05/25/2019
  • 9:34 am Bladen County Board of Commissioners hold special meetings
  • 9:22 am Military pay raise and troop increase endorsed by Senate panel
  • 9:20 am USDA Reminds Producers of Approaching Marketing Assistance Loan Deadlines
  • 9:17 am Naked places and open spaces
  • 9:11 am Bladen County Headlines…35 Years Ago
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The news was stunning. An undercover operation by the Elizabethtown Police Department and Bladen County Sheriff’s Office resulted in eight people being arrested March 1 and four others being sought on drug charges. It was the largest one-day roundup in recent years, authorities say, and set off reaction on social media, both complimenting and criticizing law enforcement.

“When I first started in investigations in 2007, we did a roundup that was pretty substantial,” Elizabethtown Police Det. Kip Hester said. “I don’t remember exactly how many people were involved, but it had to have been at least 10 to 12.”

There’s also been operations where as many as a dozen people were charged for drug offenses, but the arrests came over a period of weeks or months, not in one day.

“I had an investigation a couple of years ago in Bladenboro,” Bladen County Sheriff’s Det. Richard Allen said. “We probably locked up that many people, but it was just so spread out. We just couldn’t lock up that many people at one time.

“We always do buys and lock them up, but one thing that we’ve had a problem with is that our jail is over capacity, and we can’t lock them all up at the same time,” Allen said.

Whether the outdated and soon-to-be replaced Bladen County Jail was overcrowded or not March 1, the decision was made to bring in as many of the 12 as possible that day. Eight were caught. Others turned themselves in later in the week. Many posted bail and were released. All of those charged are considered innocent until proven guilty in court.

News of the roundup of a dozen drug suspects broke March 4 when Elizabethtown Police Chief Bobby Kinlaw announced the operation that targeted street level crack cocaine dealers and began in January after complaints from residents.

It didn’t take long for the public to react. The story about the arrests has been read on Bladen Online 3,500 times. On Bladen Online’s Facebook page, the post has reached 13,320 people, has 43 likes, 45 comments and 70 shares. The number of likes, shares and comments increase dramatically when adding in the numbers from those seeing the post on other Facebook pages after it had been shared.

BUILDING THE CASE

Detectives say drug buys in this investigation were made along or near a section of Martin Luther King Drive in Elizabethtown during the two-month operation. The purchases of cocaine probably cost less than $1,000, according to the detectives. Six of the charges were under the jurisdiction of Elizabethtown and six under Bladen County.

“It was quick,” Allen said. “Every day we were buying dope. The end of the week is usually better when buying, but in this case we were buying every day. These were street level guys. It definitely wasn’t organized.”

This case, like nearly all drug investigations, begins with either an informant tipping off authorities, community complaints, or patrol officers noticing unusual activity at a residence. Often, it’s a combination of all three. To report possible drug activity, people can call the Sheriff’s Office at 862-6960 or send a text to the tip line at 874-8124. All information will remain confidential and callers will remain anonymous.

“The majority of times, the informants we get, they come to us for one of two reasons,” Hester said. “They’ve either gotten a charge that they don’t want to go to prison for and they come to us for help. Or they are motivated by money, and they just want to get paid.”

Added Allen, “Every so often you’ll have one that comes to us that’s just mad about the situation. Maybe a drug dealer has gotten him in the past, and they just want to clean up the streets.”

Once an informant comes forward, detectives conduct a thorough interview to see if the informant can be used and, if so, for how long and what can be purchased. If it’s determined the informant can be used, then plans are made for purchasing the narcotics.

“It’s very stressful,” said Hester, who is 35 years old and has been with the Elizabethtown Police Department since 2003. “Every narcotics purchase we do, what we call controlled purchases, we explain to the informant all the details of which street to go on, whether they’re walking or driving, which direction they’re going to take to the house, which direction they’re going to take from the house, where they’re going to meet us at. All of that is planned out before we do any narcotics operations. Not only for their safety, but it’s for court purposes, too.”

While the informant is the one making the purchases, the detectives are the ones held responsible.

“When we send an informant in, it’s on us,” said Allen, who is 32 years old and works with Det. Matt Hester in Sheriff’s Office narcotics division. “Whether it’s good or bad. There’s a lot of responsibility there that people don’t realize. There’s a hidden stress level in the back of your mind. When we’re doing an operation, we’re always planning probably 30 minutes ahead as to what can happen.”

Investigations are determined by the type of drugs the informant can purchase. In the recent 12-person roundup, the informant could buy cocaine. An operation in Clarkton that ended March 6 resulted in charges of selling marijuana and prescription pills.

DRUG PROBLEMS IN BLADEN

The drug-related arrests in Bladen County this month may slow the trade for a while, but even the detectives realize that illegal drugs will always be here.

“It fluctuates,” Allen said. “It depends on what the market is and depends on the quantity as of what they’re going to have. Right now, it’s crack cocaine and marijuana. Two months from now, it may be prescription pills.

“I’d like to think we’re on top of the game and keeping it beat down,” he said. “This bust will definitely slow things a little bit, but it’s a game of cat and mouse.”

The detectives say, according to their investigations, most of the narcotics arrive in Bladen County from Fayetteville or Robeson. There’s also been some reports of heroin coming through the county en route to Brunswick County.

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