Sheriff announces program to curb active warrants

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In 2000, Jack Weatherby began racking up warrants for his arrest — nine in total — for charges ranging from disorderly conduct to drug abuse.

Weatherby’s name held the most outstanding warrants in the county until a Post investigation alerted Athens County Municipal Court officials of his death.

To prevent similar warrant-related confusion, Athens County Sheriff Pat Kelly announced a new warrant-clearing program to reduce the number of outstanding warrants in the county.

“My records clerk informed me that we have over 2,000 active warrants,” Kelly said. “My warrant program is an attempt to clean this warrant program up and get it down to a reasonable, manageable warrant program, which is probably around 200 or 300 active warrants.”

In fact, Athens County had almost 2,800 outstanding warrants ­— including Weatherby’s — as of Jan. 10, according to Municipal Court records.

Athens ranks third-highest in warrants per capita — with one warrant for every 23.3 people — compared to nine other Ohio counties.

An arrest warrant could be issued for crimes ranging from felonies to failure to pay child support, Kelly said.

“Athens does not fall outside of the normal range of outstanding warrants, but due to the success of other (warrant) programs we are trying to start something similar,” said Kelly.

Kelly plans to notify about 10 to 15 people with outstanding warrants by mail every week. These individuals will have 10 days to contact the sheriff’s office or the clerk of courts to get the warrant cleared up.

If the warrant is not taken care of, the individual’s name, photo, address and charge will be published in local media outlets, including The Post, and distributed through social-media networks such as Facebook.

“This (program) is not to embarrass a person,” Kelly said. “Let’s get these warrants taken care of and let’s get it taken care of immediately and let’s get this manageable.”

Washington County already has a “Warrant of the Week” program, which Sheriff Larry Mincks said has been effective since its inception three years ago.

“Our program has had a 60-70 percent clearance rate,” Mincks said, “Not only does our warrant appear on the Sheriff’s Office’s website, but also is broadcast on WTAP on Wednesday nights and on WLTP radio on Monday mornings.”

Although a warrant program in Athens County raises concerns about filling an already overflowing Southeastern Ohio Regional Jail, Kelly said it should not be a problem because it is not intended to be a manhunt.

“I’m not going to try to get as many felonies as I can at one point, I’m going to start with the lower offenses that are not going to go to jail to begin with,” Kelly said.

Students from Ohio University contribute a “significant” number of warrants, Kelly said, adding that some people forget that they even have a warrant for their arrest.

“The program will ultimately save money for the county.  By people coming in, it eliminates my deputies going out and arresting someone.  It’s a lot cheaper for them to come to us than for us to go to them,” Kelly said.

Kelly said the first round of letters would be sent out sometime this week.

“It’s (the person’s) responsibility to get these warrants taken care of and off the record,” Kelly said. “It’s my responsibility to make sure they do.”

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