ELIZABETHTON — Donna Rogan, a newly-hired deputy with the Carter County Sheriff’s Department, posed for most of this school year as a high school student to determine the amount of illegal drug activity in the county school system and her work has led to the arrest of nine adults and five juveniles on drug charges. Her work also identified problems in one classroom that have now been corrected.
Carter County Sheriff Chris Mathes discussed the highlights of Operation Jump Street during a Monday morning press conference in which First Judicial District Attorney General Tony Clark participated. Mathes said the operation also identified several other high school students who were participating in the drug culture, but were not charged in the investigation.
The adults arrested in the operation and their charges included:
• Rodney Allen Adkins Sr., 46, 241 Liberty Hollow Road, illegal firearms possession;
• Jerry Michael Warner, 60, 363 Judge Ben Allen Road, maintaining a dwelling where narcotics are manufactured, or sold, manufacture of schedule VI drug, illegal firearms possession;
• Justin S. Pierce, 20, address unavailable, criminal impersonation;
• Andrew Terrell Smith, 20, 106 Audie Hardin Road, sale of schedule VI drug;
• Codi B. Derr, 20, address unavailable, sale of schedule III drug;
• Tyler Lane Salo, 18, 119 Garland Cemetery Road, casual exchange;
• Alexis Brooke Townsend, 19, 1294 Milligan Highway, No. 9, sale of schedule III drugs, contributing to delinquency of a minor;
• Amber Nicole Morton, 18, 1205 Rittertown Road, Hampton, sale of schedule III drugs, contributing to delinquency of a minor;
• Samantha Danielle Estep, 18, 117 Nannie Smith Road, sale of schedule III drugs, contributing to delinquency of a minor.
Mathes said the drugs usually encountered during the operation were marijuana, Suboxone and even untaxed liquor. Two vehicles and 10 firearms were seized.
The sheriff also had high praise for Rogan who went undercover. He said she had to “live her life in a shoebox for the past school year...I commend her on a great job.” Rogan posed as a senior who transferred to a Carter County high school from another school district.
Mathes said the operation began after he had received several complaints last year from parents about drug activity in the schools.
As a former agent with the federal Drug Enforcement Agency who worked multimillion dollar undercover operations in areas outside the United Sates, Mathes was experienced in such activities and approached Director of Schools Kevin Ward about placing an undercover officer in the schools.
During the summer, Ward and Mathes met with District Attorney Clark about the legality of such an operation.
“He told us it was strictly legal and very proactive,” Ward said.
Mathes said one thing all three agreed upon was that the fewer people who knew about the undercover operation, the better.
Ward took the recommendation to heart. None of the staff and faculty inside the schools knew about the undercover operation. Ward said a phony transcript and other records were created for Hannah Reagan, who supposedly was transferring to Carter County. Not even the sheriff’s school resource officers were aware of the operation.
Mathes said Rogan was soon accepted by a circle of students involved in the drug culture. He said her credibility improved when she was “suspended “ from one school and moved to another one. To become exposed to other schools, her course schedule included courses at another school. Mathes didn’t name which schools were involved.
In addition to exposing drug activity, the undercover officer also revealed another problem in one classroom. Mathes said the teacher was frequently out of the classroom. During one absence, a male student exposed himself to the officer, whom he thought was a fellow student.
Ward said that student is no longer in the school system and the classroom problem has been corrected. He would not elaborate on the corrective measures.
Lt. Mike Little said the undercover operation also revealed good things about the school system. He said Rogan tested security procedures and found them consistently strong. She also identified a problem of some students leaving the campus during lockdown drills and that has been corrected.
Ward said the undercover operation “provided us with a fresh set of eyes and a different perspective to see things. It gave us another snap shot of our operations.”
He said establishing an identity for the operative was difficult. It had to be extremely accurate so that her identity was not compromised, but Ward had to make sure she was not being counted on attendance reports to the state and falsely receiving Basic Education Program funds from the state that are determined by enrollment.
Although several people were snared, Mathes said he continues to have confidence in the school system. “Even a good garden needs weeding,” Mathes said. The sheriff said his child attends the school system.
Ward agreed, saying “we are sending a message that we have zero tolerance for drugs, we hope to deter the 1 percent or 2 percent of students who are creating the negative stories, but 98 percent, 99 percent of our students are doing very positive things.”