DECATUR, AL (WAFF) - An alleged drug house was busted in a Decatur neighborhood packed with families and now, four people are facing charges.
The Morgan County sheriff says it's more proof that the opioid crisis is wreaking havoc on all corners of society.
Tips led the Morgan County Drug Task Force to a home on Westmead Drive. A month-long investigation was launched and Sheriff Ana Franklin says enough probable cause was gathered to execute a search warrant on Dec. 28.
"We would like to thank the citizens of Morgan County. They continue to give us tips and things that we need to be aware of in our community. They are our eyes and ears for our county. This started as tips that came in about drug activity, lots of traffic in and out, the normal things you look for," Sheriff Franklin said.
The task force worked with the Decatur Police Department SWAT team on the drug raid and arrested Joetta Hatton Albano, 60, who was identified as the homeowner and who the sheriff called the "main suspect" in the investigation. She was charged with five counts of unlawful possession of a controlled substance-methamphetamine, cocaine, hydrocodone, morphine, and suboxone. She was booked into the Morgan County Jail with a $125,000 bond.
Three other people were at the home at the time of the bust and the sheriff says they were involved in drug transactions. Robert Blake Styles was arrested and charged with unlawful possession of a controlled substance-methamphetamine, possession of drug paraphernalia, and second-degree possession of marijuana. He was booked into the Morgan County Jail with a $1,600 bond.
Jesse Lee Baker was arrested and charged with unlawful possession of a controlled substance-methamphetamine, possession of drug paraphernalia, and second-degree possession of marijuana. He was booked into the Morgan County Jail with a $1,600 bond.
Claire Cecille Montgomery was arrested and charged with loitering in a drug house. She was booked into the Morgan County Jail with a $300 bond.
"We've have had such a big push on the opioid crisis over the past year and particularly over the last several months, in seeing the trafficking that is coming through in pills as well as heroin. That was one of the initial contact information that we had, was that pills and assorted types of pharmaceuticals were big pushed out of that house and of course, that's what we found when we got there," Franklin said.
She applauded residents who reached out to her agency with concerns.
"When you see activity like this, it takes us a while. We have to get the probable cause to execute these search warrants but we are listening and we are attempting to try to take this out of your neighborhood," she added.
It was a busy 2017 for the drug task force and 2018 is shaping up to be another big year for the narcotics agents. They've seen a 90% reduction in meth labs due to their hard-hitting tactics but "Ice" is a huge problem now and the opioid issue continues to be a national crisis.
"We see this in every socioeconomic level, and addiction as well. As long as there is a market for this type of thing, there are going to be people who try to gain from their misery," Franklin said.
Despite their extremely heavy caseload in Morgan County, Sheriff Franklin says the future of the drug task force remains unclear. Grant money from the state is no longer available and she continues to push for support from the county moving forward.
Hartselle had to pull out of the task force because of funding issues and not being able to pay overtime.
"We went from four agents to three. Now I've had to pull someone off the road and that limits productivity on a regular patrol beat and put them in narcotics because of the overwhelming amount of work that's being done by them. So it's in an even worse state than it was a year ago having lost some of the resources due to the funding cuts. We're going to continue to look for ways to help fund it," the sheriff explained.
There's no money for overtime this year and the next fiscal year is totally up in the air.
"We are right in the center of what is a high trafficking area. So we are going to continue to do what we need to do to make our community safe but funding is a huge issue for us," Franklin said.She says so far, no additional funding has been allotted from the county which could lead to some important conversations.
"We will see what happens in the next year if they decide to not fund narcotics. We will have to meet and discuss that and address it because that cannot be a possibility for this community," she said.
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