Sheriff's Office works to take down "criminal network"

By Lindsey Connell - bio | email

COLUMBUS, GA (WXTX) -  They are sections of the city authorities say have been havens for crime for 20 years- Bibb City and North Highland.

Previous attempts to crack down on drugs and prostitution in those areas have not been successful. Undercover deputies would bust a few drug dealers at a time, only to have them replaced by others.

So the Muscogee County Sheriff's Office decided to try something new, fueled by countless complaints from residents and business owners in that part of town.

Investigators say people from all over the city go there for meth, crack cocaine, prescription pills and prostitutes.

They specifically targeted a triangular area- 18th Street to Manchester Expressway and Veterans Parkway over to the Chattahoochee River.

The crack down happened in phases. At first, the area was saturated with marked patrol cars and that forced criminals to go underground- doing their illegal business in backyards and other less obvious locations.

For five months, undercover officers worked with informants and imbedded themselves in the area so they find as many street-level drug dealers as they could.

On Wednesday, a WTVM crew rode with investigators as they started making some 75 arrests in the case. Three different crews made up of marked and unmarked cars were part of the round-up.

"You've got an elementary school here with all these street level folks selling drugs and prostitution. Unfortunately, these kids grow up seeing a lot," said Lieutenant Steve Sikes, who oversees the Investigative Division for the Sheriff's Office.

And it's behind Fox Elementary School where we cased out an attempted murder suspect, a fugitive from Alabama. No one's home and deputies say they're headed back to the house. At at another home on Neill Drive, deputies go in with their guns drawn.

Tony Johnson is arrested on a felony probation violation for Obstruction of an Officer. At first, the officers didn't think anyone was home but neighbors told them they had not seen Johnson leave.

"We found the subject we were looking for hiding beside his bed under some covers," Sikes said.

Our cameras continued to roll as one after another, men and women were arrested- all wanted in connection with what officials are calling a criminal network.

"What we want to do here is give this community back to the citizens who have lived up here and worked in this area for years and who are basically held hostage by these criminals," Sikes added.

Muscogee County Sheriff's Officials say this new method is how they plan to do drug operations from now on across the city.

So far, deputies have arrested 40 people in Bibb City and North highland and the investigation is still ongoing.

Major Mike Massey says deputies have also identified a number of abandoned houses in the area that prostitutes and drug dealers are operating out of. They are working to get the locations added to the city's demolition list.

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