A 10-week Flagler County Sheriff’s operation focused on the meth trade on the west side of the county netted 14 arrests out of 18 warrants, Sheriff Rick Staly said today.
The youngest offender was 18, the oldest 66, and most had trails of arrests behind them already–64 felony and 95 misdemeanor convictions between them, Staly said, including one, Twain Slater, who’s been arrested more than a dozen times since becoming an adult (he’s 31), for a combined 23 felony and misdemeanor convictions.
A reporter’s question about why Slater was still on the streets was like a softball down a part of the polemical plate where the sheriff likes to drill it best–against the judges’ and prosecutors’ window panes two floors up (he spoke in the first-floor jury assembly room at the county courthouse this afternoon): “Unfortunately, you know, that’s a problem with the criminal justice system,” he said. “All I can tell you is that we in law enforcement are doing our job, and we’re making the arrests and it’s up to the prosecution and the judges. Obviously, when they have a criminal history like this, they can’t be rehabilitated, they don’t want to be rehabilitated. So now you need to go to jail.” (Slater wasn’t among those arrested by the time of the press conference, but three hours later, he was getting booked at the jail.)
Judges, in fact, have limited discretion within the law, which sets out sentencing guidelines and a scoresheet that rates an individual’s conviction down to the maximum and minimum time he or she may be sentenced to prison. The scoresheet increases with every conviction, or with the gravity of the crime. It is intended to not apply the same draconian punishment to every offender, otherwise Florida’s prison system could not handle the influx.
Most of the time it works: offenders are redirected more productively, with rehabilitation shown to work in most cases. Federal data shows that 31 percent of drug offenders re-offend, a significant number, but the flip side of 69 percent who do not reoffend. (The data applies to federal offenders, not state offenders.)
The high-frequency reoffenders occupy a disproportionate part of law enforcement’s drug task forces–and a disproportionate part of news conferences, headlines and stories about big busts, further fueling the myth that the justice system is broken. The system may be flawed, as even judges and prosecutors would concede, but calling it broken is misleading, and blaming judges and prosecutors is not supported by the evidence.
Staly himself acknowledged the nuances necessary in enforcement, underscoring a point the cameras in the room likely would leave on the cutting room floor: “I’m all for somebody who’s in possession of a hard drug and they want to try to get off their addiction. As a community, we should try to help them do that.” The county jail includes programs and medically assisted treatment that Staly instituted to that very end. “But when you have criminal histories like this, and Twain, for example, he’s prolific in drug sales and drug dealing. The system needs to now prosecute him to the fullest.”
Slater is unquestionably a habitual offender. But he has served two stints in prison, the last after a four-year sentence, getting out at the end of 2019 after serving just over three years, for trafficking cocaine and other drugs and fleeing from cops. He’d been sentenced to a year and a half in prison last decade on another drug charge. Now, because of his record, he is in line for prison re-offender status, which steepens whatever penalty he may face, should he be convicted.
“Because eventually these people are going to sell something that kills someone,” Staly continued. He cited 15 fatal overdoses so far this year, three in the last seven days, every one of which is investigated as a murder until proven otherwise. “And we have people sitting in prison right now for selling that fatal dose.” That compares to 20 fatal overdoses all of last year, three of them found to have been suicides (it is not uncommon for suicides to take the form of intentional overdoses.)
“So let’s put them in prison where they belong. They won’t change their behavior, being free in our society before they can sell a lethal dose of something,” Staly said.
Sheriff’s Offices in this and other counties hold such sweeps periodically, almost always giving them hokey names heavy on cringe-inducing puns that play to television’s dimmer attention spans. The name of today’s operation was more clever and precise, except for the gang allusion: “Meth Side Story.”
“The west side of our county, Bunnell, the Mondex areas or rural areas,” Staly said, “it’s quite prevalent to have methamphetamine in western Flagler County and in rural communities across the country. And so this operation focused on that problem in the west side of the county.” But it wasn’t just meth, he said. Deputies seized almost 180 grams of fentanyl, the hyper-lethal substance once restricted to the treatment of extreme pain in cancer patients and the like, that’s been responsible for a growing number of overdoses, 12 grams of heroin, 2.5 pounds of powder cocaine, 1.5 pounds of meth, and 52 pounds of pot. Deputies also seized THC and other controlled substances, and $31,000 in cash. That money is forfeited by suspects, and ends up in the agency’s stream for items otherwise un-budgeted, including grants to community organizations.
The sheriff, who was again at the Texas Mexico border three weeks ago, his second trip there, linked the spread of fentanyl locally to fentanyl crossing the border. “The amount of fentanyl that we have seized in the first six months of this year is 273 percent compared to all of 2020,” he said. “This is proof that what’s coming across the border. And there’s other ways it can get here too,” but, he said, the porous has become porous beyond control, with cartels honing their skills to the point of sophisticated diversionary tactics that enable them to operate with impunity. Staly made a war analogy: “They might not be using bombs or dropping bombs on us, but they’re killing Americans by producing this stuff in Mexico, getting across the border, it goes across the country.”
Where, presumably, demand is high.
As a result of “Operation Meth Side Story,” the following were arrested:
1.) Raymond Dukes, Trafficking Fentanyl and Possession of Methamphetamine with Intent to Sell.
2.) Michael Bennett, Trafficking Morphine and Possession of Methamphetamine with Intent to Sell.
3.) Haley Scott, Possession of Methamphetamine.
4.) Jayveon Williams, Sale of Synthetic Cathinones,
5.) James Donaldson, Possession of Methamphetamine.
6.) Tiandra Bennett, Trafficking Cocaine.
7.) Cheyenne Donaldson, Possession of Fentanyl and Possession of Methamphetamine.
8.) Justin Anthony, Sale of Methamphetamine.
9.) Kayleigh Ferguson, Sale of Methamphetamine.
10.) Gary Visciglia, Sale of Methamphetamine.
11.) Duane Heinonen, Sale of Methamphetamine.
12.) Todd Blanchard, Sale of Methamphetamine.
13.) Jason Kjersgaard, Sale of Heroin and Sale of Synthetic Cathinones.
The following are wanted and currently being sought:
1.) Twain Slater, Trafficking Fentanyl and Unlawful Use of a Two-Way Communication Device.
2.) John Nicolicchia Jr., Sale of Methamphetamine.
3.) John Driggers, Sale of Methamphetamine
4.) Adam Giddens, Sale of Fentanyl.
5.) Christopher Smith, Sale of Cocaine and Unlawful Use of a Two-Way Communication Device.