80ºF

Early-morning FHP swat-style raid dismantles drug ring, arrests 3

Special FHP unit goes beyond traffic stops

In the hours before daybreak on Wednesday, the Florida Highway Patrol's Criminal Interdiction Unit (CIU) was carefully planning a dangerous raid.

The team, in full assault gear, served a search warrant at a house in east Orange County suspected of dealing a high volume of marijuana where a violent, convicted felon lives.

At first light, the MRAP (Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected) armored vehicle rolled down 436, a sniper stationed on top of the turret, surrounded by a caravan of FHP patrol cars.

"Deploy, deploy, deploy!" yelled the CIU commander over the radio.

The convoy entered the Goldenrod neighborhood and the CIU team, assisted by FHP's SRT (Special Response Team), silently filed out of the vehicles and up to the front, sides, and back of the home.

"Police, search warrant, come to the door!" troopers yelled.

The team waited 30 seconds to give the occupants time to exit on their own before troopers knocked down the door with a battering ram.

Just as troopers ramed the door, one occupant emerged, clearly dazed. His hands were quickly zip-tied.
   
Two other occupants, a young man and a young woman, also emerged and were restrained.

All three were placed into FHP vehicles while the CIU team executed the signed search warrant, looking for drugs - the reason CIU targeted the home in the first place.

Sgt. Robert Leatherow, FHP Troop D CIU commander, pulled out three large clear plastic bags from the home, containing around a half-pound of marijuana, along with prescription narcotics and ammunition.

"They are poisoning this neighborhood," Leatherow said.

Leatherow explained that his CIU team spent months tracing drugs back to this Goldenrod home. CIU troopers, who patrol the highways just like patrol troopers, made several recent traffic stops where they discovered drugs in cars. All of the drivers named the same home as their source for the drugs.

That's what led troopers to obtain the search warrant.

"We look beyond the stop, beyond the arrest," Leatherow said. "We go further and get as close as we can to the source."

Leatherow said CIU served this search warrant with full force because of the violent felon known to live inside the home, convicted of an armed home invasion and weapons offenses.

Leatherow said CIU usually works behind the scenes to get results on crime, making traffic stops, investigating further, and making arrests on a daily basis. The Criminal Interdiction Unit interdicts, or interrupts, the flow of gun running, drug trafficking, fraud, identity theft, money laundering, and many other crimes, according to Leatherow.

"Criminals have to go from point A to point B," Leatherow said. "They use vehicles to do that."

"I pulled a vehicle over for a minor violation [last week]," one CIU trooper said. "The minor violation was illegal window tint. As a result of that traffic stop and subsequent investigation, we recovered 24 pounds of marijuana."

In Wednesday's raid, CIU troopers arrested the three occupants of the home and charged them with possession of a large amounts of marijuana and prescription drugs and felony violation of probation for possession of ammunition.


About the Author: