Newton County law enforcement personnel, in coordination with Henry County law enforcement, searched the home of three Covington residents charged with operating a multimillion dollar drug distribution ring on Feb. 15, according to the Covington Newton County Special Investigations Unit.
Combined law enforcement teams from both counties searched 10 Crooked Creek Way, the residence of Demetres Jackson, 34, Donnell Harris, 33, and Nicole Braswell as well as Jackson's business, Express Mailbox, which was allegedly used as a front to distribute the marijuana, located in the Chugh Plaza at 3615 Salem Road. At the residence baggies of marijuana, a large amount of money, a loaded handgun, packing materials and 10 pit bulls that looked as though they had been used in dog fighting were found, said Lt. Philip Bradford of the Covington Newton County Special Investigations Unit, although there was no direct evidence of dog fighting. From the business, law enforcement confiscated documents and the video surveillance material.
Jackson was arrested and charged by the Newton County SIU with felony possession of marijuana intent to distribute, possession of a firearm while committing a crime and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Jackson, who was convicted of what Bradford described as "dangerous felonies," was bonded out of the Newton County Detention Center for $12,500 five days later and is still wanted by the Flint Circuit Drug Task Force, which is made up of the Hampton, Locust Grove and McDonough Police Departments in Henry County, for a charge of trafficking in marijuana.
Jackson's girlfriend, Braswell, is also considered a fugitive and has pending charges for Newton County of felony possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and possession of a firearm while committing a crime.
Harris, Jackson's cousin, was arrested twice, once on Feb. 19 for a charge of felony possession of marijuana with intent to distribute in Newton County and again on Feb. 26 for a charge of trafficking in marijuana by the Flint Circuit Drug Task Force. He was bonded out two days after his first arrest for $7,500 and was extradited to Henry County after his second arrest by the Flint task force.
All three suspects are from Florida.
Bradford said the arrests were the product of many months of investigation and could lead to many more arrests.
"Sometimes, in our job, we get to bust people through luck," said Bradford.
The Covington/Newton County SIU had been watching Jackson for some time, according to Bradford. In August or September of last year, they had arrested an individual who cooperated with law enforcement and told them he purchased his marijuana from Jackson.
Meanwhile, in McDonough in Henry County, 12 boxes containing five-gallon tubs filled with marijuana was accidentally shipped to the wrong address on Feb. 12, to the bewilderment of the family-owned restaurant that received the boxes. The wrong shipments led law enforcement to addresses including 10 Crooked Creek Way and the Express Mailbox business on Salem Road.
Around 4 p.m. on Feb. 15, about 20 law enforcement personnel from the Covington/Newton County S.W.A.T. Team, Covington/Newton County Special Investigations Unit, the Flint Circuit Drug Task Force and Newton County Sheriff's deputies rushed into the quiet Crooked Creek subdivision neighborhood to arrest the residents of 10 Crooked Creek Way and search for documents.
At the same time, four or five law enforcement personnel hit the Express Mailbox business.
Neighbors in the Crooked Creek subdivision described hearing a couple of loud "booms" as S.W.A.T team members threw a few sonic, percussive explosives, kicked down the door, rushed into the house and kicked down the fence.
One neighbor said the "booms" were so loud they rattled his entire house.
They described a steady stream of vehicles going up and down the road, including three animal control vehicles, which took the dogs away.
Neighbors described the residents of 10 Crooked Creek as mostly keeping to themselves.
One neighbor said a number of people would cycle in and out. Another said they had observed a number of delivery trucks going to the residence, but figured it was for a home business. Two children who lived at that address had played with other neighborhood kids.
"I would say, for the most part, everybody's shocked. We knew we had a number of dogs there. I wouldn't say there was any inkling he was involved in that big of a drug ring," said one neighbor, who asked not to be named out of safety concerns.
"I'm just glad they're gone," said another.
One neighborhood resident said he hadn't paid much attention to 10 Crooked Creek until spring of last year when Jackson applied for a zoning variance to operate a "dog grooming and obedience school," according to the March 22 Board of Zoning Appeals meeting minutes. Multiple residents opposed the variance application, citing safety and noise concerns and restriction of the subdivision's covenants. Jackson responded saying he had his dogs properly secured and the noise was from another neighbor's dogs.
The variance request was denied in a vote of four to one, with District Two board member Alonzo Q. Hill opposing the denial.
Neither Braswell nor Jackson were present for their application before the planning board, which was denied.
After being denied, Braswell and Jackson built a privacy fence around their backyard. Neighbors said they had called NCSO, Animal Control and had notified code enforcement personnel a number of times about the dogs, which were more than the three dogs allowed by code. They said they were told there was little that could be done by law enforcement unless they had a warrant.
After the Feb. 15 search, the Newton County Animal Control took into custody 10 pit bulls, which were put down, and one Chihuahua, which was adopted out. The pit bulls looked like they had been fought, said Terry Key-Hooson, director of Newton County Animal Control.
"These were dogs that were raised to fight and that's all they know. They aren't animals you'd want to put out in the public," Key-Hooson said.
Bradford said there were indications the dogs were for fighting, such as the heavy chains used to strengthen their neck muscles and old wounds that looked like dog-bite marks, but there was no direct evidence. There were remains of a dog found in ashes in a metal barrel, but Jackson told police the dog died when another dog got loose and attacked it.
Bradford indicated the investigation had revealed an extensive network and stretched over multiple states.