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Busting The Hill

Cops broke up Martinsburg, W.Va., drug 'supermarket' 20 years ago

Cops broke up Martinsburg, W.Va., drug 'supermarket' 20 years ago

October 15, 2006|by CANDICE BOSELY
(Page 3 of 3)

The raid itself went smoothly. One officer cut his hand and there was a standoff with guns drawn, but no shots were fired because the suspect surrendered, said Griffith, the retired state trooper.

A few doors were kicked down. And not always the right ones - Mucklow said the government had to pay to repair a couple of doors that were wrongly broken.

Most of those indicted were arrested during the raid, found in homes in Martinsburg, Berkeley County and Jefferson County.

Eventually, all but one were found; that person to this day remains at large, Mucklow said.

And all but one of those arrested were convicted, he said.

"The operation was so successful - and I do believe it was very successful and time has proven that - the one thing was the cooperation between the federal, state and local agencies," Griffith said, noting that a territorialism between police agencies was eliminated. "Everybody worked together toward the same end."

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Notable at the time and now is the fact that the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department was not involved in the raid.

Neither Mucklow nor Anderson would comment on why, but both stressed that deputies with that department are now integral to the success of the Eastern Panhandle Drug and Violent Crimes Task Force, a multi-agency department that consists of undercover officers working together to conduct investigations.

The Task Force was officially created in 1994, but it traces its beginnings to The Hill bust, Mucklow said.

Still a problem



A police officer for 32 years, Anderson said that the time when The Hill was an open-market drug area was dangerous because of all the associated crime, including property crimes and crimes against people.

"Back at that time, that was probably one of the most dangerous times to be a police officer," he said. "It was an eerie time. It was like nothing I'd ever experienced."

Drugs still permeate Martinsburg, but in a different way.

"What you don't have today other than a couple little pockets, you don't have that supermarket-type of dealing," Anderson said.

For the most part drugs are sold from within houses, not on the streets.

Crack cocaine, powder cocaine and marijuana are still around and heroin trade is growing, as is the use of meth and the abuse of prescription drugs.

Investigations continue, and Anderson said the public does not always realize what police are doing. He said the Martinsburg Police Department likely averages 30 to 40 drug arrests a month, both for possession of a controlled substance and the more serious charge of possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance.

Mucklow said the major drug dealers moved eastward.

"Most of the drug trafficking for that period, they all moved down to Charles Town" after The Hill bust, Mucklow said.

Keeping pace with them, investigators switched their focus to that area and conducted a raid there a couple of years after The Hill raid.

The success of the raid in Martinsburg caused it to be used as a template for later busts throughout the state, including in Morgantown, Fairmont and Clarksburg, Mucklow said.

The raid's effects



After the raid, litter, including broken bottles, disappeared. Walking safely down the streets around The Hill became possible again.

"Within a week of this (bust) happening, it was like a different culture evolved in that area," Anderson said. "It's probably one of the better areas in town (now)."

The same people who had chastised city officials at City Council meetings returned, but their anger had transformed into praise, Dockeney, the former mayor, said.

"They were just so relieved and so grateful that something had been done," he said.

An appreciation gift - a clock - was given to the chief of police at the time, and Dockeney remembers the chief openly crying.

"The important thing is that the raid was effective," Dockeney said, adding that at first some worried the drug dealers would simply set up a new operation a street or two away.

That never happened, and the neighborhood was reborn.

"It was the difference between night and day," Dockeney said.

Cleanup efforts were organized, police patrols were effective at discouraging criminal activity and the sights and sounds of children on playgrounds returned.

For those involved in the investigation, friendships were formed and it is remembered as a successful operation.

"It was the most remarkable event in my law enforcement career," Mucklow said.

The effects included the creation of the task force, as well as more of a federal presence in Martinsburg.

"This office is here now because of that," Mucklow said of the U.S. Attorney's Office. The ATF, FBI, U.S. Marshals Service and a federal judge also all are in Martinsburg.

"I can trace it all the way back to Oct. 16, (1986)" Mucklow said.

Griffith, who spent all but three years of his tenure with the state police doing investigations, focusing on drugs from 1978 until his retirement in 1998, said that cooperation between the police agencies involved made The Hill raid a source of pride.

"The level of the cooperation and the magnitude of it really worked, and I think that was really responsible for the success of it," he said.

In 1996, 10 years after the raid, Griffith, Mucklow and retired FBI agent John Moran - who played an integral role in the investigation and now is an artist - returned to The Hill area together.

They walked around, shared memories and posed for photographs, some of which hang in a small conference room in the U.S. District courthouse in Martinsburg.

"It was just a serene scene there," Griffith recalled of that visit a decade ago. "There was no illegal activity of any kind going on. No drug dealers in sight."

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