Bluefield Daily Telegraph
It is a sad fact that many families across our region are unaware of: The deep south counties — and Mercer and McDowell counties in particular — are home to an unusually large number of registered sex offenders. These are sex offenders who live in among us in our neighborhoods, communities and towns.
But of particular concern is the troubling realization that many of these registered sex offenders are failing to abide by the required rules of their release from prison. This is evidenced by the results of a four-day law-enforcement blitz aimed at verifying the compliance of more than 317 registered sex offenders currently living in five southern West Virginia counties.
The multi-agency campaign — dubbed Operation Lump of Coal — found that 54 registered sex offenders were out of compliance. And 42 of those 54 who were not abiding by the sex offender registration rules live right here in Mercer and McDowell counties. To say this is alarming would be an understatement.
West Virginia State Police Capt. Brad Mankins said funding provided by the U.S. Marshals Service allowed the State Police to “take four days and hit those five counties with 10 guys each day — guys dedicated solely to the compliance check.”
With the high volume of calls the State Police answers and a limited number of people, Mankins said it is difficult to do such widespread compliance checks without additional funding. “There are hundreds of registered sex offenders in these counties, and the majority have offended against children,” he said.
“Registering as a sex offender is not optional,” U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin correctly notes. “It’s not something that offenders can simply put on the back burner or casually get around to completing whenever they feel like it. It’s mandatory.”
So why are such a large number of registered sex offenders in Mercer and McDowell counties failing to abide by the rules?
According to Cpl. J.C. Long, of the West Virginia State Police Princeton Detachment, the sex offenders who were found not in compliance last week had a variety of violations.
Some had moved, changed their email, phone number, job or car registration without notifying the West Virginia State Police. That’s a violation of the sex offender registration rules. And of those 42 found in violation, approximately eight sex offenders were in federal violation, Long said.
Goodwin, who has made prosecuting sex offenders who violate federal registration requirements one of his office’s top priorities, says those sex offenders who are out of compliance will be tracked down and brought to justice. We are glad to hear that. And we are pleased to see that law enforcement campaigns such as Operation Lump of Coal are being initiated in our region. It is our hope that last week’s law-enforcement blitz will send a strong statement to all registered sex-offenders. Every registered sex offender in the region must comply with federal registration requirements. If you don’t — you will be found and prosecuted.
We applaud local authorities for their continued efforts to locate, arrest and prosecute sex offenders who are in violation of the rules. This includes Cpl. Long, Sgt. D.W. Miller, Trooper First Class J.A. Cook, Trooper D.C. Graham, Trooper J.L. Morris and Trooper B.R. Wood with the Princeton Detachment of the West Virginia State Police, along with Cpl. C.K. Morton, Senior Trooper J.K. Weiss, Trooper J.R. Coeburn, Trooper B.D. Gillespie, Trooper C.A. Dunn and Trooper J.C. Mann with the Welch Detachment of the West Virginia State Police.