Man accused of cooking meth
HUNTINGTON -- A man found to be squatting at a downtown Huntington apartment building has been charged with cooking methamphetamine inside of the high-rise facility.
The Huntington Police Department filed court documents charging Matthew Scott Hill, 32, with three felony counts of operating a clandestine drug lab. He was jailed without bond due to an unrelated indictment.
Investigators found three meth labs Wednesday in a 10th floor apartment where the man had been staying. The high-rise building is located in the 600 block of 9th Street in downtown Huntington, according to documents filed with Hill's arrest.
Huntington Police Capt. Rocky Johnson described the meth labs as single-bottle operations, sometimes referred to as shake-and-bake labs. Investigators believe meth was cooked inside of the apartment, including one batch that was finished shortly before the officers' arrival.
Such meth operations continue to be rare in the city. Johnson indicates a possible reason is the close proximity to neighboring residents, meaning the odor produced by a meth lab is easier to conceal in rural locations. He believed the 9th Street lab benefited from it being on the 10th floor with open windows that vented the odor.
"You've got a guy on the 10th floor of a 13-floor building mixing highly flammable chemicals," Johnson said. "It could cause an explosion, cause the building to catch on fire and put everybody else in that building in harm's way."
It became a nearly 12-hour operation Wednesday that involved police investigating their initial tip and processing Hill's arrest, along with collecting evidence and cleaning up the scene, Johnson said.
The captain explained his officers sealed the apartment to prohibit future entry. That order will stand until state officials can complete necessary testing and deem it safe for re-entry.
Unlike meth discoveries at other area motels and apartment buildings, police deemed other units within the 9th Street facility as safe and ordered no further evacuation Wednesday. Johnson said that is dependent on further testing by state officials.
Hill was not the apartment's listed tenant, according to Johnson and building owner Shane Polan. Both said it had been rented to a woman. Johnson said she paid adequate rent and later abandoned the residence, allowing Hill to stay in her absence.
Polan, who understood any meth at the apartment to have been cooked elsewhere, said the actual tenant was a former instructor of his son. He had reason to believe she would be responsible.
"I'm doing everything I can," he said. "I screened the tenant. The tenant was fine, and obviously she had something else in mind ... I think unfortunately we're just living in a society now that seems like about 70 percent of the people have drug issues."
The investigation that led to Wednesday's arrest started with officers acting on an anonymous tip to the Huntington Police Department tip line. It led police to North Staunton Road. They found valid evidence of a nuisance, however not enough to merit an immediate arrest. A person there told investigators Hill had been cooking meth at the 9th Street apartment building, according to a search warrant affidavit used for the apartment.
A records check then revealed Hill had two active arrest warrants, one stemming from a recent indictment and the other for failure to appear in court in relation to driving on a suspended/revoked license, the search warrant affidavit states.
Officers went to the 9th Street apartment building, located Hill's apartment and knocked several times with no response. A maintenance man let them inside, the affidavits state.
Officers said they found Hill sleeping in the living room with an unidentified woman, according to the affidavit. It further states Hill was in possession of 20 pseudoephedrine pills, a key ingredient for meth.
A further search for other occupants revealed numerous plastic bottles, according to the affidavit. The criminal complaint states officers found one meth lab in the bathroom and two elsewhere in the apartment. They also found a generator and chemicals necessary to make the drug.
The criminal complaint further charged Hill had purchased more than 9 grams of pseudoephedrine in the past 60 days. Johnson said such information was confirmed through area pharmacy records.
The woman found next to Hill was interviewed and released, Johnson said. She was not the woman who paid to rent the apartment.
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