that auxiliary members are proud of the Sheriff.
I sat with Sheriff David Jonese on June 7 to talk about his Department's recent activities in his war on drugs, and continuing plans to disable drug use in Pocahontas County.
Q. Everyone is surely aware by now of the recent round-up of drug dealers and drug users. What can you tell us about that effort?
A. It was the partial culmination of a year-long investigation. I say partial because there is more to come. More arrests will be stemming from this investigation. Our "task force" has made use of many hours of observations, an undercover operation and other techniques I don't want to divulge. What's more, it is an ongoing operation.
Q. So, we expect more round-ups?
Q. Why are these round-ups spread out over time? And, why are you doing multiple arrests all at one time?
A. We don't want to clog up the court system, or we would do even more arrests in a short time span. And, why the round-up approach? Because it gets people's attention. We do drug busts all the time that people don't know about, but when we bring in 20 plus arrestees in one sweep it gets the attention of the drug users and dealers.
Q. So this is about sending a message?
A. Oh, yeah. We're sending a message, and the message is: If you're doing or dealing drugs you will be arrested. We could have another round-up tomorrow from investigative work already completed. What the bad guys need to understand is that if you have done a drug crime, and think you've gotten away with it you are sorely mistaken. The purchase or sale of drugs you do today will get you arrested, maybe months from now. The rest of the message is that if you are involved in the drug trade you are advised to get out of Pocahontas County.
There is one thing I would like the people of this county to understand: It is not our goal to see how many people we can arrest, but to get people off of drugs and away from drugs. Fewer people doing drugs helps this become a better community.
I will be meeting with my advisory board on the 14th of this month. I have some plans to put before them that will deal with some new ways to fight drug use that does not involve making arrests, but rather getting help for the victims of the drug culture. I'm convinced that there are individuals that want out of drug hell, but don't know where to start.
Meanwhile, people using drugs or dealing drugs should be aware that there will be more round-ups and if they haven't been arrested, they will be.
Q. Anything else you'd like to say now?
A. Not for now, but stay tuned. This is going to get interesting.
On Tuesday, June 14, Sheriff Jonese met with the Sheriff's Advisory Board at the Marlinton Municipal Building. This board was originally set up to advise the Sheriff's Auxiliary, but the scope of their duties has been expanded to function as direct consultants to the Sheriff.
Wednesday, June 15, I again met with the Sheriff to discuss the results of his meeting with the Advisory Board. Seven members were in attendance: Emery Grimes, Fred Burns, Jr., J. L. Clifton, Jamie Walker, Margaret Worth, Reid Mitchell and Ruth Bland.
Several other members were unable to attend because of their involvement in the Town of Marlinton election. This scheduling foul-up lies at my own feet, as I was responsible for the meeting date.
Q. So, Sheriff, how did your meeting go?
A. This group represents all that is good about Pocahontas County. Our meeting was an intense two hours of discussion from which many good things will evolve.
Q. Give us some idea of the discussions.
A. The primary discussion was about the drug problems in the county. I tossed up several fledgling ideas. One is the idea of a residential drug and alcohol treatment facility right in the county. The members tore right into this and, in short order, each member took on one aspect or another toward developing a feasibility study.
One thing was unanimous: The goal is to have a non-government organization run the program. Ideally, a non-profit, service organization. The biggest challenge is to find a facility, and considering the resolve of these board members, and their individual and collectiveﾠstrengths I expect we will see something tangible soon.
Q. You said you tossed up several ideas. Is there another one you can talk about now?
A. Yes, we are planning a drug summit that will be open to the public. The plan is to bring in experts in law enforcement, doctors that work with the pharmaceutical industry, church groups and even recovering addicts to describe their experiences. In addition, we hope to have the candidates for governor attend. Considering the level of influence of this advisory board this could happen. And, the advisory board plans to participate in the summit.
What we hope to accomplish is to bring public awareness to the problem. I'm sure people know about the drug use and drug crimes, and there probably isn't anyone here that doesn't know someone affected by the problem, but there is still a degree of apathy that needs to be reversed. We need public support, as well as government and judicial support, to beat this thing.
Q. Is there a date set for this summit?
A. A tentative one. Hopefully, it can be put together to tie in with Pioneer Days. I would like to have a tent set-up to promote the summit, on the midway, during the festivities.
Q. Any parting words?
A. I would just like to thank the members of the advisory board for their enthusiasm and willingness to participate in this effort to get our arms around the drug problem. It demonstrates to me the love of community that is present in this county.
January 10, 2011, Lt. Bradley C. Totten of The Pocahontas County Sheriff's Department walked into class at the FBI National Academy at Quantico, Virginia. Totten joined 256 other law enforcement officers from 49 states, D.C. and 20 countries, all attending by invitation only.
The program involved 10 weeks of intensive learning and on March 18 Lt. Totten graduated after 270 classroom hours, and as the school is accredited by the University of Virginia, he had accumulated 18 semester hours toward his Bachelor's Degree.
Since July 1935, when the academy introduced their first class, 44,537 graduates have been trained and 27,025 of those are still in law enforcement.
The classroom wasn't the only learning experience enjoyed by Totten. All students were housed dormitory style on campus, and the interaction between the students was of equal benefit to Totten as the formal classroom instruction. He feels he has made lifetime connections as a result of attending the academy. He cited friendships made with a high ranking member of the Los Angeles, California, Police Department, from whom he learned new ideas in drug law enforcement, and another contact as close as the Roanoke, Virginia, Police Department.
At the academy there was no rank structure among the students and internal discussion was encouraged. Discussions were spirited, and Totten offered that you may be in disagreement with another student who happens to be the Chief of Police in a large metropolitan city, but all were equals there.
Totten smiled as he mentioned that two of his classmates would be visiting him this fall to attend The Roadkill Cook-Off.
"They said that they wanted to experience the event," he said. "It was almost as if they didn't believe me."
Anyone interested in more information on the academy should Google FBI NA and it will jump right up for you.
Returning home, Lt. Totten carries new found knowledge to deal with issues facing his department. "You have to understand something," he said. "The drug problem is growing, and the drug dealers get smarter all the time. They get educated every time one of them gets arrested. They learn from their mistakes, too."
There is no doubt that Lt. Totten believes that the drug problem in the county is the biggest issue facing the Sheriff's Department. This led to a discussion about the recent round-up of drug dealers by the Sheriff, and other agencies. Totten explained that this was a long investigation covering many months of work. The result was 22 people arrested on 41 felony charges. When asked how many were dealers, he responded, "All of them, it doesn't matter if the individual sells one pill or 250, they are all dealers under the law. Our goal is to make these people so afraid that they wouldn't even give a pill to their best friend for fear of getting caught."
Speaking for himself Lt. Totten voiced some frustration about how some people in the county don't understand just how insidious the drug situation is. He was particularly upset that a member of the County Commission stated that the recent round-up only netted small time offenders, and that commissioner made that statement in an interview on WVMR.
Lt. Totten feels that some members of the County Commission don't want to pay jail costs. He also pointed out that many times plea agreements are made and felonies get pled down to misdemeanors. "Things like this affect morale in the department," Totten said.
"In our courthouse there seems to be too much time spent placing blame instead of trying to work together (with law enforcement) to resolve problems in the county,"
Lt. Totten wanted it understood that he was voicing his own opinion but also felt that his fellow officers would back him.
Once we opened this line of talk Lt. Totten demonstrated his zeal concerning the drug problem. "Look at the group of people we just arrested, then think of how many children are affected. The drug culture puts so many of your young people at risk, and then we hear that these people are small time offenders?"
Regarding the recent raid Totten said that most of those arrested bonded out, but a few were transported to jail. Of those making bail three were arrested again just a few days later. The conditions of being out on bail include staying away from drugs and alcohol, and agreeing to random drug testing. The three that were re-arrested all tested positive for drugs, and were arrested and incarcerated.
"They couldn't stay clean for a matter of days," he said. "I guess that tells you what we're up against, doesn't it?"
When asked about the drugs of choice in the local market Lt. Totten confirmed that it was prescription drug abuse.
"Meth is still out there," said Totten, "and meth is a good example of how dealers are getting smarter. They have improved the process of making meth. It is called 'shake and bake.' This procedure allows them to make meth in a one step process. All they need is a large bottle, add the necessary chemicals and in three or four hours they can produce eight grams of meth, and it sells for $100 per gram, thus yielding $800 per cook."
Lt. Totten offered some interesting points about the local drug scene.
A new drug showing up is "bath salts." The problem was it was not on the list of controled substance. As of May 5 ii is now listed. To add a new compound to the list the product must be identified by chemical formula. Until a few weeks ago bath salts was not an illegal drug. Even before making the list there had been one overdose victim in the county. While not fatal, it is evidence that it is here.
If you read the papers you have probably heard of the "Oxy Express." Dealers will travel to Florida, for example, where they go to out-patient clinics complaining of pain. They get a prescription for a pain killer, then go to another clinic and go through the process again, until they have accumulated hundreds of pills. Three or four individuals working together can return to West Virginia with thousands of pain pills which sell for $80 to $120 each.
Do the math.
Pressure from several states has been effective and now Florida has enacted legislation that limits the number of pain pills one person can get at one time. (Although they still lack a good system to gather data on people shopping multiple clinics.) According to Totten there is a down side to this, it forces up the price. The dealers can't bring back much, and with the cost of gas, the overhead means a higher price. At the academy Lt. Totten learned that if the pills "out priced themselves" some other drug will fill the void. The fear is, that if this happens, as it has in other places, the replacement may be heroin.
There is a direct link between use and violent crimes. Heroin will bring with it another type of unwanted drug dealer.
Lt. Brad Totten was born, raised and educated in Pocahontas County. He has been with the Sheriff's Department for more than 12 years. Brad as an AA degree from Glenville State College and is working toward his Bachelor's degree. He is married to C. J., and they have two children. Recently, Chief Deputy Dave Walton was quoted as saying about Lt. Totten,"He is as good a law enforcement officer as there is in the state, or for that matter, the entire United States."
The duties of the Sheriff include:
More than law enforcement
If you own real estate you pay property taxes. When you pay the tax you make the check payable to "The Sheriff of Pocahontas County." If you own any type of vehicle that is considered "personal property" you pay taxes on it. Again you stroke the check to the sheriff. Same when renewing the tag on your car, truck, motor home or motorcycle.
The non-law enforcement aspect of the office of Sheriff is tax collection. If you live in Pocahontas County you have probably been in that office, located in the main courthouse. Many people who have business with the tax collector tend to walk in, as opposed to doing business by mail. I know I do, but then I only live a block from the office. Today, I paraded myself up to the tax office to have a chat with Tabbi Mann, Virginia Deputy and Missi Sparks, probably three of the most compatible people I've ever met.
Consider that they have a combined experience of 53 1/2 years in that office. Tabbi, 13 1/2 years, Missi 13 years, and Virginia has 27 years of service (17 full time) and they have worked for several different sheriffs. Theirs is not an elected position, and so they work "at the pleasure" of whoever happens to be sheriff. Their job security is determined by how well they do their jobs, so the sheriff may come and go, but there has been no change in personnel in the tax collection office for a long time. They must be doing something right.
The office they share isn't particularly large, but there is no tension. I asked if they got along well all the time. They collectively shrugged, looked at one another and said, "Yeah." Whatever formula they use it sure seems to work.
I began asking some questions. It didn't matter what the question was, any one of them could answer, so they did it round robin. I wanted to know where the money went after they collected it. It goes in the bank and once a month it is distributed to fund the operation of county and municipal government: 58.5 percent goes to the schools and 40.7 percent to the county. (I didn't know that.) It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that there isn't much left for anyone else. If you live in the incorporated areas of Marlinton, Durbin or Hillsboro you pay an "add on" to your tax bill (less than one percent) and those dollars plus a few more goes to those municipalities.
When I asked if they did anything other than collect the taxes, and renew tag, I got a collective, hearty, laugh, "Oh yes, I'd say we do."
All the money that comes into the county is processed by the Sheriff, which means it is handled by the tax office. There are 24 different accounts that generate dollars in the county. Two examples: Home Confinement and the Health Department, and 22 more, including grant money. In short, every dollar that comes into Pocahontas County goes to the tax department. They account for it, and they distribute it.
The tax department settles estates. (I didn't know that.) When there is a death in the county the tax trio inventories the assets and settles claims with the aid of the court, if a dispute exists. They currently have four open cases at various stages of settlement. One of these has been open for eight years, which might indicate a serious dispute.
Conservatorships: If an individual becomes unable to manage their own affairs because of age, handicap or mental deficiencies often a conservatorship is established. If that individual has no family member available or competent enough to assume the role, then the court becomes the conservator. In these instances, who do you think handles the money involved? What this means as a practical matter is that the tax department takes care of the financial considerations of the individual. They take in the individual's income and they pay the bills. (I didn't know that.)
The tax office currently has seven open conservatorships. My wife said, with a grin, we should ask if they would take care of our 20-year-old college student.
Anything else? Oh, yes, there is another facet to their job. When people don't pay their property taxes the Sheriff, with the ladies of the tax office, conduct an auction and sell what is known as a tax lien. At this auction, held on the courthouse steps (actually, just inside the door,) people can bid a price they would be willing to pay for said property. For example, take a house with a value of $75,000. The owner doesn't pay the taxes due, and the property goes to the lien auction. Someone bids $8,000 (in theory) for the house. The funds are placed in an account and held until the issue is resolved. If the taxes haven't been paid after 18 months, and after meeting certain conditions, the holder of the lien takes possession of the property. The county gets its tax revenue up front, so it is happy. Maybe someone gets a good deal on a piece of property, and they are happy. The guy who didn't pay his taxes probably isn't very happy.
Needless to say, there is a great deal of paperwork associated with the auction, and subsequent considerations. All in a day's work for these ladies.
As I sat in the office with them I observed a steady flow of people coming in and out. I'm sure one of the reasons people walk in is because they are treated like a good customer, with speed and efficiency.
While I was there I decided to see if I was current with my property taxes. Tabbi hit her keyboard a few strokes and informed me I was current, but she pointed out that I'd missed out on the 2 1/2 percent discount by not paying by September 1. To compound my anguish, I found I'd only missed it by about a week.
Paying one's tax obligations can be handled in several ways: Cash, check, check by phone or Discover Card. Discover Card is the only credit card accepted because it has a very low transaction cost. Trying to be funny, I asked if anyone ever paid with coins. The answer: Yes, and not rolled.
Finally, I asked for any funny experiences that could be told from their years on the job. Other than one concerning an incident of someone getting locked in the restroom, there is one that is a legend.
It happened years ago, well before any present day employee in the courthouse. There is a very old vault in the tax collector's office. As the story goes, the vault was never locked, because no one knew the combination. And, then came that day when someone locked it. If you look at the vault today you will see, on the door, NATIONAL SAFE & LOCK CO. CLEVELAND, OHIO. Then, three circles around the combination dial where it appears as if something was puttied. That is the evidence that the vault was drilled into in order to open it. Before you ask, yes there is now a combination known to those needing to know it.
In the final analysis I came away with a better understanding of the work of the tax collector's office, and can put names with the faces. Hopefully, the readers learned something, and can relate to, "I didn't know that."
Everyday that Chief Deputy Dave Walton gets up and goes to work he breaks a record. It's a Cal Ripkin, Jr., kind of record. If you don't know who Cal Ripkin, Jr., is, let me explain. Cal Ripkin, Jr., broke the record of the immortal Lou Gehrig for the most consecutive major league baseball games played. In the history of the Pocahontas County Sheriff's Department Dave Walton is the longest serving deputy. Dave is the "Iron Horse" of the Sheriff's Department having served 27 years. So everyday he shows up he sets a new record.I had a chance to talk with Dave about his career in law enforcement in Pocahontas County.When I asked him when he started he wasn't vague with his answer. "It was March 14, 1984," he said. "It's the only job I've ever had, or ever wanted.
Things were very different then, he explained. There was less paperwork, and less red tape and "we were more laid back." Dave thinks the professional environment of the department has grown over the years, and never higher than now.
Back in 1984 communications were a whole lot less reliable. Radio coverage was terrible, practically non-existent in Northern Pocahontas County, and there was no central 911 or dispatch service, as we have now. The Sheriff's Department did its own dispatch, and they had only one phone line. After the tax office closed each day their phone line rang into the law enforcement offices. The deputies found themselves fielding questions meant for the tax office.There were five deputies then, (now eight) and almost no specialists. "Everyone did everything" and there was no overtime. All that said, Dave Walton has many good memories of that time. Young and eager, he didn't think about how many hours it took; they all just did what needed done. Dave joked that there was no process server then either, so the deputies did that, too.
In 1989, for various reasons, there was a period when there were only four deputies. One of those was Troy McCoy, (now Captain McCoy) who had joined the department that year. Then for a period beginning in November of 2007 until April 2008 there were only two deputies working, Dave Walton and Troy McCoy. "We worked 16 -18 hour days during that stretch, the two of us and [office administrator]ﾠCorey Rose," ﾠDave said.
"In my 27 years here I can state that we operate more soundly than at any other time I've been here. I have more pride in this department than ever. It is a joy to come to work every day."
And, his proudest day? "The day Sheriff Jonese appointed me Chief Deputy." I asked when that happened. Again, no ambiguities; "April 30, 2010."
One day several weeks ago I rode with Chief Deputy Walton as he made his rounds. We talked about things he's seen and done on the job. In 27 years he's never been shot at, and has had only a few instances when things got "physical." Having had special training in homicide investigation (as well as many other areas of specialization), he has had the opportunity to investigate several murder cases in the county, a few of which are of legend.
"I can't imagine not doing this job, but as a kid growing up in Lobelia I can't say I ever thought about being a deputy." We drove around to several places in the county as Dave went about his duties; doing an interview with a person suspected in a robbery in Green Bank, talking with a victim of bad checks in Buckeye, and even checking on a dog issue near Huntersville. On one stop I observed a situation that saddened both Dave and me. The realization is that those involved in law enforcement come in contact with the good and bad of society. In this particular situation it was the bad, but there was also an innocent victim involved, and Dave had a job to do. It was obvious to me that he is a man with compassion.
As for Dave's record as the longest serving deputy, it isn't close to ending. He's only 48 years old, and just now hitting his stride. As to retirement, it isn't even a consideration. Dave said, "I figure there will be a time, and I'll know when to quit.
"Dave credits Sheriff Jonese with the increased professionalism in the department, which has brought about a highly effective law enforcement team. "The Sheriff makes it fun to come to work."
Next I went to the Sheriff asking for some comments about his Chief Deputy. There is no doubt that the two of them have a mutual trust/respect thing going on. The Sheriff had much to say about Dave Walton. In summary:
"A critical key to our success. Well-respected. A motivator, tireless worker, a leader, an incredible investigator and a blessing to me."
As for Dave Walton's legacy in his own words, "I don't care what people think of me personally, but I do care what they think of the Pocahontas County Sheriff's Department."
The Sheriff's Corner ﾖ
Have you ever been in jail?
If not, have you ever thought about what the experience would be like? Either way, I'm sure the thought probably isn't a positive one.
In the same vein, are you familiar with the term Home Confinement? (aka. Home Incarceration). Considering the exposure of all forms of media in today's world it would be unusual if you weren't familiar with the term.
Because jail is not thought to be a wonderful thing, you most likely consider home confinement an option of lesser consequence than actually being ﾓbehind bars.ﾔ
I can't speak with any degree of personal knowledge about either experience; however, in my activities with the Sheriff's Auxiliary I have been to the Tygart Valley Regional Jail, and with just that bit of knowledge I know positively I'd rather be confined to my home than in the polished concrete, iron bar world of jail.
In Pocahontas County (as in most counties) the oversight of ﾓHome Confinementﾔ (HC) is the responsibility of the Sheriff. So to get a better understanding of the operation, I conducted an interview with the two individuals who deal with the day-to-day aspects of the program.
As of approximately seven months ago the administration of home confinement has been at the hands of Robin Friel and Corey Rose. Since that time they have revamped the program, enhanced enforcement and improved monitoring with new equipment. They provided me with all the written documents pertaining to the program, and patiently sat me down for a course in HC101.
When the term ﾓSupervising Officerﾔ is used below, it refers to either Rose or Friel.
For openers, home confinement is not as simple as just hanging out around the house. Remember it is ﾓincarceration.ﾔ Other than where you are physically, it is jail, and jail is a place where other people tell you what to do, and when to do it, and jail means a loss of privacy. One realizes all those inconveniences while serving a sentence at home.
Let's look at some of the terms and conditions.
First it is a voluntary program. To participate the prisoner signs a supervision agreement, a contract, that spells out the details, which include, but not limited to, some of the following:
Cannot leave the approved residence. (With some exception.)
Submit to electronic monitoring. (The infamous ankle bracelet.)
May not use, buy, sell or have in your possession, any alcohol, or drugs or any chemical substances described as a controlled substance. Nor, can there be any alcohol or drugs in the home.
You will be subject to random drug and alcohol testing.
May not enter any business establishment that sells any alcoholic beverages for consumption on premises. (That includes beer.)
May not carry or possess any firearms or any dangerous or deadly weapon. In addition you may not have any firearms, deadly weapons or ammunition within the approved home of your confinement.
Will not associate with, or allow within the approved residence, any convicted felon, or anyone under investigation for a felony, or anyone on a list of individuals deemed detrimental to the completion of the program as determined by a Supervising Officer (s).
Subject to random, unannounced, visitation by a Supervising Officer (s), and/or any sheriff's deputy, including K-9 units. This is for the purpose of locating any alcohol, drugs, guns, ammunition or any other dangerous weapon prohibited by the agreement. All such searches may be conducted without a search permit. The visitation may also include taking samples for use in drug/alcohol screening and inspection of electronic monitoring equipment.
And then, there are the fees. The cost of being in the program includes a $250 per month fee to participate, and a one-time $100 fee to hook-up on the electronic monitor system. The fee includes the cost of monitoring the prisoner. Monitoring is a 24/7/365 proposition and is done by the Sheriff's Department, and the company that supplies the electronic equipment also provides monitoring services.
It is also the responsibility of the participant to pay all costs associated with drug and alcohol screening conducted while in the program. Drug/alcohol testing is authorized under the agreement, but may also be specifically stipulated by the Judge in his sentencing order.
The items listed herein are but a small portion of the Supervision Agreement. The document itself is three pages long, so obviously it has been condensed and is offered just to give the flavor of the conditions of HC.
There are some situations where a prisoner may have authorized exceptions to leave the house. These include:
Work, or to seek work, Court directed appointments, doctor's appointments or medical services, appointments with a lawyer, church, food shopping, AA or NA meetings, and any other reason allowed by the court, or by statute. Each week the prisoner must provide the Supervising Officer (s) a detailed schedule that specifically states where he/she will be at any given time. ﾠTo be anywhere else constitutes a violation of the terms of the agreement, and could cause the participant to be returned to jail.
Life on HC isn't a stroll in the park. Consider some of the complications within the household of the participant. A spouse could be greatly inconvenienced because of certain conditions imposed on the prisoner. If the spouse is a hunter, the firearms ban may be an issue. (Firearms cannot be in the house, period.) If another adult living in the home wants to drink a beer, that person would be required to do so away from the premises, because no alcohol is allowed within the home. So, in effect, all those living in the same house with an HC prisoner suffer considerable loss of lifestyle, as well.
Typically, there are anywhere from 15 ﾖ 20 individuals in the program, currently at the lower end of the scale. Length of time in the program is on average two ﾖ three years. There is one individual several years into a five-year sentence in home confinement.
As you might imagine the job requires a certain toughness, and Friel and Rose have no concerns about their ability to manage the job, and do it with the right degree of compassion.
During their tenure there has only been one escape.ﾔ That individual was promptly recaptured, and you can guess where he is now. The option of home confinement is offered only to those who are considered low risk, and thus most participants work to stay in compliance. That's not to say that there aren't instances where a prisoner just can't keep it together, and they end up back in ﾓrealﾔ jail.
It must be noted that in addition their role in home confinement, both Friel and Rose have other responsibilities within the Department. To use the current vernacular; they ﾓmulit-taskﾔ and that's a source of pride with Sheriff David Jonese.
Anyone wishing to pose a question about the workings of the Sheriff's Department, direct the inquiry to email@example.com. We will attempt to answer questions in The Sheriff's Corner.
Last month, I sat down with Sheriff David Jonese for an interview. It's a new format for this column.
Q: Sheriff Jonese, would you give us an overview of the personnel that makes up the department?
A: Here in the main building of the courthouse, I have three ladies that manage the tax collection duties of the Sheriff's operations The county is very fortunate to have these people, and the stability they bring to that job gives me the opportunity to focus most of my energy on the law enforcement side of the equation. Operating out of the annex is my executive assistant, a process server and a home confinement officer. At present there are eight uniformed officers, consisting of the chief deputy, a captain, a lieutenant and five deputies. I have authority to hire one new deputy before the end of the year. That hire is now made and should be official soon.
Q: What do you consider the biggest challenges you and the department face?
A: Number one is drugs. Drug use permeates down to our most precious asset, the kids. Drug use harms them physically and mentally and if they are arrested for possession of drugs, it taints their future. The real criminal in all this is the pusher. I want these people out of the county and in jail. The second challenge is realated to number one-education. We need to get the word out to the kids because if we can make them think before their first exposure to drugs, we can begin to win the war.
Then there is the challenge of finances. The Sheriff isn't any different than any other government office, or, for that matter, many families in this state. Managing the budget requires making difficult decisions. We are stretched thin. Tax revenue is declining and you know what that means. It gets to be a vicious circle; the economy is down, and history tells us that crime increases in that environment, at a time when we have fewer resources with which to fight.
Q: One of your goals, when you were elected, was to develop a volunteer auxiliary. How is that going?
A: We have 12 members in the auxiliary. That has been a somewhat constant number. I'm happy with the auxiliary, but I'm discovering more and more functions for them. So we're looking to grow that number. From my standpoint, I need to organize more training for the auxiliary. That is a near-term goal, because they represent one answer to some of the financial issues we discussed earlier.
Q: Would you expand on that?
A: Okay, here is the big one. The auxiliary transports the majority of our prisoners from here (in) Marlinton to the TVRJ (Tygarts Valley Regional Jail). That's a 70 mile trip one way and it takes two hours each way, plus paperwork time on each end. It takes five hours any way you slice it. If my deputies did the transports, it would mean five hours they are off the road, diluting their primary job function.
Q: What are some of the other jobs done by the Auxiliary?
A: They help with traffic control at various functions such as football games and other events like Pioneer Days and the [Autumn Harvest] Festival and they assist with Bailiff duties. Coming up, we will be doing our big Christmas activity, delivering presents to deserving kids that might not otherwise get one. We do this jointly with the Family Resource Network and all our people get involved, including the Auxiliary. I keep thinking of jobs for the Auxiliary, it is definitely a work in progress.
Q: What is the procedure to apply for the Auxiliary?
A: They can pick up an application in the tax office at the courthouse. From there, we do a background check, followed by an interview with me. During the interview, I make sure the applicant understands we have jobs requiring various skills. If the applicant has a particular skill, we will strive to find a way to use it. I ask for a minimum of 10 hours a week.
Q: Are there other goals you have for the coming year?
A: Yes, there is one program I tried to get started in 2010, but something always seems to push it back, and now the year is all but over. I believe there is more to this job than just arresting people. My goal is to develop a culture of people taking care of people in this county. Toward that end, I want to establish a list of people that have special circumstances that may cause them to need assistancec. For example, if we know of an elderly person that lives alone, and we have a way to contact them in times of severe weather, making sure they have enough heat. And, if we know where these people live, our deputies can simply drive by periodically while on the road. I want to develop a data base of this nature. If any of our citizens knows of a family member, or friend, someone that they worry about, we'd like to know about them, too.
Q: Do you have a name for this program?
A: Actually, no. I keep looking for a name or an acronym to define the project. It is something I'm going to advance in 2011. You could say it's one of a few New Year's Resolutions I'll make. I'd like to discuss this more in the Sheriff's Corner in early 2011.
The Sheriff's Department is collecting toys for Pocahontas County children. Call Corey Rose at 304-799-4445 to have your donation collected.
2010 (First Half)
Joel Srodes is a Sheriff's Auxiliary member who will write the Sheriff's Corner column. He'll have more questions for the sheriff in the months to come. If you'd like to submit a question send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sheriff's Department hosts annual camp for kids
Since I last wrote a column, a lot has happened in your Sheriffﾒs department that I wanted to share with you.ﾠ
On Saturday, June 5, we hosted the second annual Sheriffﾒs Camp at Marlinton Municipal Park.ﾠ It was a fun and very successful camp with 41 kids attending.ﾠEvents at the park included law enforcement equipment displays, games, classesﾠand even live explosive and tazer demonstrations.ﾠ Greenbrier County Sheriffﾒs Department brought their new drug dogs and Hummer H-3 to show.ﾠ After lunch, events moved to the courthouse where the kids watched the 911 center in operation and then examined a crime scene at the courthouse lawn. The final event was a mock trial held in the circuit courtroom where the kids, acting as the jury, listened to lawyers present the evidence gathered from the crime scene set up on the courthouse lawn. It was a busy but fun day enjoyed by all. I would like to thank all who attended and especially those who worked so hard to make this yearﾒs camp such a success. ﾠ
On a different note, our newest deputy resigned, leaving the department with six deputies.ﾠ We have recently hired two new deputies and will hopefully hire our final deputy by mid-summer. ﾠIn addition, we recently completed our weapons and tazer training recertifying all the departmentﾒs law enforcement personnel. Things continue to be busy and as we move into the summer months I expect we will get even busier.
In addition, we have just completed the review of total calls and actions taken by the Pocahontas County Sheriffﾒs Department with assistance of the WVSP during the period January 1-December 31, 2009:
Felony Arrests, 133;ﾠMisdemeanor Arrests, 573;ﾠCitations, 914;ﾠﾠWorthless Checks, 503;ﾠﾠﾠﾠﾠﾠﾠﾠﾠﾠ Domestics, 79
The Sheriffﾒs Department transported more than 100 individuals to the TVRJ and various hospitals and the Home Confinement program monitored 23 individuals in its program during 2009.
In keeping with our pledge to make our county a better place to live, we have been working on enforcement.ﾠ I know we havenﾒt accomplished everything that the community may have asked of us however, we will continue to work until we do accomplish what we/you have set as goals of success for our department and our community.ﾠ It is evident that we have made a lot of progress however, we are only a part of the solution.
As we closed the door of this first year we have set our goals for 2010 and are already working towards those goals.ﾠ We have a pretty ambitious year ahead of us.ﾠ We appreciate the community help we received and with your help and continued support, I am sure we can achieve these goals.ﾠﾠ I would like to ask that you continue to provide us with feedback as to what we need to better serve you, the citizens of Pocahontas County.