Charles Smith, the Elkins man who killed a deputy U.S. marshall about 11 months ago, had eluded authorities for about four and one-half years. Wanted for distributing crack cocaine and illegal possession of firearms, Smith, 50, had been described as having gone "off the grid."
But he wasn't. He was on West Virginia welfare agencies' "grid."
State public assistance agencies had known where to find Smith - or at least, how to get benefits including a medical card and food stamps to him - for about nine months before marshals moved in on him.
Last winter, marshals were tipped Smith was living with his wife in Elkins. When marshals and State Police moved in to arrest him on Feb. 16, 2011, Smith opened fire.
He killed Deputy Marshal Derek Hotsinpiller and wounded to other officers before being shot dead.
How is it that a desperado - and Smith was just that - known as a dangerous criminal was receiving public assistance? He and his wife had been receiving food stamps since at least April 2010, according to a published report. He and his wife had used his medical card within a year before marshals caught up to him.
There has been discussion of requiring recipients of public assistance to take drug tests. If they're caught with illegal substances in their systems, they lose their benefits.
That idea probably will go nowhere. One argument against it is that cutting off benefits hurts innocent children in households. No one seems to worry about the harm they might suffer from moms and dads who are crackheads or are using other illegal drugs - and quite possibly paying for them, directly or indirectly, with taxpayers' money.
But again, no one needed to give Smith a drug test. He'd been indicted on a charge of distributing crack. Throw in the firearms charge and it should have been clear he was a threat to society.
Yet he was receiving public assistance.
Yes, I'm aware the drug and gun charges were federal, while welfare benefits were being provided by the state. Apparently, comparing databases between the U.S. Department of Justice and state welfare agencies isn't a high priority.
Maybe it should be.
Myer can be reached at: Myer@news-register.net.