COVINGTON - An investigation by the Covington/Newton County Special Investigations Unit and the Flint Circuit Drug Task Force in Henry County has led to drug distribution charges against three people.
According to SIU Commander Lt. Philip Bradford, the suspects, Demetres Lavorn Jackson, 34, Donnell Renord Harris, 33, along with Jackson's girlfriend, Nicole Braswell, all of whom live at 10 Crooked Creek Way in Newton County, were involved in marijuana distribution.
Near the end of the summer, Bradford said his unit received information that Jackson, who owns Express Mail Box on Salem Road, was having marijuana shipped to the store and was then dispersing it from there.
"He thought that law enforcement had no way of finding him out. He had a good operation going," Bradford said.
Authorities did discover Jackson's operation, however, after a former employee was arrested in Douglasville and relayed what he knew to investigators.
Bradford said SIU had been watching Jackson for a while when they recently got a break in the case.
A package that was supposed to be shipped to another mail store that Jackson reportedly has ties to was mistakenly delivered to a restaurant in McDonough. When employees at the restaurant opened the package, they found a 5 gallon bucket filled with marijuana, at which point they called authorities.
SIU, along with the drug task force in Henry County, then got together and secured search warrants for Jackson's business and residence.
The Covington/Newton County S.W.A.T. Team executed the search warrant at Jackson's residence on Feb. 15. Inside the home, authorities discovered marijuana, a .44 magnum handgun, as well as the packing materials that were reportedly being used to ship the drugs.
Jackson, who was at the home at the time, was taken into custody without incident. He was charged with possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
Also at the residence, authorities found numerous pit bulls tied up with logging chains in the backyard. Inside a metal barrel half full of ashes, investigators found the burnt remains of a dog.
Because there was not any proof that dogfighting had occurred on the property, and because authorities couldn't say for sure how the burned dog had died, there will be no charges filed against the suspects in relation to the animals, according to Bradford.
"There was no ring, there was no area setup to fight ... you just saw a bunch of dogs tied up in one area," he said.
Bradford said the dogs appeared to have been taken care of. However, due to the arrests, which would prevent the dogs from having adequate food and water available to them, he said the 10 to 12 pit bulls that remained on the property were turned over to the custody of Newton County Animal Control.
At a Newton County Planning Commission meeting on March 27, Jackson and Braswell filed a petition for a conditional-use permit, requesting to operate a commercial dog kennel for training and grooming of up to 15 dogs. Several neighbors spoke in opposition to the request, citing noise, safety and environmental issues. The two petitioners did not show up at the meeting and the petition was denied.
"I was kind of shocked. I had just assumed that Newton County had finally done something about all of the dogs he had," area resident Davey Clark said. "I think everybody was shocked about the drug charges."
Following the evidence found at the home, Bradford said investigators took out arrest warrants for Braswell and Harris, who also lived at the home.
Harris was subsequently apprehended and charged with possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. Braswell was not located.
All three of the suspects' vehicles and bank accounts have been seized by authorities.
Harris and Jackson bonded out on the Newton County charges, and shortly thereafter Henry County authorities took out warrants against the three on marijuana trafficking charges.
Harris was rearrested Tuesday and is being held for Flint Circuit authorities at the Newton County Detention Center on the new charges.
Both Braswell and Jackson remain at large. Bradford said the suspects are originally from Florida and investigators believe they may be hiding out there.
According to the SIU commander, the investigation is ongoing and more arrests are expected.
Joel Griffin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org