Sweep nets 54 sex offenders for failing to comply with registration law
By Jessica Farrish
BECKLEY - A four-day cooperative effort among West Virginia State Police, the U.S. Marshal's Southern District Office and Booth Goodwin, U.S. attorney general for the Southern District of West Virginia, netted 54 sex offenders who had failed to comply with the law on mandatory registration.
Police checked the registration status of 317 sex offenders in Summers, Wyoming, Monroe, Mercer and McDowell counties during the sweep.
"Children are most important to us," West Virginia State Police Sgt. Michael Baylous said. "Children and family life - those are our values here in West Virginia. So it's just natural that we would step up and focus on this area."
Operation Lump of Coal is the last of three operations aimed at making sure sex offenders - those who have been convicted of raping, sexually assaulting or sexually abusing others - are registered.
"The message we're trying to send, not only to the individuals that were checked up on in these series of sweeps, is it's not just going to be these sweeps, and it hasn't just been these sweeps," said Goodwin. "The sweeps are designed to add a little fuel to the fire and send a very clear message: If you are caught out of compliance, you will be caught, and you will be prosecuted."
The federal prosecutor said sex offenders shop around to find states that have more relaxed enforcement and often move to those states - something officers want to prevent in West Virginia.
Goodwin added that unregistered sex offenders can face years in prison for failing to register.
"Frankly, there is no higher priority for any of us than the protection of our children," added Goodwin.
By law, all sex offenders in West Virginia are responsible for adding their name to a registry that lists the offender's address and crime. Offenders must register within three business days after being released from jail, within 10 business days of moving into the state, and within 10 business days of changing an address.
The state registry is part of Megan's Law, named in honor of 7-year-old Megan Nicole Kanka, daughter of Richard and Maureen Kanka of Hamilton Township, N.J.
Megan was raped and murdered by Jesse Timmendequas, a convicted sex abuser who had moved into her neighborhood.
Megan's Law is federal legislation that requires states to maintain a registry of sex offenders.
U.S. Marshal for the Southern District-West Virginia John Foster said the point of the registry is to protect children and other citizens from offenders.
"I had the fortune of meeting Maureen Kanka," said Foster. "Megan's mother said, had she known there was a sex offender living next door, she would not have let her child innocently leave her house to go play with her girlfriend."
He added that the registry allows parents to know who lives in the neighborhood so that they may better protect their children.
Foster said he's so passionate about protecting children that he's assigned one of his 13 federal marshals to handling sex offender cases full-time.
"West Virginia is moving to have full-time investigators (for offender cases)," he said, adding that the move would allow more enforcement of crimes against children.
According to the West Virginia Women's Caucus and others, more law enforcement officers are needed in the state to combat crimes against children.
Baylous said in areas of the Mountain State with better Internet access, child pornography possession rates are climbing.
He added that the victims of more than 90 percent of registered sex offenders in West Virginia are juveniles - pointing to a need for increased law enforcement that emphasizes children's protection.
"Our state troopers are perhaps the best in the nation," said Goodwin. "They have to respond to not just these sorts of endeavors (the registry sweep); they're responding to robberies, murders, rapes and domestic violence calls, day in and day out. To do this and to keep up with these requirements is an added duty ... something that's difficult to do."
Capt. Brad Mankins, commander of State Police Troop 6 in Beckley, said State Police have limited resources and that the extra funding from the federal marshal's office during Operation Lump of Coal helped make the area safer.
"We were able to put 10 guys a day in each of these counties," he said.
Mankins said investigations are being launched into the 54 offenders who failed to register.
"The sex offender registry is mandatory, not an option," he said. "We want to send a message this is not optional. If you don't register, you will be caught, and you will be prosecuted.
"These are dangerous individuals," he added. "It's simply not an option to keep them locked up in prison for years and years, so it's important they register so we know where they are and can keep an eye on them."
The sex offender registry may be accessed on the State Police website at http://www.wvsp.gov/Pages/default.aspx.