Registered sex offenders in Sampson County got a resounding wake-up call this week courtesy of a joint law enforcement operation that roused many from their bed, left a handful facing charges and sent a serious message to all — stay in compliance or else.
During a press conference Thursday morning, Sampson County Sheriff Jimmy Thornton reiterated that message as he, representatives from the U.S. Marshals Service and the N.C. Dept. of Public Safety’s Division of Adult Corrections praised the joint venture, a two-day operation — dubbed Operation Southern Watch — they all deemed hugely successful.
In all, nine individuals were taken into custody on various charges — five who weren’t in compliance regarding their reported current address, two arrested on other criminal charges discovered during the operation, one held on an outstanding traffic violation and another, deemed a violent fugitive, who was located.
Those charged were:
• Lewis Murphy, failure to register as a sex offender;
• Robert Dean Dill II, failure to change address;
• Gregory Davon Floyd, failure to change address;
• Jimmie McLamb, failure to change address;
• Willie Carl Griffin, failure to change address;
• Patrick Johnson, possession with intent to sell/deliver marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia and maintaining a dwelling for the sale/storage of a controlled substance;
• Hector Regaldo, possession of a firearm by a felon;
• Michael Norvell Young, order for arrest on a driving while license revoked charge; and
• Terrell Demond Newkirk (non-sex offender), assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury.
There are 128 registered sex offenders within Sampson County, Thornton said at the start of the press conference. Fifteen of those are currently in jail, leaving 113 who are living inside the county.
Because the Sheriff’s Office is responsible for ensuring that registered offenders are living where they say they are, Thornton said he thought the joint operation, initiated through the U.S. Marshals’ Office, was a great idea.
“From time to time, it doesn’t hurt to have agencies assist us in making some surprise checks. It helps us emphasize the importance of these offenders being where they tell us they are residing. I think we sent a very strong message this week,” Thornton stressed.
On May 21 and 22, officers with the three agencies broke into six four-person teams — a probation officer, a U.S. Marshal, a detective and a uniformed officer — and scoured the county’s four zones, knocking on doors, rousing people from their sleep and checking to see first if offenders were in the right location and second if red flags cropped up, calling for a more intense investigation to see if there were any other violations to be found.
“We were able to lay eyes on 111 of the 113,” Thornton said. “There were two who we made contact with, but who we weren’t able to see. We expect them later today. Only five were in violation. I think that says a lot right there.”
U.S. Marshall Scott J. Parker, with the Eastern District of N.C. office, called the joint operation a great venture that shows what can happen with teamwork.
“Operation Southern Watch is a great example of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies working together here in eastern North Carolina. The citizens of Sampson County can be confident that we will join forces to ensure that the streets are safe for our children.”
Parker praised Thornton and his team of officers for their diligence in making all the necessary preparations for the undertaking of the campaign. And he touted those with the local probation office who also worked tirelessly to ensure a smooth operation.
The end result, he said, is evidenced by that preparation.
“While citizens were sleeping safely in their beds, officers from all these agencies were out knocking on doors, putting their lives on the line for all of us. I can’t thank them all enough. This was a great, great effort.”
Brandon Taylor, deputy U.S. Marshal from the Eastern Division’s Fayetteville office, said his agency became involved with registered sex offenders in 2005 when Congress enacted the Adam Walsh Act which made the U.S. Marshals Service the lead agency in pursuing sex offenders who had fled or crossed state lines.
“That’s why we are so actively involved,” Taylor stressed.
Like Parker, he praised the Sheriff’s Office and the Community Corrections (parole) office for their efforts to make the joint operation both smooth and successful.
“They are all a vital part of this operation. The professionalism and dedication of all those involved made it very easy to complete the operation,” Taylor said. “You can be assured that law enforcement in this county are working diligently every day to ensure citizens are safe.”
Sidney Gray, chief probation and parole officer for Sampson County, agreed. “It was a great operation. We were very pleased to have been a part of it.”
And like Thornton, Gray stressed that the operation send a loud and very clear message to sex offenders. “We have no doubt they heard it and they know we will be out there and checking on them.”
Thornton said the message didn’t only go out to sex offenders, either. “Oh I think this message will reach all criminals. They know we aren’t sitting by. We may have limited resources in this county but we are fortunate to have great partnerships that allow us to do operations such as this. This send a clear signal to all those who break the law that we are out there and we are watching.”