Special Investigations Unit agents struck a known drug haven that was also the site of an unsolved 2003 homicide Thursday night, arresting five men and the home owner in connection with selling cocaine and ecstasy, according to the unit leader.
Property owner Lisa Hurst, 43, her son Lamarius Latimore, 24, who both live at 764 Lower River Road, and Jeremy Hardeman, 20, of Covington, Romeo Clayton, 18, of Covington, Timothy Prather, 24, of Covington and Kelvin Banks, 23, of Covington were all charged with one count of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute and possession of a schedule one substance with intent to distribute for the ecstasy.
"We have over the years gotten complaint after complaint about the place," Covington-Newton County SIU head Lt. Philip Bradford said of the three-bedroom, one-story house at 764 Lower River Road that had been the operating location for a rotation of drug dealers. "The community out there has been suffering so long with all the illegal activities that go on at the house. So we were very happy that we were able to shut that house down."
Law enforcement had been previously frustrated in trying to make cases against the activities there because of informants backing out and other reasons, said Bradford.
The SIU began specifically targeting the site about a month ago, performing surveillance and making undercover purchases. On Thursday night, around 9:30 p.m., about 16 agents from SIU and the Covington-Newton County SWAT team, along with Newton County Sheriff's Office deputies, rushed onto the property on a search warrant.
They found five men sitting around a white Chevrolet Monte Carlo in the front yard. Four of the men fled on foot before being caught by deputies, while the fifth immediately laid down on the ground.
Moments after the arrests, Hurst and her adult daughter drove up, disavowing any knowledge of the drugs or activities, said Bradford. "She said she didn't know nothing about it, which is not the truth," said Bradford. "When we've been there buying drugs (undercover), she's been there. It happens right in front of her face."
A search of the property uncovered about $500 worth of cocaine around the Monte Carlo, which was registered and paid for by Hurst, and in the gas cap compartment of the car packaged in four or five different packages with several rocks of crack per package. Agents also found 20 ecstasy pills in another container near the car.
Inside the house, they found two young girls, approximately 2-years-old and 4-years-old, left unattended and watching TV in the living room.
Bradford described the living conditions in the house as "filthy," "in disarray" and "very poorly kept."
The Department of Family and Children's Services was called the scene. The 4-year-old, who was Latimore's child but in the custody of Hurst, her grandmother, was taken to another relative's home for the night. The 2-year-old, which Hurst described as her godchild, was picked up by the biological mother, according to Bradford.
The 4-year-old was also the daughter of Shemika Wyatt, who was shot at the house in an unsolved homicide in 2003. Wyatt, who was 20 at the time and Latimore's girlfriend, was reportedly dead when deputies responded to a call of an alleged drive-by shooting. Latimore and Hurst were at the house during the incident.
NCSO Lt. Ezell Brown, who was in the Criminal Investigations Division at the time and worked the case, said the biggest roadblock to the investigation was the lack of witnesses and people present that night coming forward to talk about what happened.
"We're still asking the public to continue to provide information," said Brown. Although he's been reassigned to the sex offender registry task force, he said he's still committed to solving the case, one of the few that remained unsolved.
"It's very annoying knowing the person responsible for this is still out there," said Brown. "We're going to continue to do all that we can do to make certain that justice is brought."
Hurst, Hardeman and Banks were released on bond Friday, according to Bradford, while the others remained on probation holds.