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Opinion

April 7, 2013

Enforcement of the law must never mean a death sentence

Everyone who works in law enforcement, no matter the level, knows it is a risky profession.

Still, they put in long hours on their jobs, protecting the communities and the people they serve.

One such individual, Mingo County first-year Sheriff Eugene Crum, died on the job Wednesday in Williamson. Crum, 59, was shot to death in the spot where he usually parked his car for lunch.

Delegate Harry Keith White, who campaigned with Crum last year, said his friend regularly parked near the site of a former pharmacy known for illegally distributing pills. Crum wanted to be certain the “pill mill” remained closed, White said.

Crum spent a decade as a magistrate before resigning in January 2012 to focus on his campaign for sheriff. Last August, he was hired by Prosecutor C. Michael Sparks’ office as a special investigator.

Crum took office in January and as sheriff was a key man in Mingo County’s anti-drug efforts, dubbed Operation Zero Tolerance.

“Here in Mingo County, if you’re dealing drugs, we’re gonna be knocking on your door,” Crum said after a February drug raid. “Enough is enough.”

There has been speculation that Crum’s campaign against drugs led to the murder, but it’s important thay we allow the legal process to play out.

The suspect in the murder, 37-year-old Tennis Melvin Maynard of Ragland, was shot and wounded by a sheriff’s deputy in a chase following the attack on Crum. Maynard remains hospitalized in Huntington but is expected to survive.

Melvin Maynard told The Associated Press that his son was exposed to harmful chemicals and injured while working at an Alabama coal mine and was mentally “off.”

On Saturday, Sparks cautioned against making assumptions in the wake of the murder.

“It has come to my attention that there is rampant speculation and conjecture that Sheriff Eugene Crum’s murder was connected with Sheriff Crum’s outstanding drug-enforcement efforts. There is no substantial evidence at this juncture that Sheriff Crum’s murder was drug-related,” Sparks said.

“While understandable after such a tragic and shocking event, I respectfully request that the public refrain from engaging in unfounded speculation and conjecture regarding Sheriff Crum’s murder. Now is the time to grieve, cherish memories and celebrate an admirable life of public service.

“The collaborative investigations of the Williamson Police Department and West Virginia State Police are ongoing and comprehensive in scope. Rest assured, we are committed to conducting due diligence, completing a thorough criminal investigation and achieving justice.”

That’s critical in this period when a Texas district attorney and his wife were shot to death in their home last weekend and just weeks after Colorado’s corrections director Tom Clements was killed when he answered the doorbell at his home outside Colorado Springs.

The challenge is ensuring that all those in law enforcement have the protection they deserve.

Kenneth Jude, 23, of Chatteroy, who has known Crum all his life, perhaps said it best:

“They shouldn’t scare cops into not wanting to do their jobs.”

Effective enforcement of the law must never mean a death sentence.

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