Cleaning house on heroin

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A week after a multi-agency task force scooped up users and dealers of heroin, methamphetamine and other illegal drugs as part of a months-long effort, scattered arrests are still being made, as part of a campaign local officials say will continue into the near future.

Spearheaded by Terrebonne Parish deputies with help from the Louisiana State Police, the Houma Police Department, U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and the office of the District Attorney, Operation Clean House resulted in warrant executions throughout Terrebonne bayou communities and within Houma, resulting in at least 40 arrests. Other arrests on outstanding warrants occurred in the days that followed the raids and more are expected.

“We’re not going to get all the drugs of this parish, so long as there are people who don’t want to work for a living and sell this poison in our communities,” Sheriff Jerry Larpenter said, after debriefing officers who returned from a morning of knocking on doors and taking into custody men and women identified as suspects through surveillance and intelligence gathering, in some instances developing cases through interviews of other drug sellers and also users.

“I think we are putting a minor dent in the armor. This isn’t just drugs,” the sheriff said. “There is more violence, especially with young people. We hope more people will call law enforcement if they know something, we need their help.”

The two-pronged nature of the crackdown involves long-range operations – such as the early morning roundups conducted last Wednesday – and quicker raids based on critical information like the takedown of a drug operation at the corner of Lafayette and Grinage streets in Houma, during which officers met armed resistance from one alleged drug dealer.

As some government officials question the practicality and effectiveness of the nation’s long-standing war on drugs, Larpenter and other local leaders say they are not wavering in their commitment to enforcement. A wave of heroin overdoses has resulted in deaths and hospitalizations due to unprecedented purity of the product now on the streets, coupled with gun violence.

Last week’s operation had its genesis in the August death of 33-year-old Loni Redmond, whose badly decomposed body was found in a Pointe-aux-Chenes home, and whose death is attributed to drug abuse, most likely heroin. While investigating the circumstances surrounding Redmond’s death, authorities received critical information regarding drug distribution in the Pointe-aux-Chenes and Montegut communities.

Warrants were signed by 32nd Judicial District judges in November; Throughout the winter holidays detectives, patrol officers and support personnel verified and updated addresses, in preparation for the crackdown.

At the Sheriff’s Office narcotics division headquarters last week, a 20-foot wall was papered with mug shots and details on charges for as many individuals. Teams of officers, clad in body armor and backed up by rifle-toting SWAT members, fanned out to neighborhoods where suspects were concentrated.

Among them were Lt. Derrick “Dawg” Collins of the Terrebonne Narcotics Task Force and Det. Charles Clark of the detective division, veteran officers with extensive experience and knowledge of the area’s drug trafficking and distribution schemes. Like other officers involved in the raids, they were given packets of information on each suspect, to aid in identification and the paperwork that would follow, in yellow manila envelopes placed on the broad dash of their unmarked four-door pickup.

“I used to get discouraged,” Collins said, as he guided the truck toward Montegut, its two-way radio alive with the voices of other team members en route to or already arrived at their various locations. “We’d lock people up and they would end up back on the street. But I came to realize that the ones we get today will give us more information, and we just keep picking them up.”

Their first stop was a ramshackle house on Crochetville Road, its windows obscured by nailed lumber scraps. As a SWAT officer stood sentry nearby, Collins knocked on the door repeatedly. A bleary eyed man finally answered, and was immediately identified as Dennis Brunet. A low-level target compared with some others, Brunet had active warrants for marijuana possession and possession of drug paraphernalia. He offered no resistance, and was placed inside a marked transport van, which took him to the Terrebonne jail. The parish lockup’s personnel had been prepared for the influx of new detainees, and a judge was assigned to handle initial magistrate appearances of those brought in.

Collins and Clark moved on to their next location, a house at 1009 Aragon Road, home of a suspect with a more impressive jacket.

Roy Guidry Jr. was wanted for methamphetamine distribution, and also had warrants for heroin, hydrocodone and oxycodone possession, as well as illegal possession of generic Xanax.

Like Brunet, Guidry offered no resistance and spoke no words.

While Collins and Clark worked Montegut warrants, another team was busy further up Bayou Terrebonne.

At a La. Highway 24 house in Bourg, once home to a popular pizza store that is now an apartment, agents arrested Jaramie Joseph Naquin and Toni Trahan on warrants for heroin distribution. A search of their apartment resulted in recovery of $10,300 worth of cocaine, $600 worth of heroin and $200 worth of methamphetamine. Additional charges were filed against the pair, who had moved to the location just a few months before, abandoning a Chauvin location they lived at when the initial warrants were put together.

One target officers didn’t have to hunt for was 31-year-old Tony Vaughn of Montegut. He was listed in critical condition at University Medical Center in New Orleans, from gunshot wounds inflicted last Saturday during a shooting on Santa Monica Drive, in Houma’s Ashland North subdivision.

His warrant was for resisting an officer; further details on the case were not available immediately. But detectives believed that one or more people involved with the shooting of Vaughn were on their warrant lists.

Agents involved in the raids, along with Larpenter, said that traffic in multiple types of drugs is more common at specific locations than ever before. Where dealers once specialized in one particular type of drug – such as heroin – more are taking a “supermarket” kind of approach, purveying narcotics along with stimulants, such as those seized at the Naquin and Trahan residence in Bourg.

“It’s supply and demand,” Larpenter said, while discussing a Jan. 5 raid at three locations within the city of Houma, on Lafayette, Grinage and Academy streets, where one of the suspects held a semi-automatic pistol when officers entered. A pistol loaded with Teflon-coated rounds – a sign that the projectile has a particularly effective jacket capable of penetrating police body armor.

“Personnel were safely able to apprehend the suspects, with no injuries to officers or the suspects,” Larpenter said. Heroin, meth, liquid codeine and pills were recovered at the locations and four arrests were made; warrants are outstanding for five additional suspects.

Unlike Operation Clean House, officers said, the city arrests arose from more immediate information gathering. Such lightning raids, Larpenter said, will be more common as Terrebonne’s war on drugs continues.

That doesn’t mean, he said, that intensive set-ups like last Wednesday’s arrests are a thing of the past, but rather that a wider variety of approaches is being used, depending on circumstances and what information can be more quickly gathered to make good arrests that will hold up in court.

“We don’t have the money anymore to do as many of these very long, involved investigations,” Larpenter said. “Now when we get the information we have to act on it very quickly.” •

Deputies escort Angela Marie Crews from her home on Aragon Road in Montegut as part of a crackdown on alleged drug offenders. Her warrant was for a case involving possession of drug paraphernalia. Others arrested last Wednesday included people with multiple warrants for distribution and possession.


Roy Guidry Jr. offers no resistance as Terrebonne deputies arrest him on warrants for heroin, hydrocodone, alprazolam and paraphernalia possession on Crochetville Road in Montegut last Wednesday morning.