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Father of missing infant arrested on unrelated charges

HUNTINGTON — Huntington Police Chief Ray Cornwell says the father of a missing infant has been arrested on unrelated charges.

Shannon Overstreet, 38, was charged with felony malicious wounding and a misdemeanor battery charge. He was booked into the Western Regional Jail at 7:15 p.m. Monday. He is being held on a $100,000 cash/surety bond on the felony charge and a $10,000 bond on the misdemeanor charge, according to the regional jail website.

Overstreet is the father of missing 3-month-old Angel Nichole Overstreet. On Tuesday, police asked for help in trying to locate the child they said has been missing since approximately May 8.

During a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Cornwell said the child was reported missing to police by representatives of West Virginia Child Protective Services (CPS) on Monday after they had been asked to follow up with Shannon Overstreet regarding custody issues stemming from Kentucky.

“Mr. Overstreet was located here in Huntington and came to police headquarters here on May 24,” Cornwell said. “He had stated to CPS previously and to our detectives that he had relinquished custody of the child two weeks prior to CPS from West Virginia. Child Protective Services from West Virginia has no knowledge or record of any transfer of custody of this child.”

Cornwell said according to information obtained from Shannon Overstreet’s phone, the child was last in the custody of the father as of May 1.

Cornwell said some have questioned why the Amber Alert System was not utilized in this case.

“The Amber Alert System would not be applicable in this situation,” he said. “We consulted with the office that issues those alerts, the West Virginia State Police, and the Amber Alert System is used to put out information that is fresh, immediate and ongoing. By the time the information came to us, the last known contact with the child was over two weeks away, so we did not have any fresh information or vehicle descriptions or anything like that. It was determined this situation did not qualify for an Amber Alert.”

Cornwell said since Monday, detectives have executed search warrants at Shannon Overstreet’s mother’s residence in Huntington, on his vehicle and several of his digital devices.

“We are working with the Kentucky State Police to execute a search warrant at a property he owns in Olive Hill, Kentucky,” he said. “We are working with the United States Marshals Service to locate any potential witnesses or persons that may have knowledge related to the location of this child. We are working with the FBI. They are assisting us with digital forensics and have offered any other additional resources that we may need. We are also working with the West Virginia Intelligence Fusion Center regarding digital forensics.”

Cornwell said at this time they have no specific evidence of foul play, but are very concerned for the safety of the child.

“We imploringly ask that anyone with any knowledge of her whereabouts come forward now,” he said.

Cornwell called Shannon Overstreet “a person of interest,” but would not call him a suspect.

Cornwell said they are communicating with the mother of the child, but do not believe she was in the area at the time the child went missing.

“I believe she is originally from Columbus, but she resided in Kentucky,” he said. “To our knowledge she wasn’t involved in anything that happened here in the past few weeks, but she is communicating and cooperating with us.”

Cornwell said they are aware that Shannon Overstreet has a criminal history.

“But I am not here to talk about Shannon Overstreet. I am here to talk about Angel Nichole Overstreet,” he said.

Angel Overstreet is described as a white infant girl with blue eyes and dark-colored hair with a reddish tint. She has a strawberry-shaped mark on the back of her neck.

Huntington Police Capt. Levi Livingston said at the news conference that some people have come forward, but it did not lead to finding the child.

“We talked to them and reached out to everyone we can think of to talk to, but at this point we have exhausted the knowledge that we have right now,” Livingston said.

Cornwell said police are asking anyone who has information regarding Angel Overstreet’s whereabouts to call 911. Anyone with general information about the case is asked to call the police department’s Criminal Investigations Bureau at 304-696-4420.

Lawsuit: W.Va. girl says she can’t run cross country because of transgender athlete ban

CHARLESTON — A new West Virginia law is legally prohibiting an 11-year-old girl in Bridgeport from trying out for her school’s cross-country team solely because she is transgender, according to a lawsuit filed by her mother Wednesday.

The lawsuit is the first to challenge the state’s ban on transgender girls and women from participating in public school-sanctioned sports that align with their gender identity.

The West Virginia Legislature adopted the bill April 9, and Gov. Jim Justice signed it into law April 28.

The lawsuit makes good on a notice that the American Civil Liberties Union-West Virginia gave the same day Justice signed the bill. A tweet from the organization’s Twitter account said, “We will see West Virginia in court.”

Attorney General Patrick Morrisey wrote a Facebook post April 11 indicating that staff members in his office were preparing for litigation to defend new state laws, including the transgender athlete ban.

ACLU-WV and the national ACLU, Lambda Legal and Cooley LLP, an international private law firm, are representing the girl, Becky Pepper-Jackson, and her mother, Heather Jackson, according to a news release from the ACLU-WV.

Jackson wants a federal judge to issue an injunction to prevent athletics and education officials from enforcing the law, as well as any punitive damages the court sees fit.

In August 2020, a federal judge in Idaho granted an injunction preventing a similar law in that state from taking effect until its constitutionality is determined.

Jackson said the transgender athlete ban is a violation of Title IX and denies Pepper-Jackson equal protection under the 14th Amendment because it is applied only to girls’ and women’s sports, not sports for boys and men.

“I just want to run. I come from a family of runners,” Pepper-Jackson said in the news release. “I know how hurtful a law like this is to all kids like me who just want to play sports with their classmates, and I’m doing this for them. Trans kids deserve better.”

Pepper-Jackson is identified by her initials in the complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Southern West Virginia, and she is referred to by her full name in the ACLU-WV news release.

Pepper-Jackson has participated in youth sports outside the Harrison County Schools district as a cheerleader in a local youth football league.

Under the new state law, she can’t try out for Bridgeport Middle School’s cross-country team in the fall or participate in the team’s practices, which begin in July, leading up to tryouts, according to the lawsuit.

The principal of Bridgeport Middle School told Pepper-Jackson she would not be permitted to join the girls cross-country or track teams in the fall because of the transgender athlete ban for girls, which was House Bill 3292 during the 2021 legislative session.

Pepper-Jackson was diagnosed with gender dysphoria in 2019 and has been undergoing puberty-delaying medical treatment since June 2020, according to the lawsuit.

Between cheerleading and running with her family, Pepper-Jackson was eager to continue participating in sports to enjoy the “camaraderie of being on a team of girls with her friends and working together as a team to succeed.”

“Now, just like any other middle school student, B.P.J. wants the chance to explore her athletic interests and try out for the teams that interest her,” attorneys wrote in the complaint.

The defendants in the lawsuit are the West Virginia Board of Education, Harrison County Board of Education, the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission, state schools Superintendent Clayton Burch and Harrison County Schools Superintendent Dora Stutler.

The law that was HB 3293 during the legislative session prevents transgender girls and women from participating in sports through public schools from kindergarten through college. The law requires West Virginia’s student-athletes to participate in the sport that corresponds with their sex at birth.

In the law that’s being challenged, the Legislature required the state Board of Education to establish standards and practices to enforce the ban. The law does not ask the board to make or enforce similar standards and practices for boys’ and men’s sports.

The lawsuit quotes Gov. Jim Justice as not being able to provide an example of a transgender student-athlete in West Virginia who has tried to get an unfair advantage in sports.

“I think we only have 12 kids maybe in our state that are transgender-type kids. I mean, for crying out loud … I sign hundreds of bills, hundreds of bills. This is not a priority to me,” Justice is quoted from his April 30 COVID-19 news briefing.

The lawsuit also refers to the legislative process, noting that a West Virginia Department of Education official said her office had never received any calls or complaints about transgender students participating in athletics.

Attorneys who filed the lawsuit also referred to House Education Chairman Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, who said he also didn’t know of any complaints regarding transgender student-athletes in West Virginia.

Del. Margitta Mazzocchi, R-Logan, is quoted in the lawsuit as saying she did not “want all this mixing and matching” of “transgender children” with nontransgender children in “locker rooms” during debate about HB 3293 in March.

The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Joseph Goodwin.

Expert: Of thousands of questionable transactions, drug firms reported handful

CHARLESTON — An expert witness and former DEA agent testified Wednesday that, out of thousands of drug transactions, the three drug firms accused of fueling the region’s opioid crisis only reported a handful, despite data showing thousands more should have been flagged.

The city of Huntington and Cabell County are accusing the “Big Three” drug wholesalers — AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson — of sending excessive shipments of opioids into the area for eight years, before a reduction in the number of pills shipped made users turn to illicit drugs.

The defendants point to the Drug Enforcement Administration, doctors and West Virginians’ poor health as the culprits.

Testimony opened Wednesday with Cabell County attorney Paul T. Farrell Jr. calling James “Ralf” Rafalski, a retired diversion investigator at the DEA, to the stand as an expert witness. Rafalski had been asked by plaintiffs to review transactional and other data to conclude if the defendants were culpable in the opioid crisis.

The defense objected to his testimony and Senior U.S. District Judge David Faber, who will be the decider in the bench trial, elected to conditionally allow it and rule if he would be considered an expert at a later time.

Rafalski said he found the defendants were a substantial factor in the diversion of pills into the illicit market in Huntington and they should have known, or at least been suspicious, that it was occurring. He added it was a systemic, widespread problem.

From 2002-18, AmerisourceBergen shipped 35.4 million dosage units of hydrocodone and oxycodone to Cabell County. From 1996 to 2018, Cardinal Health shipped 35.1 million dosage units and from 2004-18, McKesson shipped 7.6 million dosage units into Cabell County.

Rafalski’s testimony showed that at the time those dosage units were being shipped, there were six main systems to calculate opioid pill shipment thresholds since the late 1990s. He said no matter which system you input the defendants’ shipment data into, anywhere from 20% to 99.8%, most categories showing more than 50%, of their shipments — amounting to millions of pills — should have been flagged and reported to the DEA.

But of 77,398 transactions from 2007-18, ABDC flagged just 45 cases and reported them to the DEA. Cardinal Health reported 291 of its 92,915 transactions from 1997 to 2018. McKesson reported 79 of its 18,862 transactions during that same time period.

Combined, it amounts to 415 of 189,100 transactions.

As an example, Rafalski pointed to specific April 2007 transactional data from Cardinal Health to The Medicine Shoppe in West Huntington.

For The Medicine Shoppe, Cardinal Health took the average retail pharmacies from that distribution center and multiplied it by four, creating a threshold limit of 104 grams per month of opioid orders. If it hit that limit, it didn’t stop the shipment, Rafalski said, it just meant it was reported to the DEA in the next month.

He said in April 2007, for example, The Medicine Shoppe purchased 157 grams worth of oxycodone, about 150% above its original threshold.

Farrell said this is what happened when the fire alarm went off and no one responded.

Taking over questioning Wednesday afternoon, McKesson attorney Paul Schmidt spent most of the examination attempting to impeach Rafalski’s testimony as false, pointing to differences in his questioning Wednesday to a deposition taken in 2020.

Rafalski’s findings are based on data analysis of another person, Craig McCann, which left room for human error, Schmidt said.

The DEA has worked to come up with an estimation of how many pills have been diverted into the illegal market in the past two years. Using its method, the DEA believes just .01% of opioid pills have been diverted. Rafalski said he does not agree with the DEA’s methods.

Schmidt said Rafalski’s findings did not include prescription data from doctors. Schmidt said they have no duty to determine if those prescriptions are legitimate and quoted DEA leaders in saying 99.9% of doctors act in good faith when prescribing opioids.

The DEA is also to blame, Schmidt said, stating from 2003-13, the DEA authorized higher pill production quotas, increasing over 400%, and was slow to respond to the dramatic increase of opioid abuse.

“I believe everybody probably bears some responsibility in the opioid crisis,” Rafalski said, later adding, “I don’t think there’s anyone in America that could say, ‘I did everything perfect.’”

Rafalski was asked to focus on the distributors and not the possible fault to the DEA, pill manufacturers or others, Schmidt said, despite him being hired by the plaintiffs to research those areas in other cases.

“Are there any opinions in the case that the lawyers did not ask you to give?” Schmidt asked.

While drug distributors are the focus of this trial, the governments have active cases against manufacturers, pharmacies and others that have not gone to trial.