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Mingo officials react to allegations against late sheriff

WILLIAMSON, W.Va. -- Eugene Crum stood on the courthouse steps in January, the night he took office as Mingo County sheriff, promising to lead an unprecedented crackdown on the county's prescription pill epidemic.

That crackdown, dubbed "Operation Zero Tolerance," led to the indictment of 72 people for drug-related offenses and collected more than $75,000 in cash.

After Crum was shot and killed in April, he was remembered as a crusader who wanted to end the cycle of addiction that touched many families in Mingo County. 

But Mingo County residents are now learning that, before his death, FBI agents believed Crum illegally took prescription painkillers from a drug dealer while he was a county magistrate.

After he was elected sheriff, Crum allegedly took part in a conspiracy to stop the dealer from talking to the FBI, according to a federal charge filed against Mingo Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury Thursday.

Crum's portrait hung outside the Mingo County Courthouse until last week, when his widow, Rosie Crum, took it down.

Newly appointed Mingo County Sheriff James Smith said his department would re-examine all drug arrests made by Crum.

Smith said cooperating with the FBI is necessary to restore the public's trust in the sheriff's department. Crum has shattered that trust, said Smith, who was appointed by county commissioners as sheriff earlier this week. He ran against Crum in the Democratic primary for sheriff last year.

"It's sad that these people were entrusted by the people to do a job and they abused their power," Smith said. "There is no excuse for it."

Crum, 59, was shot to death April 3 as he sat in his police cruiser in downtown Williamson. Police said Tennis Melvin Maynard, 33, of Delbarton, shot Crum twice at close range.

After the sheriff's death, Rosie Crum served as interim sheriff. She resigned last month, after federal charges were initially filed against Thornsbury and Mingo County Commissioner David Baisden.

When Rosie Crum stepped down, she recommended Dave Rockel, whom she had named chief field deputy for the sheriff's department, be appointed sheriff.

Rockel was mentioned in Thursday's federal court filing. Prosecutors say Eugene Crum owed $3,000 to sign company owner George White -- but instead of paying, Crum sent an undercover officer to buy drugs from White. Crum and Rockel (who was then Williamson police chief) filed a police report on the incident and searched White's office, according to prosecutors.

Rockel was fired Tuesday from the sheriff's department. He said Thursday he didn't know how to describe how he felt after hearing of the allegations that Crum had received illegal pills.

"It's just more shock value, I guess," he said.

Federal prosecutors say Crum, Thornsbury, Prosecuting Attorney Michael Sparks and County Commissioner David Baisden conspired to keep White from talking to federal investigators about Crum's alleged purchase of pills.

Rockel was not mentioned in that part of the court filing, and said he did not conspire to have White hire a lawyer favored by Crum and other officials.

"I never done anything like that," Rockel said Thursday. "I just did textbook stuff. When we make controlled buys, there's a protocol we follow."

After the shooting, many residents wondered if Crum's slaying was connected to his hard stance against prescription drugs.

Crum, who stepped down as Mingo County's chief magistrate to seek the sheriff's office last year, ran on a platform promising to tackle the county's prescription pill epidemic like never before. He attributed most of the county's crimes to the widespread illegal pill trade. Crum said he believed the addiction problem would eventually dry up if police went after area drug dealers.

Even before that, Williamson police appointed Crum to target the illegal pill trade as a special investigator.

Mingo County Commissioner Greg "Hootie" Smith said he was "heartbroken" to learn of the allegations against Crum.

"That's not the sheriff that I knew," Greg Smith said. "The sheriff I knew had strong desire to rid our county of such drugs."

He described Crum as a close personal friend. He had never known Crum to use drugs, he said.

Williamson resident Ance Gillman Jr. said he'd heard rumors about Crum, but never believed them until Thursday.

He wondered if he could trust anyone in the Mingo County courthouse again.

"They are going to have to clean out the whole courthouse," he said.

Ashley Newsome of Williamson said she went before Thornsbury for a custody hearing earlier this summer. She said Crum had arrested her baby's father for late child support payments, even though they weren't late.

"It's sad to say, even if people got together and stood up against people in the courthouse, we feel like there's nothing we could do," Newsome said.

After Crum's death, Mingo County authorities promised to continue Crum's work in ending the illegal pill trade.

Two college scholarships at Mingo County Central High School were named after him. A memorial fund was created to benefit his wife and children. County officials organized several fundraising events to benefit that fund.

The Mingo County STOP Coalition, which operates county drug treatment programs, said it would name a new facility in Matewan the "Eugene Crum Memorial Complex."

Sparks, the county prosecutor, has said Crum's slaying is not connected to drugs. Relatives of Maynard, the sheriff's alleged killer, have said Crum sexually assaulted Maynard. Crum was Maynard's boxing coach when Maynard was 15. Sparks said investigators looked into the allegations and found no evidence of sexual assault.

As part of the Maynard case, Sparks previously disclosed potential evidence of a State Police report from 2002 in connection to the alleged sexual assault of a 19-year-old woman. Crum, who was Delbarton police chief at the time, had sex with the woman in the back seat of a city police cruiser. The woman later went to a hospital and complained of injuries related to a sexual assault. Police noted that her blood alcohol content was about four times the legal limit at that time in West Virginia. Crum said the sex was consensual, and a State Police trooper came to the same conclusion.

 

Reach Travis Crum at travis.crum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5163.


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