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Showing support: Residents rally to stand behind former chief

By TIM MacVEAN

The Inter-Mountain

ELKINS, W.Va.  — About two dozen community members gathered at Elkins City Hall Monday afternoon for a rally supporting former Elkins Police Chief Craig Cross and law enforcement as a whole.

A group of community members gather outside Elkins City Hall Monday afternoon for a rally showing support for former Elkins Police Chief Craig Cross as well as local law enforcement.
(Photo by Tim MacVean)

Cross resigned from the department on Feb. 6, just days before a memo he wrote surfaced that directed his officers to “harass cockroaches” near two different residences in town.

“We started off with support for officer Cross and just to shed light on our Elkins police force, letting them know that we’re in it with them,” rally organizer Carman Pennington said. “It kind of morphed into showing support for all law enforcement as he showed his idea that he didn’t want it to be about him.”

The memorandum, which became public on Feb. 8, compared drug dealers and users to “cockroaches,” instructed officers to harass potential suspects and indicated the police force should make the town’s residents “respect us or fear us.”

Pennington’s goal in organizing the rally was to show residents that he believes the EPD was trying to “clean up” the town, as opposed to instilling fear.

Carman Pennington, the organizer of a rally to show support for former Elkins Police Chief Craig Cross and law enforcement, holds up a sign Monday afternoon reading ‘I support local law enforcement,’ outside Elkins City Hall.

“What I’m trying to accomplish is just letting everyone know that the Elkins Police Department wasn’t out to get everyone,” Pennington said. “They were more trying to clean up our town, realized there was a problem and pointed out where the problem was, more than they’ve been trying to hold us in martial law here in Elkins.”

Several people participating in the rally held signs reading “I support local law enforcement” and “#istandwithcross.”

“I have several family members that are addicted to drugs and if we get these pushers off the streets maybe they’ll have that opportunity to seek help,” said resident Tina Corcoran, who was holding a “#istandwithcross” sign. “Otherwise, if it’s so readily available, it’s just too easy for them to get high.”

“I just think they deserve our respect and our appreciation,” community member Ruth Day said. “I just want to do something positive for them.”

Many in attendance at the rally expressed strong feelings regarding the memorandum.

“The memo itself, it didn’t offend me because I do feel the same way to a point. I don’t think it should have been put in writing. I think it should have been stated a different way but I think I understand the underlying frustration that (Cross) is feeling,” Corcoran said.

“He feels overwhelmed by the amount of drugs that have infiltrated Elkins. I am. I mean, as a citizen that grew up here, it’s never been this bad. The crime is incredible,” she continued. “It’s not only the drugs, it’s everything that goes along with it. The crime, the drug-addicted babies, it’s just a huge domino effect. If we can do one small part, stomp them out and get them out of here, that’s what we need to do.”

Pennington compared the Cross memo to “coaching” his officers to focus on certain parts of town he believed to be more serious drug areas.

“My reaction to the memo is I think he was trying to coach his guys to be more intuitive about what is going on at certain houses,” Pennington said. “I don’t see him as wanting to break someone’s civil rights as much as he wanted to say ‘Hey, as a coach right now I’m pushing you harder to go look at these areas right now.’ I saw it more of a rah-rah speech that used a couple words that weren’t supposed to ever see the public.”

Corcoran added that, while she believes the words used by Cross in the memorandum may have been “wrong,” she believes he was simply frustrated.

“His choice of words were wrong but I also think it’s overwhelming this small department and I think it was out of frustration that he used those words more than anger,” Corcoran said. “I just don’t think he was getting the point across to his officers that ‘we need to step this up,’ so I think he used more powerful words than maybe he should have.”

Day said she hopes the memorandum doesn’t negatively affect pending cases investigated by the EPD.

“I believe he was just extremely frustrated and was just venting,” Day said. “The ACLU has no business being here and I hope they don’t come in here and cause a bunch of crap and I hope it doesn’t ruin the outcomes of the cases it could have a bearing on. That’s what I’m afraid of. It concerns me.”

Joseph Cohen, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia, said the memo was a clear violation of the Fourth and Fifth amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

The Fourth Amendment guards against unreasonable searches and seizures of property and protects against arbitrary arrest. The Fifth Amendment guarantees the right to a grand jury, forbids double jeopardy and protects against self-incrimination, as well as requiring due process of law.

Elkins Mayor Van Broughton, who appeared briefly at the rally, said he was pleased to see the turnout to support local law enforcement.

“For as cold as it is, it’s a nice little turnout,” Broughton said. “They all are out here supporting our law enforcement and standing behind the Elkins PD. I’m really happy to see them all and that’s why I wanted to come out and thank the ones personally for coming out and supporting.

“It was very peaceful, very organized and very supportive,” Broughton continued. “A good group of people here.”

Broughton added that once the weather begins to warm up he plans to start taking part in “prayer around the flagpole” events once again to honor law enforcement and first responders.

Interim Elkins Police Chief J.C. Raffety was sworn in on Jan. 24. It is unclear if Cross’ resignation as chief was due to the memorandum.

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