West Alabama Narcotics Task Force carries out raids on, off-campus
Sixty-one students were arrested Tuesday morning as part of what Tuscaloosa Police Chief Steve Anderson called a “record” operation to carry out 74 total arrests on and near the University of Alabama campus.
A coalition of law enforcement, including officers from the Tuscaloosa Police Department, the University of Alabama Police Department, the U.S. Marshals, the Northport Police Department and the Tuscaloosa County Sheriff’s Office began raids at 4 a.m. and continued through the day.
“From people who have been associated with this task force for over thirty years, in talking to them, they tell me that, yes, this is a record,” Anderson said in a press conference held at the Tuscaloosa Police Department at 3 p.m. Tuesday.
The West Alabama Narcotics Task Force carried out the investigation over two months and used confidential informants, according to Anderson. The University cooperated with the investigation as necessary.
“We used individuals known as confidential informants to go in and make purchases for us,” Anderson said. “There was not necessarily a hub, but there was some activity going on on the campus.”
Anderson said the 74 people were arrested on 183 charges, mostly centered on the sale and possession of marijuana. A small number of arrests were made for cocaine, ecstasy and LSD, Anderson said. Three weapons were also seized.
Raids occurred in several buildings on- and off-campus, according to a University spokeswoman.
One student, Jake Wilt, was waiting for a friend in the lobby of Ridgecrest South at 5:30 a.m. and said he saw sheriff’s deputies escorting several students out of the dorm in handcuffs.
“There were about 7-10 officers, all wearing bullet proof vests with hand guns strapped to their thigh,” he said. “Two were just wearing street clothes with badges around their necks, and they were escorting about six students, all in handcuffs.”
The deputies, Wilt said, were also carrying bags filled with what he believed was evidence.
“I saw about five paper bags about the size of two standard lunch bags, all filled with stuff,” Wilt said. “Three officers ran to the court yard behind the residence hall saying they saw one of the students throwing items out the window and came back in with two more bags filled. All I could really smell was the intense odor of weed.”
UA President Judy Bonner sent a campus-wide email through the UANews listserv explaining the raids at 3:51 p.m.
“UA has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to the sale or distribution of drugs, on or off campus, and we will continue to vigorously enforce that policy,” Bonner said in the email. “These students represent a small group of UA students. UA will review our current policies and practices to ensure that we are doing all we can to educate students to make the best decisions they can and that we are providing an environment that is conducive to learning.”
Bonner also condemned drug use in the University community.
“The University is extremely disappointed when students make choices about substance abuse that can have such a significant and negative impact on their lives and others, including their families, their friends, other students and this University,” she said.
At TPD’s press conference, Anderson said law enforcement in the area wanted to send a clear message to anyone dealing drugs.
“If we discover who they are, we are going to come after them,” he said. “Although a lot people consider it to be a harmless drug, it is still illegal to possess it, sell it, distribute it in the state of Alabama. Therefore, it is against the law. We are still going to enforce the law, no matter how harmless people think it is.”
The West Alabama Narcotic Task Force
The West Alabama Narcotics Task Force is a unit of more than a dozen officers from the Tuscaloosa Police Department, the County Sheriff’s Office, the Northport Police Department and one representative from the University of Alabama Police Department. They are responsible for all narcotics investigations in Tuscaloosa County.
TPD Police Chief Steven Anderson said Tuesday that informants were used to identify targets of the raid. The practice is common for the task force. In an interview last March, Captain Jeff Snyder, commander of the task force until November of last year, called informants the lifeblood of the task force, and said without them the unit could not function.
The task force headed up the two-months-long investigation that resulted in Tuesday’s raids on and off campus. In 2011, task force investigators took 2,318 cases that produced 1,596 defendants, an increase from 2010, when they handled 2,075 cases that produced 1,536 defendants.
The task force was the subject of an FBI investigation in December because of discrepancies in their accounting processes. An audit was made of their accounting in November following Snyder’s retirement and the assignment of a new commander to lead the unit. The FBI did not return calls for comment about the status of the investigation or any results that came from it before press time.
The following lists contain the names and charges for those involved in the drug raids carried out on Tuesday. The list was provided by TPD at the 3 p.m. press conference.
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