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Officer at Eastern Regional Jail faces charges

June 03, 2002|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A correctional officer at the Eastern Regional Jail was arrested on drug charges Friday night following a 21/2-month investigation into a heroin smuggling operation at the jail, Berkeley County Sheriff Randy Smith said.

Thomas W. Owens, 34, of 121 E. South St., Martinsburg, was arrested on charges of delivery of a controlled substance (heroin) and delivery of a controlled substance into a correctional facility or jail, police said.

Owens was being held at the jail Friday night pending an arraignment by a magistrate, but he was freed by Sunday night, police and jail officials said.

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Owens told police he could not make bail, said Lt. K.C. Bohrer of the sheriff's department. If Owens could not make bail, it was possible he was going to be transferred to another jail in the state so he would not have to be held in a jail where he worked, Bohrer said.

Investigators initially developed information that up to two people may have been smuggling heroin into the jail, Smith said Sunday.

But now it is not clear how many people were involved, Smith said.

Smith and Bohrer declined to say Sunday how much heroin was smuggled into the jail. It is believed heroin was being hidden in correctional officers' uniforms to get the drug into the jail, Bohrer said.

It would be easy to smuggle drugs into the jail that way, given the fact the officers work at the jail, Bohrer said.

"It's people that aren't subject to search, or shouldn't be," Bohrer said.

The investigation culminated Friday with five search warrants at locations in Martinsburg and the county, according to a sheriff's department press release.

One of the searches occurred at the jail, another occurred at an apartment at Joshua Gardens apartments on U.S. 11 north, one occurred at Owens' house and one involved a car that Owens owned, police said.

Cigarettes and smokeless tobacco, which are considered contraband inside the jail, were also smuggled into the jail, which is located along W.Va. 9 east of Martinsburg, Smith said.

Cigarettes and smokeless tobacco were being sold for up to $35 a pack inside the jail, Bohrer said.

The investigation was headed up by members of the sheriff's department and officials from the jail, according to the press release.

Those involved in the searches were the criminal investigation division of the sheriff's department, uniformed deputies, Smith, jail officials and Charles Town Police Patrolman Richard Jenkins, who has a specially-trained dog that searches for narcotics.

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