“Operation Option Three” launched

Notice the handcuffed child in background

Drug king-pin, others arrested last Thursday

The final phase of a 19 month investigation into illegal drug activities in LaSalle Parish was launched before dawn last Thursday morning when about 75 law officers from nine agencies combined efforts to arrest a high-level drug dealer and others during pre-dawn raids called “Operation Option Three”.

When Scott Franklin ran for Sheriff two years ago, he campaigned on a three-phase option for drug dealers: you either quit dealing drugs, you leave LaSalle Parish, or you go to jail. The slogan on his campaign literature simply stated: “Quit, Move, or Go to Jail.’

After being elected as Sheriff of LaSalle Parish in October 2007, he was allowed to take over the day to day operations of the sheriff’s department in November that year as Chief Executive Officer and that was when he launched an investigation by the department that climaxed last Thursday.

When he stood before more than 75 officers from nine different departments at 4 a.m. last Thursday morning at the Jena Rodeo building at the Jena fairgrounds to get them ready for the ensuing raids, he told those officers of the day’s mission.

“We’re going into neighborhoods that are being controlled by drug dealers,” Franklin said. “I want to give them back their neighborhoods and return to them a safer neighborhood.”

“Operation Option Three” targeted a high-level drug trafficker and money launderer, those in the man’s drug ring and other lower-level dealers.

Narcotic investigators with the La- Salle Parish Sheriff’s Department, led by Narcotic Chief Robert Terral, along with assistance from the Louisiana State Police, had determined that 37- year-old Darren “Nunni” Dewayne Brown and his “ring” have been supplying LaSalle, Grant and Catahoula parishes with about 80 percent of their illegal narcotics, Sheriff Franklin said.

Brown reportedly would bring in large supplies of drugs from Houston, Texas, and then distribute them to his “lieutenants” who would then distribute them to lower-level dealers, officers said. His influence in the drug trade has been felt in at least eight surrounding parishes.

Franklin said, “Let me put it to you this way, when the man says ‘we don’t sell dope today,’ dope wouldn’t get sold. That is how much influence Brown had on the drug trade in the area.”

Authorities said Brown had an operation that delivered illegal drugs in eight Louisiana parishes and arranged for drugs to be trafficked from Houston to as far east as North Carolina.

The business was so lucrative that Brown’s wife once deposited $30,000 in the bank in one week, Franklin said. Deposits of $10,000 were commonplace.

The Sheriff said narcotic agents started investigating Brown more than 18 months ago after getting information that he had an extravagant lifestyle while reporting poverty level income. “He was living way beyond his means,” Franklin said.

A dozen arrests were made early Thursday, and another suspect turned himself in to authorities that night. Many more arrests are expected to be made in connection with the investigation in days to come as officers locate the suspects or when they return to the area.

The operation involved two different “strikes” with the first beginning at 5 a.m. Five different teams hit five targets at the exact same time. Those five suspects were chosen for either their violent or aggressive history or the level of drug trade in which they were involved, police said.

The Sheriff told the 4 a.m. gathering of officers, “This is serious business we’re fixing to do. If you think this is a training exercise or if you think these are good ole boys from redneck country and we’re just going to good ole boy them into handcuffs, you’re wrong. These people have nothing to lose. And they know the stakes are high.”

State Police SWAT teams made up two of the entry teams; two teams were from the U.S. Marshals Fugitive Task Force; and the fifth team was headed by the Pineville Police SWAT team.

In each team were entry officers and search teams. Once the entry teams entered the homes, secured the occupants, then the search teams entered and started to gather and document the evidence.

Things remained calm throughout the neighborhood during the complete operation as officers flooded the streets, but officers were prepared for a much more chaotic and adversarial situation should that have occurred.

Sheriff Franklin ordered the teams to secure the area, block off the streets and not allow vehicles or foot traffic to penetrate the barriers.

He said officers from the LaSalle Parish Sheriff’s Department could not go out on a typical day to make an arrest without being swarmed by foot traffic and people trying to interrupt their work.

“Today we were prepared for a lot of that, but it has been absolutely quiet,” Franklin said later in the morning. “That shows you the caliber of people we put in jail today. The people in this community want their community back, and we gave it back to them today.”

Arrested in the first wave of Operation Option Three were the following:

Darren “Nunni” Dewayne Brown, 37, all charges are federal including two counts of distribution of Meth (greater than 50 grams), with other charges, including money laundering, pending. He was scheduled to appear at a detainer hearing in Federal Court in Alexandria on Tuesday of this week. He was turned over to federal authorities following his arrest Thursday.

Samuel Howard, III, 37; charged with distribution of CDS II (Cocaine), three counts; total bond set at $200,000.

Michael D. Patterson, 34; charged with distribution of CDS II (Methamphetamine), five counts; total bond set at $300,000.

Adrian Carlinsky Richardson, 34; charged with distribution of CDS I (Marijuana); and distribution of CDS II (Cocaine), two counts; total bond set at $250,000.

Catrinia Lynette Wallace, 29; charged with distribution of CDS II (Cocaine); total bond set at $150,000.

Others arrested and their charges and bonds included:

Evan D. Brown, 23; charged with probation violation and driving under suspension; total bond set at $1,000, plus payment of all court costs and fines.

Gabriel Hammock, 31; charged with possession of marijuana, second offense; total bond set at $20,000.

Marcus Howard, 23; charged with criminal conspiracy to distribute CDS II (Cocaine); and distribution of CDS II (Cocaine); total bond set at $50,000.

Tranesha Johnson, 28; charged with distribution of CDS II (Cocaine); and resisting an officer; total bond set at $31,500.

Termaine Lee, 22; charged with distribution of CDS II (Cocaine), six counts; distribution of CDS I (Marijuana); total bond set at $210,000.

Devin Lofton, 25; charged with distribution of CDS III; total bond set at $50,000.

Anthony Robehmed, 22; charged with possession of marijuana, second offense; total bond set at $5,000.

Sedrick Wilson, 34; charged with distribution of CDS II (Cocaine), and distribution of CDS III; total bond set at $250,000.

Judge Christopher Peters of the 28th Judicial District, set bonds during a brief session of court held Friday morning. Sheriff Franklin said cash bonds for all felony drug charges is required and are the only bonds that will be accepted.

A small fire broke out in one of the homes from a candle that was burning, officials said. The fire was quickly contained and no one was hurt. However, the suspect in the home – Samuel Howard – resisted arrest and officers used a Taser stun gun to get him under control.

Officers seized a Hummer, a Mercedes Benz and other expensive vehicles, ATVs, a home and the barber shop and game room Brown operated during the raid. Brown reportedly spent more than $100,000 on the barber shop/game room but had no mortgage and had a large addition to his trailer home that was bigger than the trailer itself. Authorities said the vehicles and shop was paid for with assets from the drug business.

LaSalle Chief Deputy Sheriff Jimmy Arbogast pointed out that the length of the investigation and the cooperation of other agencies helped with its success.

“These arrests are the result of a lengthy investigation,” he said. “The main thing we wanted to do was return the community back to the law abiding citizens.

Sheriff Franklin said the investigation was a tricky one because high-level dealers like Brown insulate themselves from the general public, making it difficult for investigators to get undercover officers inside the circle.

“In this operation, we have worked from the bottom up getting people within Brown’s circle to turn against him and provide the Sheriff’s Department with the information needed to make the investigation a success,” Franklin said.

Although Brown and the other alleged major drug suppliers in the area have been put behind bars and are likely to face life or lengthy sentences, the Sheriff said he knows eventually someone will take their places.

“There’s an addiction there, and it is a system of supply and demand,” he said. “But to anyone out there thinking about stepping up and trying to take his (Brown’s) place, think about how careful ‘Nunni’ was and look at what happened to him.”

Narcotic Chief Terral said he wanted to let all those law abiding citizens who have been asking about what the department has been doing lately about the drug traffic to know that an investigation of this magnitude takes time.

“It’s something that cannot be done overnight, but we have been working almost non-stop for the past 17 months on these cases,” he said. “Now we can turn our attention to other cases that we know are out there and need our attention. We certainly appreciate your patience and understanding.”

During the day, Franklin paused several times to give interviews to the various news media representatives on hand. At one point he noted, “the losers today are the children of these drug dealers. They have lost fathers and mothers today, and some for a very long time. I would encourage each of them to seek ways to better their lives through school, church and community activities so they won’t end up like their parents.”

Franklin said he wanted to thank the members of his narcotic team, all his deputies and office staff who assisted with this investigation, and all those men and women who became a part of Operation Option Three last Thursday.

Officers from these nine departments assisted with the raids last week: ATF, FBI, State Police, Probation and Parole, Sheriff’s Task Force, U.S. Marshal’s Task Force, Pineville Police SWAT team, Concordia Sheriff’s Department, and the LaSalle Parish Sheriff’s Department.

Franklin also commended District Attorney J. Reed Walters for his assistance during the investigation and for working closely with the sheriff’s department. He also expressed his thanks to Clerk of Court Steve Andrews who came to the Rodeo building early Thursday morning to administer oaths of office to those who needed it.

“This is a team effort and it takes everyone involved in law enforcement, including the D.A., Judge and others, to be successful,” he noted. “And my thanks go out to all these dedicated men and women.”

This is part of the July 15, 2009 online edition of The Jena Times.

Operation 3rd Option

Features » October 12, 2007

A Mother’s March For Justice

Jena Six mother Tina Jones talks about clearing the reputation of her son Bryant Purvis

By Christopher Weber

Ms. T, received death threats in 2007 & '08 in Jena's time. She was followed & stopped in the back-roads of LaSalle parish,subtly threatened.

For Tina Jones, life was plenty busy before her oldest son became one of the now famous Jena Six. Jones, a nursing assistant and mother of two boys, Bryant Purvis, 17, and Dyrek Jones, 7, has become a tireless activist since Dec. 5, 2006, when Bryant was expelled from Jena

High School in Jena, La. Working closely with the other Jena Six parents, Jones has helped organize a local chapter of the NAACP, has reached out to the local and national media, and has worked to speed up her son’s hearing and trial.

Bryant Purvis, along with five other black students, originally faced charges of attempted second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder, after school officials alleged that the six boys attacked a white classmate and beat him unconscious. Purvis denies being involved but is now awaiting trial.

It all started when several black students sat under a tree at the high school where white students normally gathered. The next day, three nooses hung from the tree. Three months of racial tensions followed, culminating in a fight on school grounds on Dec. 4, 2006.

National support for the Jena Six has continued to grow. A rally took place in Jena on Sept. 20, with more than 15,000 protesters marching to the courthouse with the families.

As In These Times went to press, Purvis was the only member of the Jena Six yet to be arraigned. If convicted, he faces 80 years-to-life in prison. One hopeful sign is that Mychal Bell, the first of the six to be tried, had his conviction thrown out. He was released on bail on Sept. 27, after 10 months behind bars.

In These Times talked with Jones about the case that has come to resonate beyond Jena and the responsibilities she’s assumed as a civil rights spokesperson.

How would you describe your son Bryant?

Bryant was an honor student throughout his first three years of high school. He also played basketball and football, but his main thing was basketball. Hopefully, he’ll get to graduate and go to college and play basketball. If not, he wants to become a coach.

He’s also a people person. When people see his car or somebody finds out he’s here, everybody just walks over to visit.

When did you first know that your son might face legal trouble because of the events at the high school?

Bryant came home and told me that there was a fight at school and that several kids were arrested. Lo and behold, the next day when I get to work, my aunt comes and tells me that Bryant was at the courthouse. I didn’t think it was anything related to the fight. I thought something else had happened.

I rushed down there and they told me that Bryant had been charged.

You were shocked to hear Bryant was being charged. Was Bryant as surprised as you were?

He was very surprised, because he wasn’t in the fight at all. Bryant wasn’t involved in anything that led up to the fight.

It took everybody a day or two to get over the shock of what they [local law enforcement] were doing to these kids. Then the parents of the six students got together and looked online, trying to find ways to help get them out of this mess. [Local radio host] Tony Brown helped get the word out, and he found several lawyers who were interested in helping with the case. That’s how I found my lawyer.

Bryant hasn’t even been arraigned, and it’s going on a year since he was charged. My lawyer filed motions to arraign Bryant, drop the charges or produce evidence. We have a court date set for Nov. 7.

You feel the proceedings have been dragged out?

Absolutely. My lawyer feels that the authorities feel Bryant had nothing to do with the fight and are not bringing him to court because they don’t have anything to work with. We probably wouldn’t have a court date now if my lawyer hadn’t filed these motions. Other than charging him, they haven’t done anything with the case.

How has the delay affected you?

That’s a horrible feeling, to wake up every morning and know that your son has been charged with attempted murder and know that the rest of his life could be decided by a district attorney. All the help and all these people coming in to Jena makes you feel better. But at the end of the day when you go to bed, or when you wake up the next morning, those charges are still facing you. Until they go away, I’m not going to feel relief.

You have talked widely about your son’s experience and the implications it has on civil rights. Has the case become a full-time job?

It could be. We just turn down a lot of stuff. I just came back last night from Washington, D.C. The students’ parents went to the Children’s Defense Fund there. We had a panel and a discussion on the case. Everybody wants us to come in. They want to hear our story and have a question-and-answer session.

There’s something that needs to be done every day. I have a 7-year-old too. I can’t be gone all the time. They invited us to the 50th anniversary of the Little Rock Nine [the first nine students who integrated Central High School in Little Rock, Ark.]. We are supposed to do that this weekend. We were supposed to have done the Montel Williams Show this week and Dr. Phil’s show. We missed all that because all the families were in Washington. We just can’t be everywhere.

Does your younger son understand what’s going on?

I don’t know that he understands the significance. When I’ll talk to him, he’ll say, “Momma, the Jena Six stuff was on television, and they were talking about you.” I don’t sit down and talk to him about it. He’s only 7 years old. Maybe when he’s older.

After we had the rally [on Sept. 20], everybody started getting these threatening phone calls. It’s kinda scary. So if somebody’s knocking on the door, my young son Dyrek looks scared. If the phone rings, he thinks it’s one of those phone calls.

How safe do you feel right now in Jena?

I’m not going to say I feel threatened, but I am concerned. A lot of the calls, I’m sure, are pranks. But at the same time, you don’t take that stuff lightly. I’m aware of my surroundings when I go out and go places. If I feel like I need security, I will call and have someone take me where I need to go or follow me where I need to go.

Some of us have gotten hate mail. We’re all concerned about that. We’re all determined to continue on until some kind of justice is won.

As of now, Bryant is out on bail and still waiting to be arraigned. You’ve found a lawyer to represent him once charges are presented at the hearing. What do you expect to come out of the court cases?

With the eyes of the nation on this town, you’re always hopeful. They can’t just throw out any convenient excuse without us fighting or taking the necessary steps to have it overturned. It’s going to be a long, drawn-out case. I think that at the end of the day—or the end of trial—we should get some kind of justice. But it may take us a long time to get there.

When we first started this, I never dreamed in a million years that it would get this kind of attention. We were just reaching out for help. To have this blow out into a huge, huge, huge, huge, huge story is beyond me.

Sometimes I think, “What in the world have I gotten myself into?” We’re all just normal people working to make a living and take care of our kids. To be dragged into something that you really hadn’t intended to get to this point—it’s crazy. I’m hopeful it will make a difference though.

What impact did the Sept. 20 rally have?

Just to know that thousands of people were with us, supporting the cause—that was a great feeling. I hadn’t felt so happy since all this happened with my son, until this particular day.

As we were marching up to the school, if you turned around, all you could see was people. That was a beautiful sight—to see that many people behind you. Everything seemed positive about the whole ordeal.

But then you wake up Friday morning after the rally, and people are calling, looking for Bryant, threatening, calling you names. That was a setback for me. It took me a day to get over it. I thought, ‘Oh my God, is it worth this? Is it worth my life?’

Then I realized that I’m fighting for my son. I know a lot of people have lost their lives for different causes. At the end of the day, I have to keep fighting for my son regardless of how the situation turns out. They’re not going to run me into a corner.

Is there anything you would like people to know?

Just to stay behind us, support us. When we have court dates, please come out and support us. The more people we have, the more we feel we’re being supported.

If readers want to show their support for the Jena Six, Jones suggests they contact Color of Change (www.ColorOfChange.org) or the LaSalle Parish NAACP (Catrina Wallace, secretary, 318-419-6441).