Upshur County Sheriff Mike Coffman

Upshur Sheriff shares his goals, philosophical approach as he settles into his (relatively) new role

BUCKHANNON – Much has changed in a year for Upshur County Sheriff Mike Coffman.

As the one-year anniversary of Coffman being shot in the line of duty approaches – June 16, 2022 – he sat down with My Buckhannon to discuss his new role as sheriff and vision for that office.

And spoiler alert: It doesn’t differ all that much from that of the late longtime sheriff Virgil Miller’s. In fact, Coffman said the two had such similar philosophies they could often read each other’s minds.

“I think it’s fair to say that there’s just certain people where you can just finish their sentences, and we had that kind of relationship,” Coffman said. “I don’t think you really find that too often – it’s out there, but it’s rare.”

Coffman said he planned to run for sheriff eventually when Miller retired but the longtime sheriff’s unexpected passing thrust him into the role sooner than expected.

“I think it’s important to say that the State Auditor’s Office closed the tax office the day after, so the county commission couldn’t wait [to appoint a new sheriff] because no office in the county could accept any money,” he said. “It was not what I wanted, not the timing that I wanted, but it’s something that we had to do.”

Coffman wasn’t unprepared. Miller had allowed his chief deputy to try his hand at various aspects of the job, including budgeting and learning about estate management.

“I think one thing people don’t always realize is that the sheriff is the county treasurer and responsible for every account in the county, whether it’s on-site at the courthouse or not on-site at the courthouse, so it could be the pool or 4-H, or the Health Department or Community Corrections, and all of the accounts inside of those departments – you can imagine how many accounts are involved,” he said.

“Law enforcement is a big part of it,” Coffman added, “but we also have the tax office that requires a lot of time and attention and focus.”

As far as overall goals, Coffman wants to remain active and out and about in the community.

“I wanted to be sheriff while I was young enough to be able to get out and work; I want to be out there on the road and on the search warrants – maybe not every night, but I want to be involved,” he said. “I don’t want someone to just fill me in on what happened later, and Sheriff Miller was the same way. He came out on a lot of things, and with some sheriffs throughout the state, you don’t have that – I’m not knocking that at all – but I want to be very involved.”

Like Miller, Coffman said he wouldn’t ask the deputies to do anything he wouldn’t.

“I think it’s important for the guys to see you out there,” he said. “I will not ask out of my guys to do one thing that I wouldn’t do. I want to be right there with them going in. Whether I go to the front door or I go to the back door, I’m going to be right there.”

Working in the community also enables him to see firsthand whether officers have the equipment and resources they need.

“For example, the with shooting we had over there in Lewis County, it helps us to evaluate our equipment, as sad as that sounds,” Coffman said. “In that incident, we figured out that we weren’t prepared for long-distance shooting with the firearms we had – and we had all new firearms, but we weren’t prepared. The red dot covered the entire vehicle, so as soon as I came back, the first thing we did was order magnifiers for those rifles.”

His 12-year stint as magistrate in Upshur County gave Coffman a more in-depth understanding of West Virginia Code and its applications and sharpened his confidence in his decision-making.

“Every decision you make here as sheriff and up there as a magistrate is not popular sometimes,” Coffman said. “Even though you’re an elected official and running for public office, I think you have to do what’s right and what the best decision is for that particular situation.”  

One of Coffman’s main goals in his new role is continuing to combat the widespread drug addiction problem in Upshur County and beyond. He said that’s because drug addiction often has a ripple effect, billowing out to touch multiple aspects of community life.

“I think it’s definitely a direction we have to go in because it affects a lot, from not only the drug use itself and people’s judgment, but it also affects the crime that goes along with it, whether it’s breaking into houses or stealing money. So you can’t just look at the drug use itself, you need to look at the whole picture,” Coffman said. “Most crime, when you really look at, is drug- or alcohol-related.”

“I do think it’s important to say that all criminal laws have to be enforced, but we do want to continue to focus on drugs,” he said.

Coffman cautioned anyone using any illegally purchased controlled substance to be aware that it could potentially contain fentanyl.

“It’s not like it was even two years ago,” he emphasized. “Now, a person who uses drugs has to assume that every drug obtained illegally – everything from marijuana to heroin – is laced with fentanyl.”

Coffman said there have been numerous people in Upshur County who have overdosed on fentanyl, a synthetic opioid similar to morphine that’s 50-100 times more potent.

“For that reason, I think it’s fair to say that we are going to enforce all drugs because some people will say, ‘well, it’s only marijuana,’ …  Well no, you might test the marijuana and it turns out that it’s got fentanyl in it,” he said. “People don’t know what they’re putting in their body.”

One of the most frequent questions he’s been asked is if he plans to name a chief deputy, but Coffman said he’s undecided.

“I’m taking my time on that, and I don’t exactly know which way I’m going to go,” he said. “I know people probably hear this all the time, but we have a great bunch of deputies, and we have a great tax deputies and we have court security officers that are just a great bunch of people.”

So, what else does Coffman want the public to know?

“I just want people to know that I’m here for them,” Coffman said. “They can get ahold of me at the office, they can reach out to me on Messenger, Facebook, by text. I just want them to know we’re here to serve them.”

“I want people to know that Virgil Miller’s shoes will be very hard to fill, and I don’t foresee myself even in that category, but I’ll do the very best job that I can,” he added.

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