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Police offer five second chances with West Side anti-drug program

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Five West Side residents accused of federal drug crimes were offered a rare second chance Thursday night.

Federal, state and local officials presented them with an intervention, and asked them to stop allegedly dealing drugs or be arrested and prosecuted.

The intervention is part of an anti-drug program launched on the city's West Side in February 2012 called the "Drug Market Intervention." The goal of the program is to crack down on centers that breed crimes of violence and other negative consequences.

Charleston Police Chief Brent Webster and U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin presented the intervention to the five suspects Thursday night at the New Covenant Missionary Baptist Church.

Webster said the five suspects, whom he did not name, made up several low-level "B List" drug offenders who were investigated this year by police. Since the program began, police have identified and arrested several "A List" offenders, who are now being prosecuted for federal drug crimes. If the five suspects continue to deal drugs, they too would end up on the "A List," he said.

"Please don't call our bluff," Webster said.

In addition to not naming the suspects, Webster asked media who gathered at the church to not photograph their faces.  

The Drug Market Intervention program was first implemented in High Point, N.C., and has been rolled out in other cities, including Huntington. Goodwin said he's seen the program work in Huntington, where several low-level offenders took advantage of their "second chances."

On a projection screen, police played video recordings of the five suspects selling drugs to undercover officers. Goodwin said the video alone is solid enough evidence to prosecute the five suspects.

"What you are getting tonight is a golden opportunity," Goodwin said. "It's a golden ticket."

State Police Capt. Tim Bledsoe and other law enforcement officers also spoke to the suspects.

"I'm not sure I'm sold on this concept," Bledsoe said. "I challenge you to make a believer out of me."

Several local community members spoke to the suspects, offering them guidance to turn their lives around.

Andre Johnson helps men and women in recovery on the city's West Side. Johnson said he spent a total of 17 years in prison for various crimes before turning his life around.

"Take a good look at me," Johnson told the five suspects. "I didn't get a second chance."

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

 


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