Regional drug task force expanded

Russell Johnson, right, 9th judicial district attorney general, with Brendan DeBoer, left, district drug task force deputy director, and other city and county representatives announces at Loudon County Sheriff’s Office the addition of four new agents to the task force.

With a swearing in Jan. 23 by Judge Hank Sledge, new agents for the 9th Judicial District Drug Task Force were brought on board, signaling a more united partnership between county law enforcement agencies.

Representatives from District Attorney General Russell Johnson’s office, along with the three law agencies and cities, were present for a press conference in the Loudon County Sheriff’s Office training room. Agency representatives signed a memorandum of understanding making the change official.

Cody Fritts from Lenoir City Police Department and members of the narcotics unit from LCSO, including Shane Ezell, Jamie Ketner and Marty Stanley, are now agents with the DTF. The four join Brendan DeBoer, DTF deputy director, Cortney Dugger, DTF administrator, and April Farmer, from Loudon Police Department, who has served as an agent for a few years.

“This is a red letter day in the history of law enforcement in Loudon County, so to speak, and I hope I don’t use too much hyperbole or exaggerate, but really this is a coming together of all the law enforcement agencies in Loudon County with the district attorney general’s office to combat the drug issues in Loudon County,” Johnson said. “We’ve been cooperating with each other for a number of years as separate units, but today we will become one unit in this fight against the problem we have.”

The fight centers on opioids, which Johnson said has hit Loudon and Roane hard among the four counties his office serves that includes Meigs and Morgan. He noted over the holidays that was evident when overdoses “it seemed were like every day, sometimes twice a day.”

Coming together under the umbrella of the drug task force is intended to help, Johnson said.

“We have been very lucky over the years to have great support from our local agencies, including the agencies that are represented here today, as well as the agencies in the other three counties that we actually work in,” DeBoer said. “Unfortunately, it just hasn’t been on a formal basis. So today we’re going to formalize a lot of those relationships in order to bring these talented young men and women on to be part of the task force working as one cohesive unit.

“So we’ve had great successes over the years, but we expect just tremendous successes in the future with the organization of the task force and bringing on Loudon County Sheriff’s Office, Lenoir City Police Department and continuing our relationship with Loudon Police Department,” he added.

Among those present were Lenoir City Mayor Tony Aikens, Loudon Mayor Jeff Harris, Lenoir City Police Chief Don White, Loudon Police Chief James “Bear” Webb and LCSO Chief Deputy Jimmy Davis. Sheriff Tim Guider and Loudon County Mayor Rollen “Buddy” Bradshaw were unable to attend.

“We work together basically every day already, but like Brendan said, we’re just going to finalize it and make it official, work together as one team and that way we have more resources to go toward the target and we see that beneficial for the county as well,” Davis said.

Harris hopes the additions will “send a message to the drug dealers” in the area that officials are serious about the drug problem.

“We’ve got drug problems, and the only way that we can in law enforcement address that is to try to throw every resource that we’ve got into the war against drugs,” Webb said. “What we’re doing today it’s going to take a big step forward because we’re going to combine all of our resources and do the very best that we can with what our citizenry has given us to work with, and so I’d just like to say that I certainly appreciate all the efforts that everybody puts forward and together I think we can make a difference in our communities.”

Johnson noted the office is about more than simply prosecuting offenders. He emphasized the nonprofit group Align 9 aims to bring the district’s resources together in the fight against drugs.

“Even though we stand here as prosecutors, as law enforcement, there is another side to this story, and I don’t want you to leave from here today thinking, well, we’re just out to arrest people and put them in jail,” Johnson said. “We do more at our office to help keep people from going to jail as far as finding them resources, finding help for their families to correct the problems that they have going on (and) have developed through this addiction.”

DeBoer believes the additional agents should allow the DTF to handle a higher caseload.

“It allows us to actually spread out into the counties and perform the same role that we’re doing here in Loudon County as well as also gives us additional personnel in order to work multiple cases at one time,” he said.