The Cavalier Daily
Serving the University Community Since 1890

Illegal drug trends vary across city, county lines

Charlottesville boasts a rich history, beautiful scenery and even celebrity residents -- all of which can make the city of just over 40,000 seem immune to the drug problems which plague large urban areas.

Yet some areas of Charlottesville are experiencing problems with marijuana, powder cocaine, crack cocaine and drug-related crime.

While there are not many stable, organized groups of drug dealers in Charlottesville, the city is sometimes beset by transient dealers who peddle their wares for a short time before moving on, said Lt. Bryant Bibb, captain of the Jefferson Area Drug Enforcement task force, or JADE.

JADE is made up of officers from the University, city, county and state police forces, and is responsible for the vast majority of the drug enforcement efforts in the area.

JADE officers made 140 arrests in Charlottesville on drug-related charges this past year and between 1995 and 1998 officers seized $1.2 million worth of cocaine.

Transient dealers come to Charlottesville from Washington, D.C., large cities in New York and New Jersey, and as far away as Jamaica and Panama, Bibb said.

Within the city, drug dealers are on the move as well so a center of heavy drug activity one week may be calm and clean the next.

"Open air dealers usually don't operate in one location very long," Bibb said.

The Fifeville neighborhood, which extends from West Main Street south to 7 1/2 Street east to Ridge Street and includes the area behind the Amtrak train station, has been the target of aggressive JADE efforts to drive drugs out of the neighborhood. Some efforts have included undercover police work in May as part of the city's "Spring Cleaning" effort.

Since then, drug activity in Fifeville, the future site of a University day care center, has calmed. (See related story.)

"Fifeville has been a hot spot in the past and may be a hot spot again," Bibb said.

Part of the rapid movement of dealers is a result of JADE's clean-up efforts. One facet of JADE's strategy is the occasional use of a sting program called Operation Paranoia. During an operation, undercover officers sell imitation cocaine made of macadamia nuts in an effort to arrest as many buyers as possible.

JADE officers obtain information about drug activity from a variety of sources, including people they arrest, calls to the JADE hotline, undercover work, informants and law enforcement personnel in other areas, said R. Douglas Rhoads, Albemarle County Police Captain and chairman of the advisory committee to JADE.

Crack cocaine use and sales in Charlottesville surged in the late 1980s and early 1990s, following national trends, said Charlottesville Police Lt. Chip Harding who worked in drug enforcement until 1995.

Now, law enforcement officers mostly deal with marijuana, cocaine and crack in Charlottesville. But newer drugs such as crystal meth, a methamphetamine, have not made an impact on the Charlottesville market.

"Nationally, meth is making a comeback," Bibb said. "They are predicting it's moving this way, but we haven't seen a good deal of it."

But the drug problem does not disappear even beyond the city limits.

The more rural areas of Albemarle County have unique problems with marijuana, said Lee Catlin, community relations manager for the Albemarle County Police.

Catlin said some county residents cultivate marijuana plants at their private residences, but they often are detected by state police helicopters flying over the county.

He said the state police then alert county officers of the marijuana locations, and that this eradication effort occurs yearly.

While Albemarle County has more homegrown marijuana, it has fewer open-air drug deals because the area is less densely populated. But transient dealers use some motels within the county as a "base of operations," she said.

"There are people out in Albemarle County making a living off of selling drugs," said Mike Marshall, University Police detective and member of the JADE Task Force.

As for drug-related crime, although infrequent, it does exist, Bibb said.

Both city and county law enforcement officials are grapple with these issues and in the past there were some serious incidents.

In 1998, Charlottesville Police ascertained that both the beating death of 34-year-old Thomas Eugene Jones in May 1994 and the fatal shooting of 23-year-old Eugene Siler in November 1997 were related to drug activity.

And in the rural areas of the county, police said they believe some home and vehicle break-ins are committed by burglars who are seeking items with high resale value -- a source of ready cash for the purchase of drugs, Catlin said.

Officials said although there is drug use at the University, students are not likely to be significantly affected by the city and county drug scenes. They said the University network of buyers and sellers seems to be separate from such networks on the county and city level.

But on occasion, University students have been caught up in drug enforcement efforts in Charlottesville.

In one notable incident, football players Barry Word, Kenny Stadlin and Howard Petty were indicted by a grand jury in July 1986 on charges of cocaine possession with intent to distribute. The indictments came shortly after the cocaine-related death of University of Maryland basketball player Len Bias.

In the spring of 1985, University Law student Ruben Dario Varjas and football player Kevin Turner were sentenced to five years in a federal penitentiary on cocaine charges.

And in March 1991, federal agents seized three fraternity houses -- Tau Kappa Epsilon, Phi Epsilon and Delta Upsilon -- and arrested 11 University students on drug charges in a raid code-named Operation Equinox.

Tau Kappa Epsilon and Phi Epsilon no longer exist at the University.

On the whole, however, the drug scene at the University has remained separate from the city and county scenes, officials said.

"What drug activity there is among the college students is strictly among the college students -- they do their own little separate thing," Bibb said.

Marshall, also a member of the JADE Task Force, said University students prefer marijuana to the harder drugs that are more popular in the city.

"Right now the drug of choice at the University is marijuana," Marshall said. "In the city and the county of Albemarle, you're going to see crack-cocaine as the drug of choice."

Marshall said he did not know specific locations where University students obtain their drugs but noted that the drug scene in Charlottesville has changed considerably since the late 1980s where open-air drug markets were more commonplace than they are today.

"It's a very, very, what we call 'hush hush' community," he said. "It's like alcohol -- you know where to go to buy your beer when you're not of legal age."

(Cavalier Daily Focus Editor Nicola M. White contributed to this story).



DRUGS IN CHARLOTTESVILLE

Dealers have come from as far away as Jamaica and Panama to peddle their wares in Charlottesville. The Jefferson Area Drug Enforcement Task Force made 140 arrests on drug-related charges in the past year.
Drug dealers in Charlottesville are often transient, travelling between East Coast towns and staying only a short time. Police said some have operated out of area motels. Between January 1995 and December 1998, JADE agents seized $1.2 million worth of cocaine.
The crack market in Charlottesville has declined since it hit a high point in the late 1980s and early 90s Drug-related homicides are not the norm in Charlottesville, but police say they have occured in the past.

Comments

Latest Podcast

Today, we sit down with both the president and treasurer of the Virginia women's club basketball team to discuss everything from making free throws to recent increased viewership in women's basketball.