Police question using Kanawha drug funds to pay for special prosecutor

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A decision to use drug forfeiture funds to pay for a special prosecutor in the Kanawha County Prosecutor's Office is ruffling some feathers within the Charleston Police Department.

"The drug money that's seized in Charleston and in Kanawha County should be used to combat drugs in Kanawha County," said Sgt. Bobby Eggleton, commander of the department's special enforcement unit.

On Tuesday, members of the Kanawha County Commission voted to transfer $30,000 from the drug forfeiture account of Prosecutor Mark Plants to help pay for a special prosecutor who has been appointed to handle cases involving domestic violence petitions or cases of alleged violence against children. Kanawha Circuit Judge Duke Bloom ordered the special prosecutor appointed in April, after Plants was charged with misdemeanor counts of beating his son with a belt and violating a domestic violence petition ordering him to not have contact with his ex-wife or their children.

County Commissioners Kent Carper, Hoppy Shores and Dave Hardy transferred $50,000 from Plants' drug forfeiture account last month to help pay for special prosecutor Don Morris, who is being paid $200 an hour to handle the cases Plants is barred from taking. County officials expect to spend at least $300,000 on the special prosecutor before Plants' legal troubles are resolved.

When the Charleston Police Department or other local law enforcement agency seizes drug money or other assets, 10 percent of what is recovered goes to Plants' office. Plants has said the money is to offset the costs of filing the civil action required to seize the assets.

The money can be used for training, education and other things. However, Eggleton said he and some other police officers don't think the money should be used to pay for a special prosecutor.

Although not acting as an official police spokesman, Eggleton said many officers in the police department and the Metro drug unit feel the same way.

"I'm a ranking officer who hears the opinions of others," Eggleton said. "I've been told to speak freely."

Eggleton said he thinks Plants should put the drug forfeiture money back into the fight against drugs.

"If we seize $4,000, Plants gets $400," Eggleton said. "That $400 is two heroin buys for our unit. We have an influx of Detroit drug dealers here. We could pay confidential informants. We could buy equipment."

Plants would not comment Wednesday but has said he has the discretion to spend drug forfeiture money as he wants.

Eggleton disagrees.

"It is not his money," Eggleton said. "He's a public servant. That money belongs to the people of Kanawha County. It belongs to the public."

Eggleton renewed calls Tuesday for Plants to resign.

"I think it's past time for him to realize he's not being a public servant," he said. "He's being a public burden.

"For us cops who are on the streets, trying to fight the war on drugs, we need a prosecutor who's a team member, not a team distraction," Eggleton said.

Reach Rusty Marks at rustymarks@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.

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