Pubdate: Tue, 19 Nov 2002
Source: Post and Courier, The (Charleston, SC)
Copyright: 2002 Evening Post Publishing Co.
Author: Glenn Smith, Of The Post and Courier Staff
Bookmark: (Cannabis)


Operation Happy Holidays, Joined By Parole Agents, Looks For 'Cream Of The 

The interior lights of the squat, white home burned like a beacon in the 
pre-dawn darkness Monday as North Charleston Detective Cpl. Jerry Jellico 
escorted a dazed and disheveled young man in handcuffs past the splintered 
remains of the front door. Police went to the Meeting Street home shortly 
after 3 a.m. looking for a woman, who had an outstanding warrant for 
failing to return a rented videotape.

Officers found neither the woman nor the missing video, but they did spot a 
half-dressed man rushing to the kitchen sink to feed a handful of marijuana 
into the garbage disposal. Officers forced their way in and stopped the 
man. A short time later, they obtained a search warrant and found nearly 
three pounds of marijuana and a bundle of cash inside the house, said 
Detective Lt. George Tetanich. The incident provided North Charleston 
police and state probation and parole agents an unexpected bonus as they 
swept the city during a sprawling and ambitious hunt for nearly 200 people 
named in outstanding warrants. The effort, dubbed Operation Happy Holidays, 
was the largest undertaking of its kind in North Charleston and targeted 
suspects wanted for crimes ranging from disorderly conduct and petit 
larceny to assault and battery with intent to kill and murder.

Police culled the list from some 4,000 active warrants on file with the 
department, concentrating on the most dangerous suspects as well as those 
who had evaded past efforts to bring them to justice, said Sgt. Steve 
Shephard, who oversees the department's warrants unit. "We're just taking 
the cream of the crop," he said.

Working in teams of four or five, about 70 officers from North Charleston 
police, probation and parole, the FBI's Charleston Safe Streets Task Force 
and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms swarmed across the city 
armed with warrants, mug shots and maps highlighting possible addresses for 
their quarry.

The warrants were dated from 1998 to the present. By the end of the 
five-hour operation, officers had attempted to serve about 100 warrants and 
had rounded up 36 suspects, including people charged with armed robbery, 
first-degree burglary and criminal sexual conduct with a minor, said Lt. 
Jack Kornahrens. Police learned three more suspects were in prison and one 
man wanted on six forgery warrants had died, he said. "Realistically, we 
were looking at closer to 20 (arrests)," he said. "So we've exceeded our 
expectations." As temperatures hovered in the mid-30s, police gathered for 
a final briefing shortly before 3 a.m. at North Charleston's municipal 
court complex.

Seated on benches normally reserved for offenders, they sipped coffee as 
supervisors laid out plans for the sweep and assembled 11 teams to cover 
specified zones within the city. "For all the mornings, we had to pick the 
coldest one yet. I guess that's our luck," said Detective Capt. William 
Barfield, drawing light laughter from the crowd. "But thank you for coming.

And remember, be safe out there." Soon, small caravans of unmarked cruisers 
pulled out and headed for their assigned neighborhoods, striking quickly 
while most residents slept.

Along the way, there were successes and a number of false hits. On Piedmont 
Avenue, a team of officers fanned out and circled a battered mobile home at 
the end of a crowded trailer park where a man wanted in connection with a 
shooting reportedly lived.

A chorus of nearby dogs barked and yelped as officers banged on the front 
door and announced their presence.

Anxious seconds passed as police waited for someone to answer.

Finally, a light came on and the door swung open. A woman talked quietly to 
the officers for a moment, and then they walked back to their cars. The 
suspect was no longer there. A short time later, another team found a woman 
in a weathered home along Arbutus Avenue who was wanted for probation 
violations. Dressed in a T-shirt, she shivered beneath a bare light bulb as 
cold air seeped through the open front door while officers handcuffed and 
shackled her. As she was led to a waiting prisoner transport van, a 
television reporter asked her if she was worried about the trouble she was 
in. "I been in trouble all my life," she said with a hoarse cackle. 
Kornahrens said he suspects more fugitives will surrender to authorities as 
word of the operation spreads in the community.

Police also are planning similar operations in the coming months to track 
down more wanted suspects, he said. The operation, the largest undertaking 
of its kind in North Charleston, grew out of informal talks between police 
and state Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services agents 
following an Oct. 10 incident in which a man wanted for probation and 
parole violations shot at two North Charleston officers at a Sumner Avenue 
mobile home park. Both agencies deal with many of the same offenders and 
were looking for ways to maximize their effectiveness in the face of budget 
and manpower constraints, Barfield said. In mid-September, there were 28 
vacancies in the police department. All state agencies are bracing for 
mid-year cuts in the face of a projected revenue shortfall of at least $331 
million. North Charleston police have only two-full-time officers dedicated 
to serving the thousands of warrants on file with the department. Specialty 
teams often conduct smaller scale round-ups, and detectives and uniform 
officers regularly check suspects they encounter for outstanding warrants.

But offenders can and do elude capture. Lynne Moldenhauer, the agent in 
charge of probation and parole in the Charleston area, said her agency was 
concerned about the amount of violent crime in the city and recognized that 
a large percentage of the 4,200 people the agency oversees in Charleston 
County live in North Charleston. "There have been a lot of incidents coming 
out of our people," she said. "We just saw the need for greater 
collaboration." North Charleston has had 16 of the county's 34 homicides 
this year. In 2001, there were 413 armed robberies in the city, a six-year 
high. The 1,377 burglaries recorded were the most since 1997, according to 
department statistics. In the past year or so, North Charleston police have 
worked to build stronger partnerships with other local, state and federal 
agencies to deliver a bigger punch to their efforts to combat crime.

Most recently, police teamed with the Drug Enforcement Administration for 
an eight-month investigation that led to an August raid targeting 30 
suspected mid-to upper-level crack cocaine suppliers in the city. The goal 
of Monday's operation was three-fold: to clear outstanding cases, send a 
message that police were serious about enforcing warrants for all offenses 
and try to reduce crime as the holiday season approaches, Barfield said. 
Around the holidays, money problems and desperation seem to spark more 
crime, he said. In 2001, North Charleston saw the number of armed robberies 
increase from an average of 34 per month to 54 in December. The city 
averaged 80-95 burglaries each month, but recorded between 123 and 130 
during the last two months of the year, said Cpl. Karen Cordray, head of 
the department's crime analysis unit. "We're trying to reduce that by 
eliminating from the streets some of the would-be criminals who often 
commit these types of crimes," Barfield said. Working in a mobile command 
post at the court complex, a police dispatcher tracked Monday's events 
while other support personnel fingerprinted, photographed and processed the 

Municipal Court Judge David Bowers arrived before dawn to conduct bail 
hearings for suspects charged with municipal offenses.

He also brought along a large batch of cookies for the officers, courtesy 
of his wife. Sheriff's office personnel also were on hand to ferry those 
charged with felony offenses to the county jail for bail hearings before 
Magistrate Jack Guedalia. As the sun rose over the city, the operation was 
suspended shortly after 8 a.m. A young man on Grayson Street was among the 
last arrested.

He was wanted on a warrant for disorderly conduct.

As police escorted him to a waiting cruiser, the man's irritated mother 
asked Detective Sgt. Ken Hagge why police weren't out arresting murder 
suspects instead. "Tell us where they are, ma'am, and we'll be happy to 
pick them up, too," he replied.
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