After fleeing from police for two days, police reeled in what they called a “big fish” in the local drug trade, as well as nine others who not only helped in his operation, but also helped him hide from cops, Sheriff Dennis Meeks said Friday.
And these arrests are only the beginning in a case that spans further than surrounding counties, Drug Task Force agents said.
The series of events that led to the discovery of an armed Jeremy Gardner under a shed at a Plywood Mill Road Thursday began when Sgt. Jeff Daniels with the Covington County Sheriff’s Department thought he was assisting two vehicles near the Loango Community. Instead, Meeks said, Daniels interrupted a drug deal, and when one vehicle fled the scene, he gave chase. The driver, soon identified as Gardner, wrecked and fled into the woods.
Inside the car, deputies found 200 grams of high-grade methamphetamine, called “ICE” and the break they needed to end a two and a half month investigation into Gardner’s alleged drug dealings, Meeks said. DTF Commander Mark Odom said Gardner was allegedly moving large quantities of drugs through the area, using a network of runners and operatives, but declined to comment further because of the ongoing case.
The search soon transitioned from the Red Level area to Gardner’s home just over the Covington/Conecuh county line. There, Conecuh County authorities, along with local police, arrested Gardner’s girlfriend, Chandler Fowler on possession charges. Hers was the first of many arrests in the case.
“(Gardner) is a major drug dealer that has been infesting our county for a while, and I’m happy to say, he’s now behind bars,” Meeks said. “There is nothing glamorous about addiction, and certainly not about going to jail.
“Mr. Gardner ran into the woods rather than face the consequences of his actions, but we found him and everyone who helped him,” he said.
Odom described the Conecuh County man as a “major operative” in the local drug trade.
“He isn’t the biggest fish, but he is one of them,” Odom said. “Garner has been moving a large quantity of drugs in, and has several runners working for him. I can’t get into more details than that since more arrests are forthcoming.”
Meeks said thanks to a citizen’s tip, Gardner was found under the shed, armed with a loaded lever action 17-caliber, scoped rifle. He was convinced to give himself up to law enforcement, and no shots were fired.
Odom said that Gardner, who is a three time convicted felon on state and federal charges, told others he wouldn’t surrender to authorities if caught.
“He said he wasn’t going back to prison,” Odom said. “He said he was either going to shoot it out or he was going to shoot himself.”
Meeks said it was by “the grace of God” that police were able to convince Gardner to surrender peacefully.
“The only reason (Gardner) didn’t shoot is that God was with us that day,” he said.
In the attempt to locate Garner, Drug Task Force agents interviewed scores of residents, and as of Friday morning, nine others were arrested in conjunction with the operation – some for drug possession and others for hindering prosecution, and some for both.
And those are the first of many, police said. Some could be facing federal charges, as well, Odom said.
“I can say that the ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) has been, and there will be charges,” he said.
Assistant District Attorney Grace Jeter said Gardner – who is facing trafficking, drug possession, attempting to elude and resisting arrest charges – is facing a life sentence if convicted.
“Mr. Gardner is going back to prison for the rest of his life,” she said.
During the day’s events, police seized at total of 278 grams of ICE with a street value of approximately $27,000, numerous firearms and $11,495 in cash.
Gardner is currently being held in the Covington County Jail under a $1.066 million bond.
Arrested for possession of a controlled substance and drug paraphernalia and held on a $13,000 bond:
• Heather Strickland
• Christopher McBride
• Jessie Ray “Bo” Henderson
• Chandler Fowler
For hindering prosecution and held on a $150,000 bond:
• Alice Burgess
• Robert “Kenney” Weaver
For hindering prosecution, possession of a controlled substance, possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia and held on a $170,500 bond:
• Chelsea Shreve
• Ralph Otis “Buddy” Bryant
Also arrested was:
• Sabin Shreve, for hindering prosecution, possession of a controlled substance, possession of drug paraphernalia and violation of probation and held without bond.