SCSO narcotics operation raises questions: Part III

SHEILA A. MATHEWS :::

The GRIP received information from a confidential source alleging the Spalding County Sheriff’s Office Special Operations Unit in 2012 con­ducted an illegal operation involving the placement of a Global Position­ing System (GPS) tracker on a vehicle without court ordered authorization. The GRIP conducted an investigation based on that allegation and the fol­lowing is the second in a series of ar­ticles detailing its findings. Due to the nature of and dangers associated with narcotics investigations, The GRIP WILL NOT be identifying the citizens who were involved in this incident or the exact locations of the various ac­tivities involved in the operation.
Conflicting statements regarding details of a November 2012 Spalding County Sheriff’s Office Special Operations Unit narcotics operation in which a Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) tracker was placed on a vehicle leave unanswered questions.
Among the information The GRIP received was the vehicle’s tag number, and the alleged name and address of the owner, a female Spalding County resident.
The SCSO’s response to an initial Open Records request seeking information on the operation alleged the owner was a male confidential informant. It also stated the GPS tracker was never activated, which contradicted another piece of information The GRIP received from its confidential source – a 112-page tracker report indicating the device was active on the vehicle from Nov. 8-13, 2012.
Based on these contradictory statements, The GRIP sought further information. After requesting information from a separate law enforcement agency involving a vehicle bearing that same tag number, it was learned a traffic stop had been conducted earlier in 2012. The male driver of the vehicle at that time provided the officer with the same address The GRIP had been provided for the alleged female owner of the vehicle.
Further investigation revealed the male driver had been incarcerated by the State of Georgia. One of the charges for which he had served time was possession of methamphetamine. The crime commit date listed on the state of Georgia Offender Registry was Nov. 8, 2012 – the same date the tracker was placed on the vehicle he was known to have driven earlier that year.
With that information, The GRIP submitted to the SCSO an Open Records request for all case information involving that male subject for the month of November 2012. The results of that request included a report for a traffic stop conducted by Sgt. John Corley Nov. 8.
According to Corley’s report, he and Cpl. Howard Spitzer executed a traffic stop on the vehicle “around 7:28 p.m.” as the driver pulled into the driveway of her Griffin residence “because Corley saw that the front seat passenger was not wearing his seat belt and that he was (name and date of birth), who Corley had a warrant on for possession of marijuana less than one ounce.”
Through a separate Open Records request, The GRIP later learned the wanted male subject cited as probable cause for the Nov. 8, 2012 traffic stop had been involved in a previous October 2012, traffic traffic stop on the same vehicle. It was at that time Corley alleged this male subject had claimed possession of a misdemeanor quantity of marijuana. Records indicate a warrant for his arrest was not then taken, but was obtained more just over one month later and just prior to the traffic stop that resulted in the GPS tracker being placed on the vehicle involved in both incidents.
Corley’s report states the driver voluntarily consented to a vehicular search during the Nov. 8, 2012 traffic stop, resulting in narcotics agents locating a “small clear tied up corner baggie of suspected methamphetamine in the floorboard.”
Corley alleged the baggie of suspected methamphetamine was discovered in the rear of the vehicle in the vicinity of the male subject who was later imprisoned as a result of the traffic stop. Seated in the back seat next to the male was a female learned to be related, also the woman The GRIP’s confidential source previously identified as the vehicle’s owner.
The report also stated, “Both subjects showed interest in assisting with some drug investigations so Corley listened to what they had to say. Both (names of male and female subjects) gave some names of some meth dealers that Corley was interested in arresting. While Corley was talking to (male subject) away from his mother, (male subject) stated that the meth was not his that it was his mother’s but he would still be to assist on some drug investigations to help his mother out. Since (male and female subjects) showed interest in assisting with some drug investigations, they were not charged with possession of methamphetamine at the time.”
Corley reported he continued to speak with the male and female subject “for approximately a month… but they never did assist with any drug arrest.”
At no time in his report did Corley document placing the GPS tracker on the vehicle or cite having received authorization to place it on the vehicle that, but the tracker report indicates it was activated at a separate location a few miles away from the site of the traffic stop five minutes after the approximate time listed for the traffic stop.
After obtaining the report on the initial traffic stop – a report from which the Sheriff’s Office did not redact any information pertaining to the male and female subjects offering to provide agents with assistance in other methamphetamine cases – The GRIP submitted a request for the two individuals’ Confidential Informant packets, which are required to be maintained on subjects working for narcotics agents in that capacity.
According to the SCSO’s official response emailed by Lt. Laurie Littlejohn, “There are no packets, documents, reports, photographs, videos or any other information relating to (male and female subjects’ names) as confidential informants. They have never provided any information that led to the seizure of any illegal substance nor have they ever provided information that led to the arrest of any individual.”
In response to another Open Records request from The GRIP in which information pertaining to the placement of the tracker was sought, Littlejohn reported, “I have made contact with members of the Special Operations Unit and they advise there is no documentation that indicates a time or location as to the tracker being placed on a vehicle bearing Georgia license plate (number).”
In response to all requests seeking any specific records related to the use of the GPS tracker on this vehicle, the Spalding County Sheriff’s Office has alleged no records whatsoever exist.
Publisher’s note: In its Jan. 11, 2016, edition, The GRIP will detail multiple official and contradictory statements made by the Sheriff’s Office in relation to this narcotic operation as well as delve into how those statements correlate with policies and procedures.

To read the first two articles in this series, please follow these links:

https://the-grip.net/2015/11/25/sheriffs-office-narcotics-unit-investigation-raises-questions/

https://the-grip.net/2015/12/09/sheriffs-office-narcotics-operation-raises-questions-part-ii/

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