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Spartanburg Herald-Journal

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Article published November 30, 1990

30 more people arrested in drug sweep

More than 170 police officers banded together last night for the second day of Operation Safe Streets to round up suspected drug dealers in Spartanburg County. After a successful sweep of drug dealers and buyers in Greer and Wellford Wednesday and early yesterday, Spartanburg County Sheriff Bill Coffey said last night's efforts were concentrated in sections of Una, Inman, Fairmont and North Spartanburg. Unlike most drug roundups, in which officers conduct reverse stings and make individual arrests, the goal in this effort was to arrest suspects with prior arrest warrants. A total of 87 people were arrested in the past two days, 57 in Wednesday night's raid and 30 last night, Spartanburg County Sheriff's spokesman Mark Kruea said. Eight vehicles also were confiscated. Police would not say how long the operation will run. The arrests were based on 170 indictments handed down by the Spartanburg County grand jury earlier this month on charges of distributing, possessing, and trafficking in crack cocaine, powder cocaine, marijuana and heroin. The cases were based on cases made by a SLED undercover operative who worked with police, buying drugs over the past nine months, Spartanburg County Sheriff Bill Coffey said. Last night's raid targeted 59 known drug dealers and buyers, and Wednesday's effort was centered around 111 suspects. Among those participating in the raids were members of the State Law Enforcement Division; Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; the governor's RAID Team; the Spartanburg County jail; the 7th Circuit Solicitor's Office; the Greer and Wellford police departments; and the U.S. Marshal's Office Fugitive Apprehension Team. The governor's RAID or Retaliation Against Illegal Drugs Team consists of SLED, the state Alcohol Beverage Control Commission, the state Highway Patrol and the state Wildlife Department. The S.C. National Guard also provided air support. The police officers, 175 in all, split into teams of 10. A line of police cars almost a mile long left the Greer command post after being shown maps, aerial pictures and slides to familiarize the officers with the target areas. While the officers swooped in on the targeted areas, the helicopter circled overhead to track anyone who tried to escape into wooded areas. Last night, the Sugar Shack, a bar on Frey Creek Road in Fairmont, was cited for Alcohol Beverage Commission violations after police found the owner serving liquor from large bottles rather than the state-mandated mini-bottles. By midday yesterday, 54 people had been arrested on charges ranging from distribution of crack cocaine, cocaine, marijuana and heroin to trafficking cocaine. "We were able to make several significant arrests of mid-and upper-level dealers in this operation," Coffey said. "It's not just a Band Aid. We think it's much more significant than that. The obvious benefits ... have to do with the intelligence information we've generated. The working relationships we've developed are invaluable." Three people turned themselves in to the Sheriff's Office yesterday after learning that police tried to locate them Wednesday night, Coffey said. The sheriff pointed out that authorities were unable to track some of the suspects, though they went to each last known address. "We expect more of that throughout the day and throughout the week," Coffey said. Circuit Court Judge Frank Eppes arrived at the temporary jail site yesterday to begin bond hearings for those arrested. A circuit judge was needed because the grand jury sent the cases to General Sessions Court, Coffey said. The 7th Circuit Solicitor's Office presented each case and explained various backgrounds and criminal histories. Eppes set bonds ranging from $1,000 to $100,000. Some defendants were represented by public defenders while others had private counsel. As he issued bond, Eppes questioned the suspects as to why they chose to deal in drugs. One suspect, who was taken to Spartanburg Regional Medical Center Wednesday for a stomach pump after police say he attempted to hide a rock of crack cocaine in his mouth, was reminded of Len Bias, the University of Maryland basketball player who died of drug overdose two years ago. In an effort to understand, Eppes asked the suspects how much of their education they completed and whether they had jobs. Most did not. "I am very seldom satisfied with the answers they give," Eppes said from his bench at the makeshift jail set up in the House of Flowers exhibit hall at the Spartanburg County Fairgrounds. "About 80 percent of these people will plead guilty when they get to court. Some have small children. I can't understand it." Eppes set 43 bonds yesterday, none of which were personal recognizance bonds, according to 7th Circuit Solicitor Andy Johnston. One man police describe as an upper-level drug dealer whose bond was set at $100,000 was the first and only suspect to make bond. "These bonds are no tougher or more lenient than they would be ordinarily," Eppes said. "These people run the gamut. You can tell the difference between the ones who are trying to eke out a living for their children and those for whom this is big business." Coffey said he is pleased with the handling of the cases. "It went very well," he said of the first arraignments. "I think Judge Eppes is very concerned about this problem, and I think the bonds that he set were based in each person's case and were appropriate." Eppes and Coffey agree that few of those arrested will be properly rehabilitated by their jail terms. It's a fact that frustrates both men. "We're not going to change the people we've arrested," Coffey said, pointing out that drug stings are not a new phenomenon and yet, the drug problem continues to escalate. "The criminal justice system isn't going to change those people, but it will punish them I hope."