A major two-day law enforcement blitz aimed at verifying compliance of more than 200 registered sex offenders currently residing in three southern West Virginia counties resulted in numerous arrests, U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin, U.S. Marshal John D. Foster, and West Virginia State Police Superintendent Col. Jay Smithers announced today during a press conference in Chapmanville, W.Va.
The initiative, known as Operation Coal Dust, is a multi-agency law enforcement effort targeting registered sex offenders to determine individual compliance with the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, also known as SORNA. Led by the U.S. Marshals Service’s Cops United Felony Fugitive Enforcement Division (CUFFED), Operation Coal Dust targeted 209 registered sex offenders and found a total of 10 individuals out of compliance within the Southern District of West Virginia during compliance checks conducted by law enforcement on Tuesday and Wednesday (Aug. 6-7) of this week.
U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said, “Registering as a sex offender is not optional. 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.” Goodwin continued, “I’ve made prosecuting sex offenders who violate federal registration requirements one of my office’s top priorities. Today I want to reiterate that message: If you are out of compliance, we will track you down and we will bring you to justice.”
Attorney Goodwin says there are more than 3,000 sex offenders throughout the state and those numbers are growing by 400 a year and he says enforcing the law is no small undertaking, it takes the devotion of a unit within the state police to monitor these sex offenders.
“The level of compliance we are seeing is pretty remarkable. A very, very high level of compliance that can be tied directly back to the hard work of the W.Va. State Police and the U.S. Marshal Service,” said Goodwin.
Operation Coal Dust was initiated by West Virginia State Police members based in Boone, Lincoln and Logan counties, along with the U.S. Marshals Service’s CUFFED Division. The two-day law enforcement sweep targeted Boone, Lincoln and Logan counties. Out of the 209 compliance checks performed in those specific counties, three arrests were made by police with more likely to come.
One of those arrested was David B. Williams, 53, of Logan, had relocated his residence and was employed by A-1 Construction, both of which violated his obligation to update his sex offender registration when he failed to report each within ten days.
“One registered sex offender out of compliance is one too many,” U.S. Marshal John Foster said. “The U.S. Marshals Service is thoroughly committed to tracking down fugitives who attempt to sidestep the law.”
Foster said it is important for everyone and told the story of talking with Megan’s mother of Megan’s Law. She told him if she had known a sex offender lived next door, her daughter might still be alive.
“It’s not just knowing that someone is there, it’s knowing that they are in compliance. It’s knowing that they are not on computers, that they’re not enticing other little kids, that they’re not violating the law,” said Foster, “We make them walk a strict line because that is what the law requires. When I say we, I mean the West Virginia the West Virginia State Police. I cannot sing their praises high enough. They are doing a fantastic job. It is an honor and a privilege to work with the West Virginia State Police. This is something the take very seriously. The superintendent has talked about this as a top priority for them because we are talking the safety of our children and others — those who cannot protect themselves. That’s what our job is and why it is so vitally important.”
West Virginia State Police Superintendent Col. Jay Smithers said, “Efforts like Operation Coal Dust are extremely important. This particular undertaking is another tool that law enforcement has used to reinforce our commitment to safe communities throughout southern West Virginia.”
Smithers says they check offenders regularly for non-compliance. They check to be sure the offenders are living where they say they live, where they work, and they gather other general information that is checked to be sure it is accurate and factual.
Foster says the state police are not only enforcing compliance through the operations, they are out there regularly checking on them.
“This is an ongoing venture, this isn’t just a one-time thing that we do periodically. I believe that is why our results this time was better than the other operations. They are diligently out there. The troopers are knocking on the doors. They are checking to make sure they are in compliance. I think we should be very proud of our state police.”
Foster says registered offenders “state shop.” They check to see how strict states are in enforcing compliance and which states check the least.
“A lot of them aren’t coming here and that speaks highly of what West Virginia is doing.”
In December, a similar law enforcement sweep known as Operation River Cities was initiated in Cabell, Mingo and Wayne counties. As a result of the 299 compliance checks conducted as part of Operation River Cities, 18 arrests were made by law enforcement.
The Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act is part of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 (Public Law 109-248). SORNA provides a comprehensive set of minimum standards for sex offender registration and notification in the United States.