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Drug bust over in seconds

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By Lou Elliott Jones, Editor

Six months of planning and drug buys went up like a puff of smoke on Friday when more than 40 officers from seven state and federal agencies raided three homes in Chiefland.

Dubbed Operation Trick or Treat, officers from Chiefland and Gainesville police departments,  Levy, Alachua and Dixie counties, state Parole and Probation and the U.S. Marshal Office met at a location south of the city and made plans to enter as many as five homes and serve warrants for 85 felonies and 15 misdemeanors.

Planning for the raids started when undercover officers made drug buys from the individuals named in the warrants.  Levy County Sheriff Johnny Smith said, “These raids are the result of many months of work by these officers.”

The raids, which occurred at only three homes — including one in a public housing project — on the city's south side, were coordinated by the Levy County Drug Task Force. Media representatives from the Citizen, another newspaper and WCJB-TV20 news were invited to ride along with officers as they struck lightning fast at the two sites.

During the pre-raid briefing, officers were told about the locations they would be visiting, such as 420 S.E. 5th Ave.,  where the resident was known to have a pit bull dog chained at the residence and also an AK-47 rifle.

While the guns seized in the raids did not turn up an AK-47. The officers did confiscate two short-barrel 12-gauge shotguns, one .410-gauge shotgun, a .22 caliber derringer, a .38-caliber handgun and a .22-caliber revolver. Most of the weapons had seen better days, but nonetheless, resulted in charges for their owner. A seventh, unidentified weapon was also seized in the operation.

Officers also confiscated about $5,000 cash, powder cocaine and marijuana found in vehicles at the two homes raided on Southeast 5th Avenue.

    No one was at home in one of the houses, but at the other home, two people were in the home and a number of children were hanging around the house.

    When officers wearing armored jackets and carrying weapons started streaming into the yards and homes the children, all girls, started screaming and crying and dashed for protection at a parked truck.

    The officers were in the homes within seconds and two women officers were calming the girls and speaking with a neighbor who volunteered to take them to relatives in the neighborhood.

    Inside one home was Eddie Lee Latson, 29, of Chiefland,  and his girlfriend. She scooted out of the house only half dressed as officers struck while she was dressing after a shower. After the home and Latson were secured, she was allowed to go in and dress under the eye of a woman officer.

    But for the next two hours Latson's girlfriend, who denied having any knowledge of guns being in the house, sat on a wooden bench in the front yard. She was occasionally spoken to by officers and watched as they searched one of two vehicles in the yard, coming up with marijuana and cocaine in the trunk of one vehicle.

    Officers also searched the home she shared with Latson and the home next door where only four dogs were left to greet officers and have their accommodations searched. The warrants were “read” and the house, vehicles left to rust in the backyard were also searched.

    As the searches of the two homes and a third on County Road 345 and Southeast 8th Street continued neighbors lined up at the yellow police tape that closed off the roads to gawk and chat with officers.

    While details were not available on the other suspects arrested in connection with the operation, Latson is facing 19 charges, including 16 felonies and three misdemeanors.

    He is charged with three counts of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, possessio of cocaine with intent to distribute, two counts of possession of a short-barrel shotgun, possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, possessio of drug paraphernalia, maintaining a drug dwelling, two counts of possession of cocaine, two counts of sale of cocaine, three counts of possession of less than 20 grams of marijuana, three counts of sale of cannibis. Bond is $150,000.

    Latson was sentenced in Levy County in August 2002 to two years and five months on three counts of aggravated assault with a weapon with no intent to kill, two counts of cocaine possession and one count of the sale, manufacture or delivery of cocaine. He was released from prison in May 2004.

    Capt. Evan Sullivan of the Levy County Sheriff's Office said 13 people have been arrested in connection with the task force operation and said the task force would continue its investigations.