BARTOW – Taking direct aim at Libertarians who say people in prison for non-violent drug offenses should be released, the Polk County Sheriff today blasted that theory and pointed to an anti-drug operation that resulted in 30 arrests in the Bartow area.
It was the result of a 10-month investigation, first launched in August 2011, when detectives got a tip that a 24-year-old, Jermaine Lamar Cunningham of 2210 E. Gibbons St. was selling crack cocaine from a house on Bay Street in Bartow.
Detectives would later identify that Alexander Gil Rios, 29, of 1785 Hamilton St., was working with Cunningham. What evolved from that was an investigation that combined the skills of the Polk County Sheriff’s detectives, Bartow Police Officers, and members of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area task force.
The result was that on June 28, law enforcement served four search warrants and arrested 30 suspects in Bartow area, in what became known as Operation City Sweep.
“There are those who are trying to release drug dealers early from prison, claiming that they are ‘non-violent’ felons,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said. “I am a strong believer in going after drug dealers because of the strong relationship that exists between drugs, violence, and other crimes.”
Law enforcement agencies, he added, “have a duty to interrupt the cycle of crime that occurs with habitual drug users, drug sellers and traffickers, criminal gangs, and victims of violence and property crime.”
For one thing, Judd said, many of the people arrested on Thursday have committed crime before — including very violent crimes.
“In this operation alone, all of the 30 suspects have a violent criminal history,” the sheriff said. “As a group, they have been arrested 420 times — an average of 14 arrests per drug dealer.”
That should demonstrate, Judd said, that dealing in drugs is not an exclusively non-violent crime.
“We need to send these people to prison where they belong,” he said.
Early into the investigation, detectives say, they learned that the Cunningham family — including his mother, Ruby Ellen, 60, and her brother Roland Lemar, 52, were working with Jermaine, dealing drugs in Bartow.
“Ruby has been selling crack cocaine and marijuana, which is provided to her by her son Jermaine,” noted Carrie Eleazor, public information officer for the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, in her report on the case.
“She lives at the Gibbons Street address with him,” Eleazor added. “Roland has been selling cocaine out of his home, also.”
During the 10-month investigation, detectives would buy ecstasy from Michael Anthony Lewis, 30, who they noted is also a suspect in the disappearance of his 11-month-old daughter Ta’niyah Leonard, who went missing in October 2002.
Lewis, detectives said, now lives and works with Alex Rios selling drugs in Bartow.
“Detectives purchased a trafficking amount of cocaine from Alex Rios, and during at least one exchange of illegal narcotics with an undercover detective, Rios had a child in the car with him,” Eleazor noted.
Eight separate undercover buys were made at another location, 1070 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, which Eleazor said has been nicknamed “Sugar Hill.”
“This area is located directly across the street from The Brightest Minds day care facility,” she noted. “Detectives purchased crack cocaine, powdered cocaine, and marijuana, from dealers working out of that house and the vacant lot nearby.”
At another point in the investigation, detectives bought a stolen gun from Melbra Brewer, 40, of 1185 Britts Lane, Apt. C in Bartow. Brewer has an extensive violent criminal history, detectives noted, and lives with Quentin Smith, 26, “who is illegally in possession of a short barreled shotgun,” Eleazor noted. “Brewer sold the detectives that illegal weapon as well.”
When detectives issued a search warrant at Jermaine Cunningham’s home, where his mother Ruby also lives, detectives seized 81 grams of powder cocaine, 40 grams of crack cocaine, and $5,586 in cash.
At Rios’ home, where Michael Lewis and Thaterick Johnson also live, detectives left with 120 ecstasy pills, almost a pound of marijuana, cocaine and paraphernalia, as well as four EBT cards and one Visa Turbo Tax card.
At 1097 E. Parker St. in Bartow, Sharita White’s home, detectives seized glass pipes containing cocaine residue and marijuana.
While looking for Rios, detectives got an additional search warrant for 980 E. Church St., Apt B204 in Bartow, where detectives seized 230 grams of marijuana, 36 grams of Ecstasy, digital scale with cocaine residue and baggies for packaging the narcotics, plus $16,361 in cash and a 12-gauge shotgun and .45 caliber handgun.
Both weapons, Eleazor noted, had been reported stolen.
As the search warrant was being executed, Laquacia White’s newborn baby was also in this house at the time.
Of the 30 suspects who had warrants for their arrests during this operation, 28 now receive some form of government financial assistance, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
“For example, Alex Rios, who had over $16,000 cash in his house when detectives arrested him, receives money from the government every month,” Eleazor noted.
Bartow Police Chief Joe Hall called this operation a huge success, saying “Working together with the sheriff’s office and the HIDTA Task Force, we were able to put dangerous felons in jail, get drugs and guns off the street, and improve the quality of life in this city that we love. We will continue to make arrests like these until those who prey upon the good citizens of Bartow with their illicit lifestyles are all behind bars.”
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