City may end Metro Narcotics contract with county

Published 12:05 am Wednesday, April 29, 2015

NATCHEZ — The Natchez-Adams County Metro Narcotics division may soon dissolve after nearly three decades of existence.

Natchez Mayor Butch Brown said a lack of communication exists between the city and county regarding Metro Narcotics.

The result, Brown said, is that Natchez may be best served by opting out of an inter-local agreement that allowed the city and county to work together to battle illegal drugs. Metro Narcotics was created in 1987.

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Click here for a pdf of the current inter local-agreement.

Instead, Brown suggested the city might partner with the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics.

Because the city and county are often investigating different cases, Brown said a lack of transparency has developed between the departments, leading him to consider a new arrangement.

“A lot of times, we’re working cases, and they don’t know about it,” Brown said.

Through partnering with the MBN, Brown said he thinks the city would have a more thorough and effective narcotics unit.

MBN Enforcement Commander Mike Perkins said these types of partnerships are common throughout the state. Currently, he said Franklin, Wilkinson and Jefferson counties all partner with the MBN for drug task force assistance.

To date, Brown said he has met twice with representatives from the MBN’s McComb office to discuss a possible partnership.

“What we’re looking at, is taking our crew and partnering with MBN so we can have a better internal program for the City of Natchez,” he said.

Aside from a lack of communication with the county, Brown also said he is concerned with Metro Narcotic’s handling of seized cash from drug raids.

“The DA has had trouble making cases because the evidence has been lacking and not properly maintained,” said Brown, adding that the MBN investigated the whereabouts of seized cash and drugs in the Metro Narcotics unit about six months ago.

District Attorney Ronnie Harper — who serves the sixth district including Adams, Amite, Franklin and Wilkinson counties — said the office has only had one instance of difficulty trying cases because of lack of evidence provided by Metro Narcotics.

“There was a young lady who was the evidence technician who passed away, and she was the one who handled all the evidence,” Harper said. “(When she died), it caused some problems in our pending cases, and some of those cases were dismissed because of lack of evidence.”

Former Adams County Sheriff’s Deputy Summer Moffett died in April 2013, shortly after leaving her position with the sheriff’s office.

Adams County Sheriff Chuck Mayfield denied any allegation that seized cash was stored improperly.

Mayfield also said he was not aware of any investigation into alleged missing money from Metro Narcotics, and the district attorney’s office has not had trouble gaining evidence for prosecuting cases.

“As far as I know, there has never been any improper storage of evidence,” Mayfield said.

In the last two years, Brown said the city has received one payment totaling $20,000 from seized cash through Metro Narcotics. Those funds, Brown said, were used to purchase drug dogs.

“The Metro Narcotics unit works almost exclusively with the sheriff’s department right now, and I guess you could say we have somewhat different missions,” Brown said.

However, Mayfield said the city hasn’t held up its end of the bargain, either.

Metro Narcotics currently includes four agents from the county, one from the city and an office administrator.

The inter-local agreement establishing Metro Narcotics states the agency is to be staffed by two city agents — not one.

Mayfield said to his knowledge, Metro Narcotics has been without a second agent for at least two years.

Metro Narcotics Commander Maj. David Lindsey said the unit would be better off — and do a better job of combatting illegal drug use in Natchez and Adams County — if a second city agent was assigned to the unit.

“It would absolutely help if we had a second police officer from the city,” Lindsey said. “It would help us tremendously.”

Although no plans have been set to hire a second city agent, Brown said the empty position was “temporary,” and he was aware that the agreement called for a second agent.

Mayfield said all seized cash, according to the agreement, has to stay within Metro Narcotics to fund law enforcement needs. He said giving money to the city from seized funds was never listed in Metro Narcotic’s responsibilities.

“All the seizures made in that unit stay in that unit,” Mayfield said. “That benefits both the city and county, because we don’t use as much taxpayer money to fund the unit.”

The $20,000 given to the city was a one-time deal to satisfy Brown, Mayfield said.

If the inter-local agreement were to end, Mayfield guessed the seized funds would be split between the city and county.

All Natchez Aldermen — Ricky Gray, Tony Fields, Mark Fortenbery, Sarah Carter Smith, Dan Dillard and Joyce Arceneaux — said they have not been involved in any lengthy discussions about ending the inter-local agreement.

However, Gray said if dissolving the inter-local agreement and partnering with the MBN would decrease drug use in Natchez, then he is in full support.

“We have a serious problem in our community, and we need someone here 24-7,” Gray said. “Right now, I think we need to sit down and talk to see what they (MBN) have to offer.”

Fields echoed Gray, and said although lengthy discussion needs to occur about ending the inter-local agreement, he thinks a partnership with MBN has the potential to benefit the city.

“In my opinion, we would need to have a lot of under cover activity — and turning that over to the state would aid in that,” Fields said.

Similarly, Dillard said he has not heard much talk about pulling out of the agreement.

“I’m a little behind the curve, “ he said. “I would like to see what the inter-local agreement says, and see what the city’s role is in it.”

Both Mathis and Smith said they would like to hear more about the possibility of partnering with the state before any decision is made.

Ideally, Mathis said she would like for the city, county and state to cooperate when it comes to fighting illegal drug use in Natchez and Adams County.

“I don’t think partnering with the state would hurt,” Mathis said. “We just need a unified plan.”

The aldermen have not set a date to discuss changing the inter-local agreement.