Local trooper is tops in the state

June 27, 2002|by DAVE McMILLION

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The investigation started much like the others initiated by West Virginia State Police Trooper Nathan Harmon.

A typical case maybe, but not one that would get any soft-handed treatment from the Berkeley County trooper.

On Nov. 24 last year, Harmon, who was recently named Trooper of the Year in West Virginia, went to a local Economy Inn in an attempt to find a wanted person.

Harmon entered the room where the man was staying and caught him with crack cocaine.

While Harmon was in the room, he noticed four pairs of Levi blue jeans under a sink in the room.

Store tags were still on the jeans and Harmon noticed there were some ink tabs in a trash can that appeared to have been burned off some clothing.

Ink tabs are placed on clothing as an anti-theft device, said Harmon. If someone who is stealing the clothing tries to take off the tabs, they spew ink on the clothes, said Harmon.


Harmon took the man and other suspect in the room to his office for questioning.

It grew into a widespread clothing theft investigation in which Harmon said he discovered that clothing was being stolen in other areas, such as the J.C. Penney Store in Winchester, Va.

The people who stole the clothing would bring it to a local J.C. Penney store and exchange the merchandise for a merchandise card, Harmon said.

The people would take the gift cards to pawn shop operators, who would give the suspects half the face value of the cards, Harmon said. The pawn shop operators would use the cards for their personal use.

Many of the people involved in selling the merchandise cards did so to support heroin addictions, Harmon said.

The investigation grew to include six other law enforcement agencies and the recovery of more than $60,000 in merchandise cards obtained fraudulently from stores like Wal-Mart, Kmart, Lowe's, Home Depot and J.C. Penney, said state police. Also recovered was approximately $20,000 worth of stolen property.

The investigation is continuing and Harmon said he expects there to be 31 arrests in the probe.

The work in the case illustrates how Harmon approaches his job, said Sgt. E.D. Burnett of the Martinsburg state police detachment.

Harmon is the kind of officer that works hard on every case, as if the crime was committed against his own family, said Burnett.

"If there were 10 Trooper Harmons in this county, you would see the crime rate drop to zero percent," said Burnett.

Harmon's exceptional work earned him the Trooper of the Year Award during the West Virginia Troopers Association conference in Wheeling, W.Va. on June 8, said Sgt. E.D. Anderson.

Harmon won the award as a member of the statewide police force that numbers about 600 officers.

In the time since the 27-year-old trooper came onto the local force on July 12, 2000, he has investigated scores of cases including sexual assaults, a fatal shooting and other theft cases.

Out of them all, Harmon said the clothing theft case was one of the biggest.

Harmon said it surprised him when he learned how desperate people can become to support a heroin habit.

"It will turn people's head to hear one story from one heroin addict," said Harmon.

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