- Associated Press - Thursday, August 4, 2016

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - A candidate for sheriff in West Virginia who has been charged with heroin possession said Wednesday he plans to continue his campaign and fight the charges.

A statement released on the campaign website of Republican John Orem says he’s “completely capable” of serving Berkeley County residents.

According to a criminal complaint filed by State Police, Orem was found unresponsive at his Inwood home Tuesday. Trooper M.D. Gillmore said in the complaint that a cotton ball found in a bathroom cabinet tested positive for heroin.

Orem was later released on bond. His statement Wednesday responds that he plans to vigorously defend the charges in court.

Orem says he has never been a user of illegal drugs and wasn’t on drugs when he lost consciousness. He said he had a bad flu and a weakened immunity to his prescription medications.

“Honestly, it sounds ridiculous that illegal drug use would even be considered when referring to me,” Orem said in the statement. “So before you throw too many stones, before you drag me to the highest tree for a public lynching, have the common decency to consider for a moment the possibility that what I am saying is true.”

Orem is a former Martinsburg police officer who defeated eight GOP challengers in the May primary. He’ll face Democrat Curtis Keller and independent candidate Lisa St. Clair in November. Incumbent Democratic Sheriff Kenny Lemaster is seeking a House of Delegates seat.

Orem’s announcement drew mixed responses.

Keller, who called the charges “disappointing,” emphasized that Orem still hasn’t gone through the court system, and said it’s Orem’s decision to make.

“To me, it’s disappointing to hear that the candidate for the office of sheriff is facing charges for possession of heroin, especially with the heroin epidemic our county is facing,” Keller said.

St. Clair said she doesn’t know all the facts and can’t pass judgment. She said the country has a voting system to let Berkeley residents decide if Orem is capable of being sheriff.

“My hope for Mr. Orem is that whatever decision he makes, it will be in the best interest of him and his family,” St. Clair said in an emailed statement.

State Sen. Craig Blair, a Berkeley County Republican, said he hopes Orem gets the treatment he needs and takes his name off the ballot by Aug. 16. If Orem does drop out by then, that would leave enough time for the county’s GOP committee to appoint a different candidate by an Aug. 22 deadline, Blair said.

State Republican Party Chairman Conrad Lucas said the choice is up to Orem, but said he needs to consider the best interests of the people, himself and the party.

“Citizens of Berkeley County deserve a candidate wholly above reproach to enforce the laws of the county,” Lucas said in a statement. “We want the best qualified and lawful candidate on the ballot.”

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