DTF, local law enforcement at odds over arrest procedure

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 23, 2000

In what officials from the Butler County Sheriff's Office are calling an unprofessional disregard for jurisdictional procedure, deputies from Lowndes and Crenshaw counties attached to the Second Judicial District Drug Task Force made an arrest in Greenville on Feb. 11 without first contacting the BCSO or the Greenville Police Department.

Butler County Sheriff Diane Harris said that the BCSO and GPD are not members of the Drug Task Force, and have been successful in drug operations without the help of the DTF. She said the arrest and small amount of drugs seized in Greenville by the DTF showed not only a lack of respect for local law enforcement, but also was a duplication of effort.

"We were concerned because we had already made drug buys at this particular location on two prior occasions," Harris said. "Aside from the duplication of effort, the fact that they did not contact us shows no respect for the Butler County Sheriff or the Greenville Police Chief."

The DTF executed a warrant to search the residence of Ricky Wayne Kemp, 107 West Perdue Street, Greenville, where according to reports they recovered about seven grams of marijuana and four rocks of crack cocaine. Kemp was arrested by the DTF and transported to the Lowndes County Jail.

Harris said because the arrest was made in Butler County, Kemp should have been held in the Butler County Jail, but she said the arresting officer, DTF agent Christopher West, did not have the authority to sign her name on the arrest warrant or transport the prisoner out of the county. Only deputies of Butler County, Harris said, have the authority to sign her name to an arrest warrant.

Harris said the DTF was originally established as a cooperative effort in the Second Judicial District to assist local law enforcement with drug operations in Lowndes, Butler and Crenshaw counties. Harris said while Butler County did make a $10,000 contribution to the DTF this year, they should not be carrying out undercover operations within Butler County without the knowledge of local law enforcement.

"There is a safety factor we have to consider here," she said. "We can't have other law enforcement agencies working inside our county without our knowledge."

Lowndes County Sheriff Willie Vaughner is the project director for the DTF. He said the DTF was established as a district-wide task force to fight drugs within the district and does not need permission to carry on operations within the Second Judicial District. He said it is common for the DTF to carry on operations within the district without the knowledge of local law enforcement officials normally responsible for that jurisdiction.

"When the task force was established it was given the authority to carry out operations in the district without the permission of the sheriffs or police departments within the district," Vaughner said. "We are a district-wide task force and while we do provide assistance to other law enforcement agencies we were established to fight drugs within the district and not to simply provide assistance."

Attorney for Butler County Calvin Poole said there is nothing illegal about the actions of the DTF, but he is concerned about certain procedural problems. Poole said that a similar operation in the past had near disastrous results, and that communication between agencies is necessary for effective law enforcement.

"Executing a search warrant in a drug case can be a tense scene, and the tendency with law enforcement is to keep those operations secretive," Poole said. "But there are ways to let other law enforcement agencies know what you are doing without compromising security.

"We are not trying to raise the issue of whose turf this is," he continued. "But we are concerned about the safety of our local law enforcement officials and the general public."