published Friday, May 23rd, 2014

Roundup nets 35 in Etowah, Tenn., on drug-related charges

Almost 40 people were arrested Wednesday on more than 130 drug-related charges after a four-month investigation by the Etowah, Tenn., police department.

The drugs involved included mostly prescription pills, crack cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine, and landed 35 in jail Wednesday during a roundup that went from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., Etowah police Detective Jim Shaw said.

Shaw said there were 37 indictments for people ranging in age from 19 to one repeat offender in his 60s. Two of the 37 people indicted are still at large, he said Thursday. There were 133 charges total in those indictments.

Shaw said "Operation Over It" was so named because local residents and authorities were fed up with illegal drug sales in Etowah.

The most serious charge was for sale of Xanax and marijuana in a school zone. There were other charges of conspiracy to sell drugs and sales of a variety of drugs under several federal schedules, he said.

The grand jury indictments issued Tuesday stemmed from a series of undercover drug buys made since January, Shaw said.

"Since the last week of January, I put about 90 percent of my efforts into dope," he said. Patrol officers funneled information to Shaw.

"Once we got a list of names, we started targeting those people selling the dope," he said. Some sellers during the undercover buys even started charging an extra $5 for gas when fuel prices increased, Shaw said.

Meth, morphine pills, methadone, crack cocaine, Xanax, hydrocodone, oxycodone and other prescription pain pills were seized during the undercover operation, and 12 vehicles were seized during Wednesday's roundup, he said. No cash was seized.

"I have found [that] just inside Etowah, it's more pills than meth or crack," he said. "It probably goes pills, meth, marijuana, then crack."

He said people using pain clinics to get large quantities of pills have added to the black market pill problem.

It could take 12 to 16 months to prosecute the cases, he said.

Sheriff's office Chief Deputy Matt Blair said two county narcotics officers helped with Etowah's operation for the warrants served outside the city limits.

"It was a pretty good roundup. There was real good cooperation among all agencies," Blair said.

"I was very proud of the hard work that they put in over the last four months," Etowah police Chief Eric Armstrong said. "If we didn't have all those agencies helping us, it would've been a nightmare. But it was a great job of teamwork yesterday."

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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