It’s 6:38 a.m. The two Flagler County Sheriff’s SUVs, one marked, one unmarked, weave their way deep into Palm Coast’s E Section. The neighborhood is as still as the air. On Edwards Drive, the two vehicles park along an empty lot. A Captain and a lieutenant step out of one car, two deputies step out of the other. They walk down two lots to 72 Edwards. They take positions around the house. The two-level structure looks as bedraggled as the five vehicles in the driveway–three cars, one of them spreading an oil leak on the driveway, two pick-up trucks, one of them a fugitive from a wrecking yard.
Two minutes of studying the house’s perimeter, peeking through a wooden fence, eying windows, then the knock at the front door. “Sheriff’s Office.” A long wait. One minute. Two minutes. Almost three minutes.
Then an appearance. The man is in his 20s, stocky, dressed in a dark t-shirt and shorts. There’s a short conversation. Something about this not being his house, something about him checking with the homeowner. He goes back inside. Another long wait. At the far more manicured house next door, a woman walks out, picks up a paper, walks back in, then back out for a walk in the neighborhood. She walks hurriedly by No. 72, where the man has come back out with his identification papers. The man the cops were looking for isn’t here. Or so the tenant says. Capt. Paul Bovino, the SWAT Team commander and supervisor on this particular arrest warrant, had predicted it would go this way. “You get a lot of ‘he’s not here’ or ‘they’re not here’ type of thing,” he’d said on the way.
The man at the door claims the suspect the cops are looking for really isn’t here, something about driving around in a red Impala, dropping off girls, maybe coming back soon. He’s a combination of nervous and obsequious, clasping his hands, crossing his arms, dropping them again, shifting on his feet. “So if he comes back,” he says, “should I have him give you a call? Do you have a card?” The man even apologizes for the suspect’s absence.
Back in their SUV, Bovino and Lt. Gerald Ditolla are obviously disappointed. They’re convinced the man is lying, that the suspect is hiding in the house. The other SUV drives off. Bovino, in an unmarked, black Tahoe, stays in the neighborhood. He thinks–he knows–something is up. He can’t go in the house. It’s an arrest warrant, not a search warrant, and absent reasonable suspicion that the man is in the house, there’s no going in. As Ditolla puts it, not without a hint of irony, “everyone has the right to be secure in their own home.”
Bovino drives, turns around, returns to 72 Edwards, eyes the house again, drives on a small distance. And waits. Voices on the police radio chime in from time to time, hints of other similar operations across the city. If Bovino’s instinct were a radio frequency, it’d be crackling.
At 7:05, he sees it. The red Impala. And the look of the man at the wheel, who has no idea who’s in the black SUV. The Impala drives by, Bovino immediately follows closely, activates his lights. The Impala’s turn signal comes on in front of 72 Edwards. The man stops the car in front of the crowded driveway. Bovino and Ditolla jump out this time, and almost immediately cuff the man who, in his Nike sneakers, black Air Jordan shirt and Kenny G hair, is all daze. The two other deputies hadn’t been far. They return, seize the man, search him, place him in the marked SUV as Bovino and Ditolla search the car.
“That’s how you do it, right? It pays to have patience,” Bovino says, warrant served and suspect in custody.
The man is Jakob Johnsen, formerly of Bunnell, who got out of prison in March 2011 after an 11-month stint on a heroin sale and manufacturing conviction. He’d been in Flagler’s jail in 2008 for burglary and dealing in stolen property. He was charged with selling hydrocodone.
At 7:46 a.m., Johnsen is brought into a makeshift booking room at the Emergency Operation Center in Bunnell, where several other people have been arrested and were being processed before heading for the jail, all on similar charges: illegally selling, dealing or possessing prescription drugs. Some of them sat in the makeshift booking room, in hand and leg cuffs, waiting their turn with a deputy who booked them through a laptop, placing their effects in big brown bags and sending them on their way to the jail. As they waited—on small armchairs often used by local politicians and their audiences during government meetings—they chatted among themselves, one of them cried, most of them sat silently, staring ahead, leaning, yawning, bearing almost identically the drained, captive look of people in intensive care waiting rooms.
Kimberly Lacy was an exception. The 44-year-old resident of Hymon Circle in Bunnell cracked jokes from the moment she arrived with whoever was near. “Watcha got handcuffs on me for? I’m COP, what the hell,” she said as she was brought into the booking room. COP is the acronym for community policing patrols usually conducted by volunteers. She was twice jailed locally in 2010, for writing worthless checks and for domestic violence. Today she was booked on a charge of selling Oxycontin.
She and the rest of the congregation were the prize in “Operation Pill Management,” the latest in a series of similar operations local and state law enforcement agencies carry out periodically to put a spotlight on the drug flavor of the moment.
The Flagler County Sherff’s Office conducted a 31-warrant at 30 locations sweep this morning. Other police agencies did the same in Putnam and St. Johns, serving 103 warrants and netting 78 arrests, 23 of them in Flagler County.
But the sum total of pills seized was 1,541, not much more than the number of pills that could be found in medicine cabinets. Officials did not have a total street value for the seizure.
“We were supposed to do this two or three weeks ago, but Neil Perry got sick,” Flagler County Sheriff Don Fleming said, referring to the long-time St. Johns County sheriff who died in late June. “This has been a concentrated effort by the Tri-County Task Force,” he said, describing investigations that included numerous under-cover buys of pills, with involvement from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, U.S. Marshals, the Drug Enforcement Agency, and the sheriff’s offices in St. Johns and Putnam. The local sheriff’s office invited media–the Palm Coast Observer, the News-Journal, FlaglerLive–to ride along with deputies on a few arrests once the sweep began after a 6 a.m. briefing at the EOC.
And at 2:30 this afternoon, those agencies and a few more arrayed some of their top brass, including Fleming, R.J. Larizza, the state attorney for the 7th district, and Putnam County Sheriff Jeff Hardy, all three of whom are running for re-election in 34 days. They gathered around a briefing room at the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office before cameras and microphones for an extended round of back-patting and big declarations about the “epidemic” of prescription pills sweeping the state and the country–and free air play on local television stations that their rivals could not match.
As usual in such affairs, none of the rank-and-file who did the work–the investigations, the under-cover buys, the arrests–and put themselves in danger spoke, or even appeared at the front of the room.
It’s unclear how today’s operation fits in the context of the prescription drug problem. Officials at this afternoon’s media event said the drugs are causing a rise in crime. But crime has, in fact, been dropping most years, locally and nationally, and men like Fleming have been taking credit for the drop on their watch. He was asked about the contradiction.
“It’s decreased four out of five years in the total FDLE-UCR crime report,” Fleming said. “Yes. Has drugs increased? Drugs are always there, but no. Drugs have not increased in this county as we have looked at in the past. But drugs are the number one epidemic that leads to other crimes that would be committed. When we get a house burglary, when St. Johns gets a drug store held up or when Putnam County gets a car broken into, I’m going to eventually say that most of that is going to be drug-related.”
Fleming said he would welcome doing similar operations “again and again and again.”
Dominick Pape of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement reprised almost identical words he spoke in December 2010, when much of the same group held a similar media event following a sweep then called “Operation Growing Pains” (135 arrests, 11,267 pills seized in a 10-county area), “Clearly,” he said, “our job is still ongoing. This investigation demonstrates that this illegal drug use will impact our communities every day. If you look at the 103 subjects charged during this operation, they come from all walks of life, economic backgrounds and several different age groups, the oldest being 71, and the youngest being 17.”
But most would, as they have in the past, bond out and eventually serve small sentences, if any. And while one official spoke of the “organized” nature of prescription-drug dealing, none of the arrests are the result of organized crime charges, underscoring the low level type of dealer or user rounded up today. Larizza conceded as much.
“We were dealing with street-level and mid-level dealers who were selling these prescription drugs on the street,” Larizza said. “Now, some of them they may have been their own prescriptions, they may have gotten the pills from somebody else, and then resold them. But these were the street-level folks that you find—there were crack cocaine epidemics and you had the street-level open-air markets. Now you’ve got folks that we’re focusing on now that are on the street level, in the community, selling these prescription drugs, whether they get them from their own prescriptions or from somebody else. They’re not the racketeering type of scenario, where you may have had the pain clinics who banded together and had an actual conspiracy and worked together to monopolize the particular market and had an organization or structure. Most of these folks are individuals that are selling the drugs for individual reasons. But they’re out there, they’re corrupting the community, and we can’t ignore those folks.” (Pape said today’s arrests would help build cases for arrests further up the chain of drug-dealing command.)
Even as most will bond out, Fleming said: “We’ve got to hope that when they go back in front of the judge this time they get some time.”
Larisa and Fleming, of course, dismissed suggestions that the sweep was timed for media effect before an election involving them both.
“Quite frankly,” Larizza said, “to try and say this is a choreographed political stunt, I take offense to it.”
By then, Jakob Johnsen had already bonded out.
"Operation Pain Management"
|Name||Age||City of Residence||Agency||Charge(s)|
|Agan, David||63||St Augustine||SJSO||Sale of Schedule Iv (Diazepam)|
|Atteberry, Joshua||25||St Augustine||SJSO||Sale of Oxycodone|
|Barber, Christopher||35||Palatka||PCSO||Trafficking in Hydrocodone|
|Barber, Darren||47||Palatka||PCSO||Sale of Schedule II|
|Barber, Barber||24||Palatka||PCSO||Sale of Schedule II|
|Bellamy, John||54||Palatka||PCSO||Sale of Schedule II (Roxicodone) x 3|
|Bickerton, Charles||40||Jacksonville||SJSO||Obtaining a Controlled Substance by Fraud|
|Biernacki, Michelle||27||Palatka||PCSO||Sale of Oxycodone, Schedule II|
|Bolton, Nicole||35||Palm Coast||FCSO||Trafficking in controlled substance (Hydrocodone)|
|Brewer, Samantha||24||Orlando||FCSO||Trafficking in Oxycodone|
|Brown, Eddie||33||Palatka||PPD||Sale of Oxycodone (4 charges)|
|Bruyette, Stanley||45||Bunnell||FCSO||Trafficking Schedule II controlled substance|
|Burke, Domonick||20||Palatka||PPD||Sale of Oxycodone; Sale of Schedule 2 within 1000 feet of a convenience store|
|Burney, Devon||19||Palatka||PPD||Sale of Counterfeit Substance|
|Callahan, James||30||Satsuma||PPD||Trafficking in Oxycodone|
|Canty, Michael||54||Palatka||PPD||Sale of Oxycodone|
|Carlson, Brad||29||St Augustine||SJSO||Sale of Oxycodone within 1000 ft of a place of Worship x 2|
|Collins, Mark||51||East Palatka||PPD||Trafficking in Oxycodone|
|Conner, Gerald||32||Interlachen||PCSO||Sale of Schedule II|
|Coston, Judy||36||Crescent City||PCSO||Sale of Schedule II x 2|
|Curry, Cedric||30||Palatka||PPD||Sale of Oxycodone|
|Davis, Ulysee||25||Palatka||PPD||Sale of Counterfeit Substance|
|Deering, Tony||26||East Palatka||PCSO||Sale 1000' of Church|
|Evins, Wilbert||21||Palatka||PPD||Sale of Oxycodone|
|Gilyard, Alfred||44||San Mateo||PCSO||Sale of Schedule II|
|Gilyard, Eric||47||San Mateo||PCSO||Sale of Schedule II|
|Girton, Shannon||28||Palatka||PPD||Principle to Sale of Oxycodone|
|Glisson, Lacy||27||Palatka||PCSO||Sale of Schedule II|
|Gordon, Jimmie||45||Palm Coast||FCSO||Sale of Alprazolam|
|Grant, Elbert||21||Palatka||PPD||Sale of Oxycodone; Sale of Schedule 2 within 1000 feet of a convenience store|
|Green, Matthew||24||Daytona Beach||FCSO||Principle to Sale (Oxycodone)|
|Greene, Julie||47||Interlachen||PPD||Trafficking in Hydrocodone 2 Tier; Sale of Hydrocodone; Trafficking in Oxycodone|
|Grice, Wendy||37||Orlando||PCSO||Sale of Oxycodone, Schedule II|
|Hagans, Ebony||29||Palatka||PPD||Sale of Oxycodone|
|Harrison, Ricky||25||Bunnell||FCSO||Sale of a controlled substance (Oxycodone)|
|Heard, Judith||48||Palm Coast||FCSO||Sale of new Legend Drug / Sale of Oxycodone|
|Herbert, Tichia||49||Hollister||PCSO||Sale of Schedule II|
|Higgenbotham, Harold||48||Bunnell||FCSO||Sale of controlled substance (Oxycodone)|
|Higgins, Cleo||29||Bunnell||FCSO||Trafficking in Schedule II controlled substance (Oxycodone)|
|Hills, Rashad||19||Palatka||PPD||Sale of Oxycodone|
|Hubbert, Enos||41||Bunnell||FCSO||Trafficking in Oxycodone|
|Johnsen, Jakob||22||Palm Coast||FCSO||Sale of Schedule II substance (Hydromorphone)|
|Johnson, Samuel||46||Crescent City||PCSO||Sale of a Schedule II|
|Johnson, Samuel E.||49||Palm Coast||FCSO||Sale of Oxycodone|
|Jones, Brandon||20||Palm Coast||FCSO||Sale of Oxycodone / Trafficking in Oxycodone 14-28 grams|
|Jones, Cozy||18||Palm Coast||FCSO||Sale of Oxycodone|
|Kaufman, Wendy||42||Interlachen||PCSO||Sale of Legend Drug|
|Knever, Kyle||26||Georgetown||PCSO||Sale of Schedule II|
|Koehler, Jonathan||36||Hastings||SJSO||Sale of Schedule II (Fentanyl patches & bottle of liquid Morphine)|
|Lacy, Kimberly||44||Bunnell||FCSO||Sale of Oxycodone|
|Lalomia, Corey||20||Palm Coast||FCSO||Sale of controlled substance|
|Lemelle, Stephen||36||Crescent City||PCSO||Sale of Schedule II|
|London, Willie||29||Orlando||FCSO||Sale of schedule II controlled substance (Oxycodone)|
|Mack, Travis||30||Palatka||PPD||Sale of Oxycodone|
|Martin, Tommy||56||Flagler Beach||FCSO||Sale of Hydromorphine & Xanax|
|Massett, Austin||20||St Augustine||SJSO||Sale of Schedule I or II-Opium or Deriv|
|McCoy, Larry||60||Palatka||PCSO||Sale of Schedule II|
|Miller, J.C.||33||Palatka||PPD||Sale of Oxycodone|
|Miller, Joshua||23||Palatka||PCSO||Sale of Schedule II|
|Mitchell, Terrance||40||St Augustine||PCSO||Synth Narcotic-Sell Schedule I or II x 2|
|Mobley, Arthur||41||Bunnell||FCSO||Trafficking Oxycodone|
|Molica, Angela||36||Palm Coast||FCSO||Sale of Oxycodone|
|Morris, Morgan||21||Palatka||PPD||Sale of Oxycodone|
|Mullin, Janetlee||50||St Augustine||SJSO||Sale of Oxycodone|
|Murphy, Edward||53||Palatka||PCSO||Sale of Oxycodone, Schedule II|
|Nixon, Ruby||72||Crescent City||PPD||Sale of Morphine|
|Nixon, Tykey||20||Crescent City||PPD||Sale of Hydrocodone|
|Ostrovskiy, Andrey||26||Palm Coast||FCSO||Sale of Shed II Controlled Substance (Hydromorphone)|
|Panczykowski, Rachel||26||Ponte Vedra Bch||SJSO||Attempting to obtain controlled substance by fraud|
|Phillips, Charles||24||Bunnell||FCSO||Sale of schedule II controlled substance (Oxycodone)|
|Price, Forrest||29||Palm Coast||FCSO||Sale of schedule II controlled substance (Oxycodone)|
|Read, David||44||St Augustine||SJSO||Sale of Schedule IV (Clonazapam)|
|Rigdon, Tonya||36||East Palatka||PPD||Trafficking in Oxycodone|
|Robinson, Shannon||17||Palatka||PCSO||Sale of Schedule 2 within 1000 feet of church|
|Rodriguez, Alex||20||St Augustine||SJSO||Possession with Intent to Sale of Legend Drug w/o prescription|
|Rodriguez, Nestor||21||Palatka||PCSO||Sale of Schedule II (twice??)|
|Rodriguez, Samuel||33||Interlachen||PCSO||Sale of Oxycodone, Schedule II x 2|
|Rogers, Charles||21||Palm Coast||FCSO||Sale of Schedule IV controlled substance (Alprazolam)|
|Roscoe, Ronald||43||Palm Coast||FCSO||Trafficking oxycodone / Sale of new legend drug|
|Ross, Arnesto||26||Palatka||PPD||Sale of Oxycodone|
|Sampson, Leroy||23||Ft Lauderdale||FCSO||Principle to Sale (Oxycodone) / Sale of Oxycodone|
|Sanders, Cavious||25||Palatka||PPD||Sale of Counterfeit Substance|
|Schmidt, Christopher||26||Palatka||PPD||Trafficking in Hydromorphine|
|Scorsone, Christine||40||Palm Coast||FCSO||Trafficking in Hydrocodone|
|Session, Rashard||23||Palatka||PPD||Sale of Schedule II / Sale of Hydromorphon|
|Simmions, Rashard||27||San Mateo||PCSO||Synth Narcotic-Sell Schedule I or II x 2|
|Smith, Brittni||19||Bunnell||FCSO||Sale of Schedule IV controlled substance (Alprazolam)|
|Smith, Tyran||25||Bunnell||FCSO||Trafficking Oxycodone|
|Stewart, Ashley||26||Palatka||PPD||Sale of Oxycodone|
|Stout, Amanda||29||Webster||PCSO||Sale of Schedule II x 2|
|Syroid, Michael||51||Daytona Beach||SJSO||Sale of Schedule I or II-Opium or Deriv (Roxicodone & Conerta)|
|Thomas, Christopher||26||Palatka||PCSO||Sale of Oxycodone, Schedule II|
|Thomas, Da'Vonte||18||Palatka||PCSO||Sale of Schedule II w/1000 feet of church|
|Thomas, George||37||Palm Coast||FCSO||Sale of Schedule II controlled substance|
|Thorp, Simon||32||Palm Coast||FCSO||Sale of Schedule II substance (Hydromorphone)|
|Tronoski, Melissa||24||Ponte Vedra Bch||SJSO||Sale of Schedule I or II-Opium or Deriv (Roxicodone & Conerta)|
|VanEpps, Randall||48||St Augustine||SJSO||Sale of Schedule IV within 1000 ft of a Place of Worship (Diazepam)|
|Walker, Anthony||27||Crescent City||PCSO||Sale of a Schedule II|
|Wells, Donielle||26||Palatka||PPD||Sale of Oxycodone|
|Whaley, Diane||31||St Augustine||SJSO||Sale of Hydrocodone|
|White, Franklin||30||Interlachen||PPD||Sale of Counterfeit Substance|
|Williams, Dennis||23||Bostwick||PCSO||Sale of Oxycodone, Schedule II|
|Williams, Tony||22||Jacksonville||PCSO||Sale of Schedule 2|