Joint effort takes drugs and firearms off streets

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Blytheville Chief of Police Ross Thompson opened a Wednesday afternoon press conference calling the H.I.T.S. (High Intensity Trafficking Suppression) operation monumental.

Pictured at the podium is Christopher R. Thyer, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas. Also pictured are Marino F. Vidoli, Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Special Agent in Charge; Scott Ellington, District Prosecuting Attorney for Arkansas's Second Judicial District; Mississippi County Sheriff Dale Cook; Blytheville Chief of Police Ross Thompson and other officers from Missouri and northeast Arkansas.

State and federal investigators joined forces with the local law enforcement agencies resulting in nearly 100 people arrested on drugs and weapons charges in southeast Missouri and northeast Arkansas early Wednesday morning.

Along with local law enforcement officers from Arkansas and Missouri, Christopher Thyer, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas; Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Special Agent in Charge, Marino F. Vidoli, of Kansas City, Mo.; and District Prosecuting Attorney for Arkansas's Second Judicial District Scott Ellington were in Blytheville commending everyone involved in the success of the two year drug/firearm investigation.

Nineteen of the 125 defendants were from Blytheville charged with 91 different counts in Eastern Arkansas. Officials said 125 suspects in Arkansas and Missouri are facing charges of drugs and weapons.

U.S. Attorney Thyer said the investigation centered on trafficking of firearms and narcotics in Missouri and Arkansas. He said overall, the violent crime rate is down nationally.

U.S. Attorney Thyer said Mississippi County rates are not as good. Mississippi County has a violent crime rate of 81.5 per 10,000 people -- four times the national rate.

"It is not solely a Mississippi County issue," Thyer said. "Mississippi County is one of 53 of the 75 counties in Arkansas above the national average of violent crimes."

Thyer said the solution to correcting those numbers is local and state departments working together, putting their resources together.

"When we put our forces together we are a force multiplier," Thyer said. "Today's operation crossed state, local and federal lines. Criminals do not recognize those lines and neither should we."

As a result of the multi-jurisdictional effort, a total of 108 firearms, more than three pounds of methamphetamine, more than three pounds of crack cocaine/cocaine, more than 26 pounds of marijuana and numerous ecstasy and other narcotic pills were purchased or seized. Of the defendants being sought in the operation, 14 were previously in custody. Those not arrested on Wednesday are considered fugitives. Further, 29 defendants were previously charged and arrested during the two year investigation.

Thyer thanked ATF Special Agent in Charge Marino Vidoli and others. He introduced Vidoli who thanked everyone involved in the operation.

"We have taken a step forward on taking violent individuals off the street," Vidoli said. "There are others still out there. We are sending a strong message today. Our efforts got stronger and we will continue our efforts to go beyond the 125 individuals involved in various charges. There is more work to be done. We are committed to our efforts in Missouri and Arkansas. Again, thank all of our partners."

Of the 125 defendants, 52 are being prosecuted by the Pemiscot County Prosecuting Attorney's Office, 19 are being prosecuted by the Dunklin County Prosecuting Attorney's Office, 22 are being prosecuted by the United States Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Missouri, 19 are being prosecuted by the United States Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Arkansas and 14 are being prosecuted by the Arkansas Second Judicial District's Prosecuting Attorney's Office. One defendant is being prosecuted in two jurisdictions.

Agencies involved in the investigation include The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF); the Caruthersville (Mo.) Police Department; the Steele (Mo.) Police Department; the Bootheel Drug Task Force; the Arkansas Second Judicial Drug Task Force; the Kennett (Mo.) Police Department; the Hayti (Mo.) Police Department; the Pemiscot County (Mo.) Sheriff's Department; the Blytheville (Ark.) Police Department; the Osceola (Ark.) Police Department and the Mississippi County (Ark.) Sheriff's Department. This enforcement operation involved law enforcement officers from all of the investigating agencies along with the Arkansas State Police.

Scott Ellington, District Prosecuting Attorney for Arkansas Second Judicial District, thanked the neighbors to the north, ATF and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the cooperation in making the operation a success.

"I know the hard work our officers from the Second District Drug Task Force, working with the Blytheville and Osceola Police Departments and Mississippi County Sheriff's Office, put into this operation. I appreciate the many hours they spent away from their families and the risks they took to protect our community and make this happen."

Mississippi County Sheriff Dale Cook said the operation is the result of hundreds of man-hours.

"This operation is a direct result of cooperation of agencies working together making our community safer and protecting and making the streets safer for our children," Sheriff Cook said. "I have a commitment to do that. We have a great drug task force, prosecuting attorneys, and I appreciate the help from our partners in the north end, and all the law enforcement involved. Each is very important. I am most thankful that all of our officers came away from it safe, and no one was injured. We appreciate your sacrifices."

Blytheville Chief Thompson said it is about getting these guns and drugs off the streets and making the streets safer.

"We, Blytheville, Mississippi County, and Osceola, found out when we partnered together could get things done and then we partnered with ATF and now with our friends in Missouri with good results," Chief Thompson said. "We want to send the message the violence is going to stop."

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