A combination of “high level” and street level drug dealers in the city of Clinton and across Sampson are being sent a loud and clear message this week — you can’t run and you can’t hide — as law enforcement officers carry out a roundup of over 100 individuals suspected of plying their trade locally.
Arrests are expected throughout the week on a laundry list of felony charges ranging from the heftier trafficking offenses in everything from cocaine to heroin to sell and deliver and possession of the controlled substances, including prescription medications.
In simultaneous campaigns conducted by the Clinton Police Department and the Sampson County Sheriff’s office, and begun in the wee hours of Monday morning, several suspects have already been rounded up with the expectation a slew of others will be jailed before the last search warrant is served. (See story below)
For the Police’s Neighborhood Improvement Team, the arrests are the culmination of a four-month investigation targeting people selling illegal narcotics throughout the city of Clinton. For the Sheriff’s Special Investigation Division, the campaign, which they’ve dubbed Operation Double Tap, is the pinnacle of a year-long probe into what they said was higher level dealers throughout Sampson.
“We have targeted every type of drug,” the SID’s chief officer noted when contacted after The Independent learned of the operation. “We’re talking about marijuana, heroin, meth, cocaine, crack, prescription meds, everything. This is going to be a pretty big hit, with a lot of charges.”
In all, 135 individuals are expected to be rounded up — 30 in the city and around 100 in the county — with dozens upon dozens of charges leveled. “In some cases, you might have one suspect with 25 felonies,” the county drug chief stressed.
The campaigns include city and county law enforcement, as well as the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), the Fayetteville Police Department and the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Department.
“A lot of people are going to have charges in multiple places because that’s how they operate these days. They are in multiple locations doing their drug deals,” the drug chief said.
Sheriff Jimmy Thornton and Police Chief Jay Tilley, both at many of the initial raid scenes, said they were pleased with how the investigations had progressed, and touted their officers for their efforts in putting a dent in the local drug trade.
“This is good for the community,” Thornton said, “and it sends a strong message to the drug community that we aren’t playing around, that those who do bad things and hurt families can expect to be locked up.”
Taking drugs off the street, the sheriff said, was always a good thing, and when agencies can partner to achieve that goal the results are usually very strong.
“These guys have worked their tails off on these cases. These type operations don’t happen overnight. They take time. It’s a slow and methodical process to get to them (dealers) … our officers have done an outstanding job. These arrests are the fruits of their labor,” Thornton stressed.
Tilley, too, touted the officers for their diligence in working long hours to achieve the successful results they started seeing with the first arrests Monday.
“It was a good job by everyone. The targets were identified based on information provided by local citizens, and an undercover operation that covered all areas of the city was organized by the NIT after compiling those tips. Anytime you can work together with the end result being getting drugs off our streets, it has been a good day.”
Tilley thanked sheriff’s officials for their initial involvement in the cases, the catalyst for the multiple operations.
“Partnerships are important,” Tilley said, “and we appreciate the Sheriff’s Office for their participation.”
Thornton and SID are expecting to make just over 100 arrests and level a possible 300 charges during Double Tap, with some of the individuals, the sheriff said, high-level suppliers.
“That should put a dent into street sales,” Thornton asserted.
The sheriff noted that some of those in the mix were second or third time offenders, some with violent criminal histories. “We have been trying to target those individuals, particularly those we believe might be involved with stolen guns.”
The stolen guns, the county drug chief said, were often passed around as part of the drug trade and recovering some of them just another aspect of the operation they hope will be successful.
“Getting those guns off the street is a really good thing too,” Thornton interjected.
Double Tap involved all areas of Sampson, including the city of Clinton and other county municipalities. No one, the drug chief said, was immune from the probe, evidenced in where arrests were being made.
The sheriff reiterated the fact that most of those involved in Double Tap were not first-time offenders. “Oh, I’d say 90 to 95 percent of those being arrested already have a criminal record. If convicted this time, these arrests could put them away.”
And that, the drug chief said, is the hope. “We used Double Tap (as our Op word) because it reflects putting them down for good. That’s what we are hoping, that these second and third time offenders will be taken off the streets for a long, long time.”
Thornton concurred. “It’s what we want to see. We know, realistically, this won’t stop drugs in our county, but it will make a dent. And that’s what you have to do, keep plugging away, making it difficult. This operation is designed to do that.”
In the city, NIT officers began serving search warrants at 6 a.m. Monday morning, with some jailed and weapons seized after the first door was entered and a search initiated.
Like Double Tap, the city’s investigation, Tilley said, covered all areas of Clinton. In all, warrants were obtained for 30 individuals, with a total of 114 felony offenses expected to be leveled by the probe’s end. Everything from heroin and prescription meds to cocaine were being targeted, as well as guns.
While there are expected to be some trafficking charges leveled, the police chief said most of the arrests from this investigation would involve what he called “street level” dealers, and the felony offenses would mostly involve sell and delivery of the drugs.
Street drugs, Tilley said, is what drives crimes against people and property. “One way to reduce those crimes is to attack on the street drug level. Truthfully, it’s where you see the most. It’s a big reason for many of the assaults and shootings you hear about in the city. It usually comes from territorial disputes among drug dealers.”
The police chief acknowledged that Clinton wasn’t immune to the drug problem any more than any other community in North Carolina or across the United States, and officers, he said, had to stay on top of things to ensure it didn’t reach epidemic levels.
“It has to be a constant effort to prevent the drug problems from becoming epidemic,” the police chief stressed.
In many ways, dealing with the drug problem, he said, was a constantly changing game, with police making strategic moves as dealers adapted to law enforcement strategies.
“We have to adjust to match how they are adjusting. For example, in the 1990s, drugs were like an open air market in the city. Today, it’s more mobile. It’s constantly changing, and we have to adapt our strategy to those changes. That’s why these operations are important.”
(Editor Sherry Matthews can be reached at 910-249-4612. Follow her on Twitter @sieditor1960; follow the paper @SampsonInd.)