Drug cases dismissed in Jones Co.; ex-deputies charged

Published 7:29 pm Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Prosecutors have dismissed 34 drug cases in Jones County after an investigation showed agents with the Southeast Mississippi Narcotics Task Force planted evidence on suspects or tampered with evidence.

“I think that we got all the cases involved in the task force and I don’t expect to seek dismissals of other cases because of the involvement of those former agents,” Assistant District Attorney J. Ronald Parrish said Monday.

Task force agents are also deputies in the sheriff’s department.

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“We could not go forward with the cases because there were problems with evidence tampering and planting evidence on some defendants,” Parrish said.

The cases were dismissed last month following an investigation of the task force.

The former task force members were to be in circuit court Tuesday to enter pleas to charges that include simple assault, obstruction of justice and conspiracy.

Parrish and Jones County Sheriff Larry Dykes said they would not be surprised if new drug cases are made against some of the defendants who escaped the charges.

“Some will be back in here before Christmas,” Dykes said.

Dykes said his department has formed a drug enforcement division.

“I’ve assigned two deputies and two investigators to this division because, when we look at the problems with thefts, a lot of thefts are connected to drugs,” Dykes said. “People steal to buy drugs.”

District Attorney Tony Buckley said former deputies Roger Williams, 44; Chris Smith, 34; and Randall Parker, 32; agreed Monday to waive their rights to a grand jury investigation and plead guilty to a variety of charges ranging from planting evidence to assaulting defendants and embezzling money.

“My office sought these pleas so that there would be a swift resolution to this matter. This allows my office and the sheriff’s office to get on with our regular business without a cloud hanging over our heads,” Buckley said.

The five-month investigation by the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation started in April after Dykes uncovered alleged wrongdoing by the deputies he assigned to the task force, Buckley said.

Buckley said there was no implication of wrongdoing from deputies assigned to the task force from Covington and Smith counties.

“There was never any hint of trouble involving them,” Dykes said. “But they have caused untold problems for my office and the district attorney’s office. This puts a cloud over all law enforcement.”

Williams, the task force commander, and Parker were dismissed in April, Dykes said. Smith was allowed to resign Thursday.

Prosecutors said Williams signed an agreement to plead guilty to seven charges including conspiracy to falsely arrest another for a felony, simple assault, embezzlement and obstructing justice.

Smith signed an agreement to plead guilty to seven charges including conspiracy to falsely arrest another for a felony, simple assault and obstructing justice.

Parker signed an agreement to plead guilty to six charges including conspiracy to falsely arrest another for a felony, obstructing justice and embezzlement. The agreement with prosecutors means Williams will get no more than 10 years in jail, while Parker and Smith face up to five years each.

Buckley said sentencing will be in January, and the three will be allowed to remain free on bond until then.

Jones County will not be involved in the formation of another drug task force, Dykes said. He said Covington and Smith counties probably will join another drug task force.