Powell takes formal oath

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — After taking his formal oath of office Friday, U.S. Attorney William J. “Bill” Powell said, “Now, I look forward to getting to work.”

Some of that work will include paying “special attention” to violent crime and the drug crisis in the state, Powell said Friday at a swearing in ceremony. Several members of Powell’s family, friends, colleagues and members of the law enforcement community gathered in the W. Craig Broadwater Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Martinsburg for the ceremony.

Powell, of Martinsburg, was nominated in August by President Donald Trump after U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) recommended Powell. He was confirmed in October by the U.S. Senate, and will serve the Northern District of West Virginia.

Chief Judge Gina M. Groh of the Northern District of West Virginia presided over the ceremony. Groh said as U.S. Attorney, Powell is the top ranking law enforcement officer in the Northern District of West Virginia, which includes offices in Martinsburg, Wheeling, Clarksburg and Elkins.

“The office is responsible for prosecuting federal crimes in the district including crimes related to terrorism, public corruption, child exploitation, firearms and narcotics,” she said. “The office also defends the United States in civil cases and collects debts owed to the United States.”

Family is important to Powell, as evident by the speeches made by Powell’s colleagues, who are also close friends. Powell has been married to Sharon Powell for 31 years, and they have three sons.

“It is really emotional, they are really good friends and it is a little uncomfortable hearing good things said about you sometimes, but I think they all did a very good job,” he said following the ceremony. “Very memorable.”

Powell said he has been on the job for about a month-and-a-half of his four-year term. He said he is humbled and honored to hold the position and be entrusted to lead individuals who, “tirelessly work on behalf of the government of the United States. It is an honor to be associated with them.”

Although Powell will be seated in Martinsburg, he assures citizens that he will be active in all locations.

“I have been reminding everyone that I am the U.S. Attorney for the entire Northern District,” he said. “I will regularly be located in and working at every single office.

“Interstate 68 doesn’t scare me,” he said.

Powell said it is clear that U.S. attorneys are being counted on to do the right thing for their districts.

“I was encouraged to use every tool that I have to reduce crime, and I will pay special attention to violent crime and the drug crisis that has engulfed our district,” Powell said. “On the violent crime front, you will see increased firearms prosecutions; resources devoted to human trafficking; significant efforts to combat all organized criminal groups, like MS13, and our crimes of violence related to drug offenses.

“On the drug front, let me first say that I agree with the position that we can not incarcerate our way out of the drug problem. Tackling our drug problem requires a multifaceted approach … our county prosecutors, medical providers, day report centers and other community efforts are a integral part of the solution.”

He added the numbers don’t lie and saying the state is in a crisis is an understatement.

Deaths by overdose has increased by 140 percent across Northern District over the last decade, Powell said. He added that West Virginia is first in overdose deaths per capita nationwide.

“We will vigorously prosecute anyone who brings poison into our communities,” he said. “I will not apologize for doing it.”

Following the ceremony, Powell said he was grateful for all who came to the ceremony.

“It is beyond words. It is a little overwhelming I think, but it is just a great, great experience,” he said. “One of the greatest of my life.”

Powell is thankful for Capito’s nomination. “It is kind of the pinnacle of my career,” he said. “I have been doing this a long time, and this is my last job essentially. I can’t think of a better way to go out.”

Powell worked for 30 years for Jackson Kelly PLLC in various capacities in Martinsburg and Charleston. From 1990-92, he was assistant U.S. attorney, criminal division, in the Southern District of West Virginia.

He was active in the American Bar Association, West Virginia Bar Association and Eastern Panhandle Bar Association. Powell also was active in Rotary. He was past president of the Martinsburg Sunrise Rotary, and founder and past president of the Sunrise Rotary Foundation. He was past chairman of the Potomac District, Boy Scouts of America; Martinsburg-Berkeley County Chamber of Commerce board member; and a columnist for The (Martinsburg) Journal.

Powell received his law degree in 1985 from West Virginia University College of Law, and his bachelor’s degree in 1982 from Salem College in Salem, W.Va.