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Hall DA drops charges against 16 in 2020 Gainesville drug bust. Sheriff opposes decision, feels blindsided
0821DRUGS
Charges were dropped in November against 16 people from a 2020 drug bust in Gainesville. Pictured is $30,000 in cash, handguns and drugs seized in the raid. (Courtesy Hall County Sheriff's Office)

Previous story: The District Attorney’s Office has dropped charges against 16 defendants in a massive drug investigation going back to 2019, citing a lack of evidence. 

But Hall County Sheriff Gerald Couch disagrees with the decision, saying Friday that there is plenty of evidence to move forward with the case. 

“I feel certain we have more than enough evidence to prosecute in state court right now,” he said. “Why the district attorney doesn't pursue the charges, I have no idea. But I'll tell you, as sheriff, I’m going to make sure that everything that we can do is pursued to the limit and to make sure that we have the evidence that we need to prosecute these criminals for putting this poison in our society.”

Couch also said he was blindsided by the news that the charges had been dropped, saying District Attorney Lee Darragh never told him. He said he received an email from Darragh in July and that was the last he heard from him about the case. 

“That’s inexcusable,” he said. “I’m the sheriff of Hall County and I should know where we stand with our cases, especially one of such magnitude.” 

Northeastern Judicial Circuit District Attorney Lee Darragh responded in a written statement: “While I have not personally been in contact with the Sheriff himself in some time regarding this case, our office has had significant contact with the primary investigator in the matter. I’m sure the Sheriff was personally caught off guard by the dismissal, and that I regret. I do not intend to be at loggerheads with the Sheriff, a man of integrity who I much respect and with whom I’ve worked very closely for over thirty years. The dismissals in this case do not legally end the case, which could potentially be recharged. I remain ready and willing to work with the Sheriff’s office toward a successful prosecution.” 

Couch spoke highly of Darragh and his office, but said they have never been more sharply at odds. 

“Sometimes in the course of business you butt heads and you have disagreements, and this is one of those,” he said. “I have a disagreement with him on this particular issue. I think we could go a lot farther with Black and Cooley Drive, and I think they deserve better.”

08222020 DRUGS 3.jpg
Lee Darragh, District Attorney for the Northeastern Judicial Circuit, speaks during a press conference Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020, at the Hall County Sheriff's Office announcing the outcome of a major drug trafficking investigation conducted by the Gainesville/Hall County Multi-Agency Narcotics Squad recovering $30,0000 in cash and weapons. Officials announced that charges against 16 people have been dropped, citing a lack of evidence. - photo by Scott Rogers
‘Operation Long Time Coming’

After a year of investigation, the Hall County Sheriff’s Office announced on Aug. 20, 2020 that the drug organization earned roughly $1.4 million per year “by trafficking crack cocaine, synthetic marijuana and prescription pills.”

Anonymous complaints had come in about drugs being sold through the windows of a Black Drive home. “According to agents, drug dealers at the home averaged a minimum of 20 transactions an hour, from early in the morning until late at night, seven days a week,” according to the Sheriff’s Office.

The bust was big news.

The Multi-Agency Narcotics Squad announced the results of a Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act operation known as “Operation Long Time Coming,” its first as the lead investigative agency. It was considered one of the largest cases for the MANS unit, now known as the Special Investigations Unit. They reported there was $1.4 million per year in drug profits at a home on Black Drive in Gainesville. After the arrests, sheriff’s officials spoke about $30,000 in cash and guns that had been seized. Couch held a press conference about the bust with Darragh and Gainesville Police Chief Jay Parrish. 

Now, the charges have been dropped. 

Documents filed by the prosecution say there is not enough evidence for an indictment.

Hall County Superior Court Judge Bonnie Oliver dismissed the cases for three of the co-defendants, following motions that claimed the defendants’ rights to a speedy trial were violated. 

Charges for the remaining 13 cases were also dismissed on Nov. 28.  

“Out of an abundance of caution, the State is dismissing the charges on the remaining defendants without prejudice,” according to Darragh’s dismissal. “Should the Sheriff’s Office complete a report which contains sufficient evidence to meet the State’s standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt at trial, the Sheriff’s Office can then take new warrants as they deem appropriate.”

The Times has confirmed the dismissal of charges for Kavarus Lashaund Brown,Quincy Tyrone Buffington, Brandon Lamont Butler, Robert Lamont Butler, Corey Jaswun Cantrell, Jr., Marquez Sanchez Cantrell, Rogers Eugene Cantrell, Erica Nicole Glenn, Nikki Glenn, Hyziher Consuela Glenn, Peyton Renia Hood, Vinson Edward Rucker, Irvin Lamar Simpson, Vanessa Diane Thompson, Antwane Sentell Thurmond and Anthony Tyrone Jones. 

Oliver granted dismissals based on the speedy trial issue for Brown, Hyziher Glenn and Anthony Jones.


Lack of evidence

Darragh wrote in his dismissal that the lead investigator for the Sheriff’s Office left the agency before completing a report on the case.

“The State does not have the information it needs to proceed with an indictment on the charges on this multiple co-defendant case, although the State has requested a completed report with detailed information as to each defendant’s participation and involvement on multiple occasions,” according to Darragh’s order.

But Couch said that is not true. 

“He supplied several reports, more than enough to prosecute this case,” he said. 

Couch acknowledged that two of his sources in the investigation have died, which has had a “huge” negative impact on the case. But he still believes there is enough evidence to prosecute. 

Couch said there is audio and video evidence of drug dealing. 

“Sometimes you have to go present evidence in front of a judge and jury, and that's what I believe that you should do from time to time,” he said. "That's the way our system works and I fully believe in it.” 

Erica Glenn’s defense attorney, Lawrence Lewis, had filed a motion to dismiss, writing that Glenn has lost “employment opportunities and has suffered undue anxiety.”

“The defendant’s liberty has been strictly limited and impacted by the delays in the case,” Lewis wrote.

Speaking for her cousins, Erica, Nikki and Hyziher Glenn, Champale Brown, a pastor at a church in Elberton, told The Times the charges against her cousins were unfounded and is happy they have been dismissed.

“These three college-educated women were wrongfully accused, and they lost a lot during this process,” she said. “They never had any incidents of any type of illegal activities, anything throughout their life.”

In an interview with The Times, Lewis explained how his client has suffered: “If you’re making plans for Thanksgiving, Christmas, (Erica Glenn) couldn’t do that for the last two years, and (her and her family) live on the same block. … So you can see your sister’s house, but you can’t go over and say hello to your sister. That’s got to be hard.”

More than two years after Glenn’s arrest, Lewis said he still has not seen a police report. “I have absolutely no clue what the case was about,” he said.