WISE, Va. (WJHL) — At least 16 people have been arrested so far in what authorities are calling a drug-related mass-arrest operation in Southwest Virginia.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Chuck Slemp said Operation COVID Cleanup is focused on arresting individuals who were recently indicted on drug charges. More than 100 charges have been brought against 50-plus individuals.
“This is an effort to continue cleaning up our community from the scourge of drugs,” Slemp said in a press conference.
The arrests began Wednesday after a lengthy investigation into illegal drug activity, specifically involving methamphetamine, by the Wise County Sheriff’s Office with assistance from the Southwest Virginia Regional Narcotics Task Force and its member agencies.
As of 3 p.m., officers were still in the field making arrests.
“Early this morning, law enforcement officers from across our region launched an operation to clean up our streets,” Slemp said in a news release. “As we speak, they are still in the field, making arrests, and continuing with their efforts. Together, we are taking a very public and immediate action against the trade of illegal and dangerous narcotics, specifically methamphetamine. Meth is a dangerous, highly-addictive drug with scary side effects. We will continue our efforts by aggressively prosecuting these cases.
“We are calling this operation COVID Clean-up because we are determined to clean up our community, restore hope, hold offenders accountable, and we won’t let COVID stop us from our mission.”
Slemp said nearly three-quarters of the drug charges were related to the distribution or possession of meth.
“If you’re selling drugs in Wise County and Southwest Virginia – if you are spreading poison – you will not be able to hide behind the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.
Several law enforcement agencies from across the area are involved in the operation, including those from Norton, Coeburn, Wise, St. Paul, Big Stone Gap, Lee County, Scott County, and Wise County. The Virginia State Police is also involved in the effort.
“I just want to thank all of those involved and we will continue to make this fight until we make it better for our communities,” Captain Russell Cyphers of the Wise County Sheriff’s Office said.
Authorities have not released a list of the suspects arrested as of 5 p.m.