ABINGDON, Va. (WJHL) – Virginia state officials and federal prosecutors announced several drug arrests out of Lee, Scott and Wise counties Tuesday afternoon.
U.S. Attorney Christopher Kavanaugh, Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares and representatives from the ATF and local law enforcement agencies spoke outside of the U.S. District Courthouse in Abingdon.
Kavanaugh began the event by referencing the Nov. 13, 2021 death of Big Stone Gap police officer Michael Chandler. Chandler, 29, died after he was shot while responding to a welfare check on Orr Street.
“There, Officer Chandler encountered Michael White, who was inside a vehicle with narcotics and armed with a firearm,” Kavanaugh said. “White fired upon Chandler eight time, shooting and killing him.”
On Tuesday, Kavanaugh announced that following Chandler’s alleged murder, a nearly year-long investigation began with efforts from several local agencies as well as the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the attorney general’s office.
“But we did not stop there,” Kavanaugh said. “Today, we unsealed a criminal complaint that is over 200 pages that details our investigation over the last year, announcing federal charges against Micheal White relating to the murder of Officer Chandler and a conspiracy of at least 19 individuals who are facing federal charges for a narcotics trafficking conspiracy – 18 of whom were taken into custody on federal charges this morning.”
Kavanaugh said a similar conspiracy occurred in 2015 in Central Virginia that also resulted in a police officer’s death. In that instance, local, state and federal worked together to charge and convict 12 suspects.
“Here, just like then, we have uncovered an extensive criminal conspiracy, led by Michael White,” Kavanaugh said. “And this conspiracy has culminated in the murder of Officer Chandler.”
According to Kavanaugh, the group of offenders “flooded Southwest Virginia” with more than 100 pounds of methamphetamine, as well as other drugs like heroin and fentanyl. Over the last year, Kavanaugh said a team made up of local, state and federal investigators built a case.
“We have charged today 19 individuals in federal court with felonies for narcotics conspiracy, distribution, possessions of firearms in furtherance of this conspiracy, for their conduct in Wise, Lee and Scott counties,” Kavanaugh said.
The 19 individuals were named in a release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office. They were identified as follows:
- Christopher Adam Dewayne Bates, of Appalachia, Virginia
- Amanda Nicole Blanton, of Big Stone Gap, Virginia
- Charles Ryan Bowman, of Duffield, Virginia
- Elicia Amber Burns, of Evarts, Kentucky
- Brian Gregory Carroll, of Big Stone Gap, Virginia
- Keri Leann Corbin, of Jonesville, Virginia
- Hailee Michelle Dietz, of Big Stone Gap, Virginia
- Anthony Curtis Steven Holmes, of Duffield, Virginia
- Paul Thomas Jones, of Big Stone Gap, Virginia
- Timothy Ray Jones, of Duffield, Virginia
- James Brian Mullins, of Abingdon, Virginia
- Justine Dwayne (“Doughboy”) Skaggs, of Duffield, Virginia
- Lucille Renee (“Lucy”) Vanover, of Duffield, Virginia
- Misty Lynn Ward, of Big Stone Gap, Virginia
- Kacie Lynn Werner, of Duffield, Virginia
- Tiny Lue (“Tina”) Westmoreland, of Big Stone Gap, Virginia
- Tyler Lee Westmoreland, of Big Stone Gap, Virginia
- Michael Donivan White, 34, of Big Stone Gap, Virginia
- James Ray Worley, of Appalachia, Virginia
White has also been charged with discharging a firearm in furtherance of that drug trafficking offense resulting in the death of Officer Chandler. More charges against White are also expected.
The investigation is still ongoing as of Tuesday, and Kavanaugh believes more charges could be brought against other people and the 19 already arrested.
Miyares said the investigation broke up a large-scale drug operation, which was bringing “large quantities” of lethal narcotics and ultimately violent crime to Southwest Virginia.
“The murder of Officer Chandler shook all of Virginia,” Miyares said. “And is a painful reminder of the risks our law enforcement heroes take every day.”
According to Miyares, the murder charges against White are moving forward in court. He also thanked the participating law enforcement agencies, including those from East Tennessee that contributed to the investigation.