Overdose calls, drug activity raise task force questions in Westover

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WESTOVER, W.Va. — In a city already battling a civil rights lawsuit against its police department, another fight is underway in Westover. Before announcing his resignation, Westover Police Chief Richard Pancio expressed concern over rising drug overdoses.

As 12 News first reported, Westover Police Chief Richard Panico announced his resignation to Westover City Council at Monday’s meeting. Before that, he began his report with grim statistics. The WPD responded to 11 overdose calls in the last several weeks. Five of those people died.

“We’ve found there’s a direct correlation to these overdoses and a high level of drug activity,” Panico told Council. “Which numbers are up.” 

He cited concerns over operations and drug traffic at the Econo Lodge and Morgantown Mall and possible issues from homeless encampment Diamond Village spilling over into Westover. While on the same page regarding problematic overdoses, there more questions than answers during a discussion between Panico and Councilman Ralph Mullins.

“I know this is a personal matter for you, and you know this is a personal matter for me,” Mullins said to Panico at one point. “Agreed,” Panico responded. Mullins said he recently lost a family member in Westover when they were sold drugs that killed them.

Mullins went on to question Panico about drug raids in Westover by the Mon Metro Drug Task Force, which WPD claimed happened without prior knowledge.

Mullins: “I’m going to find out exactly why the Mon County drug task force refuses to work with us. Because THAT doesn’t make sense.”

Panico: “It does not, does it?” 

“A year and a half ago when the chief gave his report and he stated there was an operation by the Mon County Drug Task Force, that we were excluded from that,” Mullins told 12 News. “That happened here in Westover, and that was very concerning.” 

The raid Mullins referred to happened in the early morning hours of January 30, 2019, on Savannah Street. Records obtained by 12 News shows the Chief’s frustration during a meeting in February 2019. The record stated, “Chief advised that his concern was that he was blindsided by their presence and that someone could have been hurt when his officers responded to a call from residents that something was going on in their neighborhood.”

Mullins brought that raid up during Monday’s meeting.

Mullins explained, “Here these guys excluded us down on Savannah Avenue. And I had to assume they did that again here.” To which Panico responded with, “yes.” 

Mullins told 12 News that, that conflicts with the information given to him by Task Force leaders.

“They told me and claimed that what I heard from Westover is not the case. Matter of fact, they said they have documented evidence that we were briefed that we were included with one specific bust in particular in Westover on Savannah Avenue. And we did not participate.”

The Mon Metro Drug Task Force members are listed on a website. Westover Police Department is not listed.

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