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Drug squad arrests over a dozen in three days during operation
Alejandro Rodrigo Rodriguez
Metro Police "have combined resources to field a unit to focus on street-level and mid-level drugs that led to or aided the arrest of 13 suspects in three days last week,"  a police spokesman says.
The Undercover Narcotics Investigation Team (UNIT) of the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department "staged two operations on its own last week, arresting nine people and seizing guns and narcotics. Its officers also aided arrests by Metro robbery detectives and Tybee Island Police," police say.

Police Chief Joseph H. “Jack” Lumpkin Sr., in December, tasked Maj. Richard Zapal with combining existing tactical units to create the narcotics investigation team.

Zapal pulled the officers from Tactical Investigation Units (TIU) that have been operating for 18 months in the Central and Islands precincts and added officers from the Savannah Area Regional Intelligence Center (SARIC), the Metro intelligence unit.

“It is apparent that street level drug sales need much more attention than uniformed officers were able to provide and that other crimes – robberies, shots fired, shootings and burglaries – are being committed by the same offenders,” Lumpkin said. “Savannah’s Mayor-Council is studying the funding of a full-fledged drug street sales unit, but we need to be taking significant action to address these issues now.”

Lumpkin had told a special meeting of Mayor-Council on November 24 that street level drug sales needed more attention than they were getting. Those crimes fell
Alexander Larfeayone Ballard
Alexander Larfeayone Ballard
 between Metro’s Crime Suppression Units, which respond to drug sales complaints, and the Chatham County Counter Narcotics Team (CNT), which focuses on higher level drug operations.

He also pointed out that uniformed officers "were unable to adequately control sales because they were quickly noticed by suspects who simply suspended sales before they arrived."

Including the time spent in individual TIU units and the three months as UNIT, members of the unit have accrued 295 arrests, confiscated 98 weapons, served 52 search warrants and $135,728 in cash and seized 14.3 pounds of marijuana, 63 grams of Molly/MDMA, 49.1 grams of Methamphetamine,154 prescription pills and 33 ounces of cocaine.

UNIT members last Wednesday "converged on a live drug operation to arrest four; and on Friday helped Metro robbery detectives arrest four others in an internet sales scheme to sell items stolen in a home invasion; helped Tybee Island Police in the arrest of two burglary suspects; and Friday night raided a second live drug operation to arrest five others." 

The week "culminated with a Friday night operation into a drug sales and gambling location on the 700 block of West 52nd Street by UNIT, Crime Suppression Units of various precincts, and Metro SWAT and K9 officers," police say.
Whitney Denise Cooper
Whitney Denise Cooper

Arrested were Mario Ahkir Grant, 32, possession of a controlled substance (heroin); Xavier Kenny Whitfield, 29, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, possession of a firearm in commission of a felony and possession with intent to distribute Molly and marijuana; Simmeon Joshua Whitfield, 25, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony, and possession with intent to distribute Molly and marijuana; Whitney Denise Cooper, 25, possession with intent to distribute Molly and marijuana; and Alexander Larfeayone Ballard, 22, possession with intent to distribute marijuana.

During the raid officers also seized quantities of all the controlled substances listed in the charges, three handguns and containers of ammunition.

Earlier that evening, UNIT officers combined with Metro Robbery detectives and Southside Precinct detectives to investigate a home invasion reported March 23. Cash, cell phones, electronic games and other items were taken from two residents who were beaten with guns during the crime.

Two suspects were arrested and others are being sought as that investigation continues.

Earlier Friday, UNIT officers and Tybee police culminated the surveillance of two suspects on Wilmington Island for a burglary on 18th Street in Tybee Island. After a few hours of surveillance, UNIT officers assisted with a search on the 100 block of Wilmington Island Road in which two weapons were seized.

Alejandro Rodrigo Rodriguez, 37, was charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, burglary in the first degree, theft by taking and theft by receiving stolen property. Kathy Mary Dinh, 34, also was arrested at another location under surveillance and charged with theft by taking, theft by receiving stolen property and conspiracy to commit a crime. Tybee and Islands Precinct detectives are investigating other possible stolen items found in the residence.

Maj. Zapal lauded the efforts of the 10-officer team for its surveillance, organizational skills and its process of collaborating with other units inside SCMPD and beyond. UNIT officers already have worked with Tybee Island and Pooler police and will extend their efforts into other municipalities and even other counties as the need arises.

“Drugs are not restricted to Savannah, nor are the accompanying crimes,” Zapal said. “Our suspects do not recognize jurisdictional boundaries so neither can our investigations. A unit such as this takes time to develop, so I am proud of these results so early into the organizational process. I predict we will all see a lot more of UNIT in the near future.”