Citizens Frustrated and Angry at Pocahontas Commission Special Session
Seventeen outspoken, frustrated and in some cases very angry residents of three different areas of the county, attended the Pocahontas County Commission’s June 28th Special Session. 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 result from too many legal protections for the criminals as opposed to the innocent citizens’ rights 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 loud explosive devices being discharged.
These citizens came from Buckeye, Seebert, and the Brush Country Road areas of the county, and each seemed to have its own problem alleged drug house. One resident said one of those houses keeps seventeen vicious and unvaccinated Pit-Bull dogs which roam the neighborhood and the Greenbrier River Trail and bite citizens, 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While most requested that their names not be published for fear of threatened retaliation, one of the more outspoken citizens at the meeting, Agnes Doyle, who is also an on-air volunteer at Allegheny Mountain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 where she cannot ever get a good night’s sleep. Doyle told the commissioners that she should be reimbursed her paid property taxes because she doesn’t really own her property, since the neighborhood drug dealer actually controls her property, by firing guns along her property border, trespasses at will on his ATV, screams threats at her, creates loud noises and fires 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 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 do nothing since it is private property. Magistrate Cynthia D. Brice-Kelley and Prosecuting Attorney Terri Helmick who were present, said that officers certainly can arrest for any crime they witness.
Doyle responded to other citizens who complained about Sheriff 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 commissioners 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 commissioners have received no requests 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 support the Sheriff’s Department financially. He added that Pocahontas County spends more money on it’s Sheriff’s Department per capita then any other county in West Virginia. The commissioners were very concerned with this and willing to do whatever they can help solve these problems. The citizens also asked the commissioners to write the state legislature to have the law changed to protect the victims rather than the criminals and Helmick said he would invite the county’s legislative representatives to come and meet with the citizens to discuss this.
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 larges sized counties in the state with seven deputies, and that and has been unable to hire their remaining deputy vacancy for the past two years 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 Terri 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 Brice-Kelly said the law requires that arrested people be provided a chance to post bail, so even if the officers could make arrests of some of these people, they will likely be quickly released back into the community. She added that citizens who are upset with this need to talk to law enforcement or the County Prosecutor instead of to a Magistrate, because cannot discuss pending cases with concerned citizens before a trial or they would have to recuse themselves from presiding at the trial.