Drug task force strikes in predawn raid

A massive combined effort by some 30 law enforcement officials from various agencies throughout a several county region has given Brady residents a boost of confidence that something is being done about the ongoing drug problem in McCulloch County. The culmination of an investigation that began June 1, 2000 by the Southwest Texas Narcotics Task Force, five teams of six officers each began the single largest roundup in the history of this area in the predawn hours Tuesday. Led by task force leader Lieutenant Dennis Land of the Department of Public Safety (DPS), arrest warrants for 32 persons ranging in age from 17 to 52 were executed much to the surprise of each named individual. Three of those arrested were juveniles under the age of 17, and they will be tried in juvenile court. By mid-morning Tuesday, 21 of the 32 individuals had been incarcerated without incident and leads of the whereabouts of the remaining individuals were being followed. Of the warrants issued, all were residents of McCulloch County at the time the alleged offenses occurred. Four of the wanted persons have since moved to Austin and one has relocated to Abilene. Bonds for the individuals have been set ranging from $20,000 to $100,000. The warrants were accompanied by 63 sealed indictments’all of which were for felony delivery of a controlled substance including cocaine, methamphetamines, hydrocodone and marijuana. Of the 63 indictments, five were first degree felonies, 30 were second degree felonies, 2 were third degree felonies, 26 were state jail felonies and three were misdemeanors. According to McCulloch County Sheriff Earl Howell, each sale to the undercover officer(s) was considered a separate indictment. Because these indictments are sealed, the names of the outstanding wanted individuals remains secret until he/she is arrested. As of Thursday morning at 11 a.m. 23 individuals had been arrested. “Hopefully this will make a drastic impact locally,” said Howell. “Something like this has not been done in this area in quite some time.” The last large scale drug activity arrests were made in 1998 when law officials arrested six individuals on various drug possession charges. Prior to that, there was a raid in 1991 which consisted of 24 narcotics indictments. According to the laws related to narcotics possession and delivery, the severity of the charges varies significantly and the degree to which they are classified is determined by the amount of narcotics sold in each transaction. The most serious first degree felony is punishable by up to a life term in prison accompanied by up to a $100,000 fine. Reaction from Brady citizens seemed to be quite positive as several citizens voiced their opinion the Standard-Herald that they were glad the task force performed this investigation. Many believe more attention needed to be paid to local drug activity. Howell stated in a press conference Tuesday morning that several citizens had recently expressed concern to him about the lack of attention to the drug activity. He stated that on several occasions, it was difficult to refrain from assuring people that more was being done than was immediately obvious. The next phase of the conviction process comes when each of the individuals is arraigned in District Court. From there, plea bargains and court appearances will commence on an individual case basis. “When we were talking with the district attorney about this entire operation, I let him know that I thought people in Brady needed to be assured that we were serious about these arrests,” said Howell. “For that reason, the bonds that were set are higher than normal. What happens from here with plea bargains or whether they go to trial depends a lot on the district attorney.” The actual sting operation was conducted in cooperation with Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) officials who gave the task force use of a government housing apartment. An undercover officer established residence in a Brady apartment back in June and proceeded to become involved in daily routine as a seemingly normal Brady resident. The apartment, however, was equipped with video surveillance which recorded almost all of the illegal transactions in which the arrestees sold drugs to the undercover officer. The drug buys and daily operation of the undercover agent continued until just a few weeks ago. “When we started this project, our intentions were originally to make it last as long as possible without putting anyone in danger,” said Howell. “We had no idea that it would last as long as it did. Once it started, people just kept on coming in and selling drugs to the agent.” The task force is a combined effort of law enforcement officers that is funded by a grant that provides 90 percent of the financial backing for the group. The remaining 10 percent is provided by the counties involved. Over the next few years, the amount of funding provided by the state will decrease but will not disappear. The DPS provides a commanding officer and the group works in tandem with all law enforcement agencies in a three-county area. The counties currently involved in the program include McCulloch, Kimble and Menard Counties. Plans are in the works to add Mason County to the group by June 1 of this year. The task force works on a revolving basis conducting narcotics investigations and operations within the three county area. Officers on the force are stationed randomly throughout the region and are specially trained for narcotics investigations. Individuals arrested in drug sweep: Jimmy Jolly, 43 – delivery of marijuana Nathan Simmons, 22 – delivery of controlled substance Leslie Simmons, 34 – delivery of controlled substance Brad Williams, 21 – delivery of controlled substance Heberto Duque Jr., 26 – delivery of marijuana Nick Miller, 21 – delivery of controlled substance Michael B. Valdez, 24 – delivery of controlled substance Nathan Bell, 27 – delivery of controlled substance Chris Appleton, 19 – delivery of controlled substance Jose Valencia, 36 – delivery of controlled substance Gracie Davenport, 37 – delivery of controlled substance; tampering with government records Iletha Spencer, 30 – delivery of controlled substance Watasha Houston, 18 – delivery of marijuana in a drug free zone Tarah Will, 19 – delivery of controlled substance Nolberto Duque, 18 – delivery of controlled substance Paul Price, 27 – delivery of controlled substance Sharon Shaw Shelton, 52 – delivery of controlled substance; delivery of marijuana Wire Dan Nehre – delivery of simulated controlled substance Damian Maxwell – delivery of simulated controlled substance Homero G. Duque – (not available) Bryan L. Davenport – delivery of simulated controlled substance Billy G. Walton Jr. – (not available) Jason Bell, 24 – delivery of controlled substance

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