Operation Centennial Sweep a success

Barbara Layton

Newly elected Jackson County Sheriff Ross Mellinger is making a big impact in his first few weeks in office, by holding one of the state’s largest warrant sweeps to date.

Mellinger said the term “centennial” was coined based on the goal of 100 drug targets, distributors and dealers, that the departments set out to catch in Jackson County alone. “We actually exceeded that by coming up with 113 fresh new warrants,” he said.

“Charges vary from methamphetamine to heroin to fentanyl to cocaine to prescription narcotics, marijuana - a little bit of everything and a combination thereof.”

Designed as a “line in the sand” or a fresh start for a new administration, Mellinger said he wanted to hit the ground running by creating a new atmosphere and new rededication to the drug crimes and spin-off of the drug crimes.

“Honestly, the property crimes and various other things you see and take for granted, are all directly related to the drug industry,” he said. “It’s amazing really, the amount of other crimes and cases you can close when you can dive into these things head first.”

With the threat of COVID-19, the operation was handled a bit differently than in the past. Instead of going inside the sheriff’s office or being taking through the courthouse, the targets were processed in tents in the parking lot of the department and transferred to vans for transport to South Central Regional Jail; some being arraigned by Magistrates Laura Pursley and Jackie Casto in the parking lot as well.

According to Mellinger, the bulk of the investigation was done by the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office in conjunction with Ripley and Ravenswood Police Departments as part of the Jackson County Bureau of Investigations (JCBI). Also pitching in were the U.S. Marshal Service and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Execution of the operation was led by the Sheriff’s Department, JCBI, and Ravenswood and Ripley Police Departments along with the West Virginia State Police, DNR, U.S. Marshal services, and DEA.

“The ability to network together is what made it so wonderful,” Mellinger said.

According to Mellinger, a lot of time was spent ahead of the operation trying to get as much intelligence and information on the targets as possible, allowing the officers to get as many targets as they could as fast as they could.

“You’re always going to have some collateral damage when it comes to these types of operations,” he said. “You’re going to run across people with existing warrants from other incidents. You’re going to run across people who are going to run or fight the police so you’re going to have a variety of extra-curricular charges or extra-curricular individuals, not necessarily a main focus or target of the underlying investigation, that in turn get a free ride as well.”

Mellinger said when all is said and done he is anticipating around 130-140 individuals who end up getting a “free ride” to South Central Regional Jail during the two-day operation.

According to Mellinger, anyone who has ever been affected by the drug industry, whether it’s been from an addiction or dealer standpoint, can turn their life around.

“If they are truly honest, they will tell you the best thing that ever happened to them was getting arrested,” he said. “Because that was their rock bottom, that enabled them to transcend their behavior and transcend their lifestyles in an upward direction. When they hit that rock bottom and they start moving forward everything turns around. It’s our commitment and our idea that we can be everyone’s rock bottom.”