Community irate over drug plea deal

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MONROE COUNTY (WVLT) -- When he was arrested in April 2007, one police officer called Joel Craig West, 41, “the biggest drug dealer in Monroe County.”

At the time, law enforcement officers had just found 100 lbs of marijuana, $17,000 in cash, 19 guns, and 42 quarts of moonshine inside West's house.

Now, nearly a year later, West has only been given probation for the bust.

Many people in the community, including some police officers, are upset over the judges ruling.

"He has been one of the largest suppliers for this area for several years," said Chief John Hines of the Vonore Police Department.

On his day in court, West pleaded guilty to drug possession for resale charges, and came out with probation.

It started last April when Vonore Police and the Monroe County Sheriff's Department executed a search warrant at his home and business off Citico Road.

"We discovered approximately 98 pounds of marijuana, 42 quarts of moonshine, and 21 hydrocodone tablets,” said Chief Hines.

They also came away with the cash and weapons along with a confession from West.

“He advised us that he was trafficking an average, I believe, of 30-40 pounds of marijuana a month,” the Chief said.

In court West took a plea deal, keeping him on probation for the next eight years.

"I am a little disappointed that he didn't actually get sentenced to serve time,” Hines said.

Some Monroe County residents came away surprised at the deal.

"If it had been me, we'd be in jail," said Danna Hardin.

“A guy that gets caught with that much, I mean, there's something that's not right," said Bryan Hardin, another county resident.

The charges against West for the hydrocodone and moonshine were dismissed, but Chief Hines said he hoped there was some consolation for the community.

"This has cost him hundreds of thousands of dollars, public humiliation, and now he has to be leery of law enforcement,” he said. “We'll be keeping a close eye on him."

Monroe County District Attorney Steve Bebb said his office agreed to the plea at the request of the Monroe County Sheriff's Department and the drug task force.

The Monroe County Sheriff, Bill Bivens, responded with this statement:
"The Monroe County Sheriff’s Department would like to make clear that any reports from any agency that states the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department had any connection with the sentencing of Joel Craig West is erroneous and not factual in any respect. Members of the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department S.W.A.T. team and Narcotics Division and the Vonore Police Department, were present during the search warrant and the Dept. of Revenue assisted in the seizure process. The Monroe County Sheriff’s Department absolutely did not request any degraded sentence for Mr. West. Nor did it offer any."

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