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Student drug arrests spark concern

After the largest drug bust in University history, voices around Grounds expressed shock at the magnitude of an investigation that yielded over $46,000 worth of illicit drugs.

The year-long sting, which involved undercover police officers and student informants, began in the fall of 1999, and culminated in the arrest of three current and six former University students for state and federal charges of possession and distribution of drugs including marijuana, ecstasy, LSD, opium and cocaine.

The Jefferson Area Drug Enforcement Task Force also arrested four non-University students. Police still were seeking three suspects yesterday.

Charlottesville Police Chief J.W. "Buddy" Rittenhouse said there will be no more University student arrests in connection with the investigation, not counting the three remaining suspects, who may be University students.

"I think we never like to recognize or acknowledge" students' drug use, Dean of Students Penny Rue said. "Nonetheless, it's a reality."

Rue said she also is pleased "students were very helpful in the investigation [for] providing information."

Second-year College student Taylor Lacy said he was pleased students took the initiative to eradicate the drug distribution.

"I was most surprised that it was started by students complaining about drug use on Grounds," Lacy said. "I think it's good to see that students take an interest."

Board of Visitors Rector John P. Ackerly III said he agrees the student informants acted appropriately.

"A commendable aspect of the law enforcement is that the arrests were prompted by University students who wanted to clean up the Grounds," Ackerly said.

Asst. Dean of Students Aaron Laushway said most students do not want drugs in the area.

"It's clearly indicative of the community coming together to reject drugs and drug dealers from our midst," Laushway said. "It's very clear to me that we do not want that kind of activity in this community."

Laushway said although some current and former University students were arrested, they are "presumed innocent until proven guilty" and are not representative of University students as a whole.

"Our University community is made up of individuals from all walks of life," he said. "A majority of our students are good, law-abiding citizens."

Although a case has not been initiated, University Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Lissa Percopo said it is possible for UJC proceedings to be brought against the charged students.

Many people said they were stunned by the arrests and the availability of drugs around Grounds.

"I was in utter shock," Faculty Senate Chairwoman Patricia H. Werhane said. "I must say, I live in a cocoon. I didn't know [drugs were] a problem here."

Third-year College student Kahye Jeon said she did not know drugs were so within reach at the University.

"I'm surprised because U.Va. is such a conservative college," Jeon said. "I would think it would happen at a more liberal school like Harvard."

Second-year College student Jacqui Gale said she thinks the "drug scene is definitely not a very public thing" at the University and "to most students, it's not a big deal."

Gale said the arrests show that substance abuse violations are "not limited to fraternities and sororities," which she said often are targeted.

Sitting in the Pav, fourth-year Commerce student Sara Streeter said she hopes alcohol violations also will be investigated since she thinks they are more prominent at the University.

"Hopefully they will realize that alcohol is just as damaging and they will take that seriously, too," Streeter said.

Student Health Director James C. Turner said he is impressed that students who came forward to investigators were willing to express their disgust at having drugs in their community.

Turner said he hopes the young men who were arrested "learned from their profound mistakes and poor judgment" and will be "rehabilitated and return as functioning members of society."

He also said he hopes "no one at the University has been hurt as a result of their drug dealing."

Last year, two students were sent to the emergency room for ecstasy use and one student was hospitalized for LSD use "for the first time in four or five years," he added.

But "three cases hardly means an epidemic," Turner said.

The University community must "refocus our concerns on the long-term health consequences" of ecstasy use, he said.

"I hope the arrests prompt the University to put more information out about ecstasy use," he added.