CHARLESTON — West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey's office has joined more than 40 law enforcement professionals in urging the state Legislature to adequately fund the West Virginia State Police Crime Laboratory.
The coalition signed letters requesting the Legislature reduce the state’s backlog of drug identification tests, in part, by devoting a portion of settlement funds the Attorney General’s office received in lawsuits against pharmaceutical drug wholesalers.
On April 6, the state Senate passed House Bill 2980, which created the State Police Forensic Laboratory Fund. It is a new special revenue account that is to be managed by the Superintendent of State Police and is available for the operations of the State Police Forensic Laboratory.
The bill passed the House 89-7-4 on March 25. It passed the Senate 33-0-1.
“The State Crime Lab plays a critical role in our fight against substance abuse by ensuring that drug traffickers are prosecuted while innocent parties are exonerated,” Morrisey wrote in the letter. “Eliminating the lab’s backlog will not only reduce the occurrence of dismissal, but also reduce jail costs by expediting trials.”
The letters, sent this week to House Speaker Tim Armstead and Senate President Mitch Carmichael, explain the State Police Crime Lab faces a funding crisis with 4,671 cases that await testing. Most are drug or toxicology related and critical to providing the evidence needed to secure the strongest conviction and punishment.
The Attorney General’s office says it contributed $1 million to ease the backlog last year. Those funds helped State Police hire additional analysts, offer overtime and purchase necessary equipment.
Even with those improvements, the AG's office says many law enforcement officers across the state believe the crime lab backlog remains a critical concern. Morrisey said it makes sense to invest healthcare related settlements into solving West Virginia’s largest healthcare challenge – the substance abuse epidemic.
Morrisey signed the letters with Barbour County Sheriff Philip Ferguson, Berkeley County Sheriff Curtis Keller, Berkeley County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy George Swartwood, Brooke County Sheriff Larry Palmer, Cabell County Sheriff Charles Zerkle, Doddridge County Sheriff Michael Headley, Grant County Sheriff Brian Ours, Greenbrier County Sheriff Bruce Sloan, Lewisburg Police Chief Tim Stover, Hampshire County Sheriff John Alkire, Hancock County Sheriff Ralph Fletcher, Moorefield Police Chief Steven Reckart, Jackson County Sheriff Anthony Boggs, Jefferson County Sheriff Peter Dougherty, Charleston Police Chief Brent Webster, Lewis County Sheriff Adam Gissy, Whitehall Police Chief Geno Guerrieri, Mason County Sheriff Greg Powers, McDowell County Sheriff Martin West, Keyser Police Chief Karen Shoemaker, Mineral County Sheriff Jeremy S. Taylor, Morgantown Police Chief Ed Preston, Morgan County Sheriff K.C. Bohrer, Ohio County Sheriff Tom Howard, Wheeling Police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger, Pendleton County Sheriff Donald Hedrick, Pocahontas County Sheriff Jeff Barlow, Putnam County Sheriff Steve Deweese, Raleigh County Sheriff Scott Van Meter, Ritchie County Sheriff Terry Snodgrass, Roane County Sheriff Todd Cole, Summers County Sheriff Gary Wheeler, Taylor County Sheriff Terry Austin, Grafton Police Chief Robert Beltner, Tucker County Sheriff Brian Wilfong, Upshur County Sheriff David Coffman, Buckhannon Police Chief Matthew Gregory, Wood County Sheriff Steve Stephens, Parkersburg Police Chief Joseph Martin and Clendenin Police Chief David Brinckman, along with the West Virginia’s Deputy Sheriffs’ Association, Chiefs of Police Association and Chapter of the FBI National Academy Associates.