FBI, ATF investigate Vidalia Police Department

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, May 19, 2010

VIDALIA — Agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were on the scene at the Vidalia Police Department Tuesday as part of an unspecified criminal investigation.

The Louisiana State Police were also present at the police station.

Just before 10 a.m., things in the department appeared normal, with officers booking in a suspect and others discussing current events in the assistant chief’s office.

By the end of the hour, however, the outside federal and state officials had restricted access into the police station and were searching vehicles in the parking lot.

Several unmarked vehicles were parked outside the station.

FBI Special Agent Sheila Thorne said the FBI’s presence at the Vidalia Police Department was related to an ongoing criminal investigation.

No arrests had been made in the matter, she said.

ATF Spokesperson Austin Banks said the matter was a joint investigation between the ATF and the FBI, and that the two agencies were serving a search warrant in the matter.

“We are not at liberty to give the facts,” he said.

Thorne also declined to specify what the investigation was about or who it might be targeting.

The Louisiana State Police’s presence at the scene was in an assisting role, Thorne said.

Police Chief Ronnie G. “Tapper” Hendricks said Tuesday evening he was not at liberty to discuss the matter.

Vidalia Mayor Hyram Copeland said he had been unable to confirm what the investigation was about, but that it was important to remember that everybody is innocent until proven guilty.

“We hope and pray it won’t be anything major,” he said. “They will do their investigation, and we will move forward from there.”

The outside agents had left the station by Tuesday afternoon, and Copeland said the department was properly functioning and had continued to properly function throughout the day Tuesday, and that Tuesday evening even the chief was out doing patrols.

“The residents’ safety has not been in jeopardy, (the police) are doing the patrols and they are still answering calls,” he said.

Banks said that he could not comment if the agencies would return to the area, only that the investigation was ongoing and that should any arrests be made they would be processed through the U.S. Attorney’s Office.