CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Kanawha County Commission gave the sheriff's department the green light to purchase an armored car during Thursday's meeting.
Commissioners also gave a local law firm the go-ahead to officially explore suing unnamed pharmaceutical companies, pharmacies and doctors that have benefited from the illicit pill trade in the county.
The sheriff's department currently owns an "archaic" armored car that is in need of replacement, Sheriff Johnny Rutherford said.
Rutherford asked commissioners to approve the approximately $240,000 purchase of a Lenco Bearcat to replace the department's current armored vehicle, dubbed the Peacekeeper.
The funds will come from Rutherford's current budget, he said. The money is made up from savings garnered from officers' salaries that are away from the force on military leave, Rutherford said.
Rutherford's also did not collect a salary for the last six months of 2012 because he retired from the force to run for sheriff. Those funds will also be used to purchase the vehicle.
The department will also spend $20,000 in public safety grant funds and $22,000 from the concealed weapons permit fund, he said.
The department has been attempting to secure grants to purchase the vehicle for a few years, but have been unsuccessful.
The vehicle will be the only one of its kind in the state, and would be available to any department in the region, Rutherford said.
"This will save an officer's or civilian's life," he said.
The Peacekeeper is a 1981 military vehicle that was originally purchase by the Air Force. The sheriff's department acquired it at no cost through a military surplus program.
The brakes and suspension are antiquated, said Capt. Sean Crosier, commander of special operations with the sheriff's department.
The Bearcat, which is an approximately 18,000-pound, four-wheel drive vehicle, is fully armored. It handles just like a large pickup truck, Crosier said.
The vehicle could arrive in the county as early as July, Sgt. K.A. Vititoe said.
Rutherford acknowledged that there might be some questions as to why a sheriff's department in Kanawha County would need such a vehicle. He pointed out that officers in the area often respond to situations where the suspect is armed and is sometimes barricaded inside a structure.
"This will be a big benefit to our department," he said.
Commissioners also authorized local attorney James Cagle to begin exploring a potential lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies and pharmacies that have benefited from the illicit pill trade in Kanawha County.
Commission President Kent Carper pointed out that the county pays a high regional jail bill every month, and many of those arrested are addicted to prescription drugs.
Cagle would not name the companies he is looking at suing, saying the lawsuit has not yet been filed.
Two other counties are also looking at entering into lawsuits against the companies, Cagle said. He would also not identify those counties saying the suits have not yet been filed.
Cagle and his team of attorneys will take one-third of the winnings if the counties are victorious, he said. If the companies win, the lawyers will not collect a dime, he told the commissioners.
Cagle was loath to discuss the details of the lawsuit after the meeting. However, he did say it would likely be filed within a year.
He also acknowledged that some of the companies that could be sued are Fortune 500 companies.
Cagle will file the lawsuit for Kanawha in the county's circuit court, he said. He does not anticipate the cases being moved to the federal level, he said.
"I think this case has significant merit to it," Carper said.
"I frankly think the counties have been mistreated because the taxpayers have to pay the jail bill for people who committed crimes because they're addicted to prescription drugs," he added. "And I think it's our fiduciary responsibility to recoup as much as we can."
Commissioner Dave Hardy questioned Cagle about whether he would be going after legitimate pill mills and their suppliers or if he would be prosecuting local pharmacies that are just helping people in need of getting medication.
Cagle said he would only sue companies that have a history of providing prescription drugs to illicit pharmacies and doctors.
Cagle and his team of lawyers will prepare a lawsuit and present it to the county commission for approval before it is filed, Carper said.
Commissioners also approved a $30,000 allocation to pay for overtime for sheriff's deputies to spend time in the county's schools.
The funds will be used to pay officers to spend about four hours a day in any county school that doesn't have a Prevention Resource Officer already on hand, Rutherford said. The officers will speak to children and teachers, he said.
"We want to foster a relationship between the officers and the community," Rutherford said.