ERWIN — Unicoi County Sheriff Kent Harris has issued letters of reprimand to two officers with the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department for what the sheriff says was the mishandling of a marijuana confiscation case.
Last week, Maj. Mike Hensley and Sgt. Frank Rogers initiated an investigation into the manufacture of marijuana after officials said Jerry Duncan, 24, 239 Viss Honeycutt Road, posted a photograph of live marijuana plants on his Facebook page.
Hensley and Rogers, along with two other officers, converged on the growing operation in the Coffee Ridge community, where they found the marijuana had been recently harvested, according to a release previously issued by the UCSD. The release stated the marijuana, which had completed its growing cycle, was collected from various “hidden” locations on the property.
Officials previously said a total of 21 marijuana plants, ranging from 4 to 18 feet in height, were seized from the property.
During the course of the investigation, authorities also said they learned Jerry Honeycutt, 50, also of 239 Viss Honeycutt Road, was involved in the operation.
Duncan and Honeycutt were both charged with conspiracy to manufacture a controlled substance, but neither was arrested. A letter of reprimand issued to Hensley and Rogers on Friday states that after obtaining a confession from Honeycutt and Duncan, Rogers and Hensley issued citations to the men instead of arrest warrants.
Harris said Tuesday that the number of plants seized constitutes a felony drug charge, which should have led to the men being arrested.
“It is not the policy of the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department to issue citations on felony drug cases,” the letter to Hensley, which was signed by Harris, states. “Your actions during this investigation sends a message to violators and to the public that is contrary to the zero tolerance drug policy of this department.
“While the efforts of yourself, Sgt. Rogers, and other officers in finding the marijuana are commendable, your failure to arrest the offenders is not acceptable. I trust this letter will help to prevent these unacceptable actions from occurring in the future.”
Harris also said the only time citations can be issued on felony charges if the violator is incapacitated.
“If you want to know the exact policy they violated, I feel like it was inefficiency in the job for the fact that, you know, you would write the citation which is no more than a speeding ticket or not having your seat belt on to somebody for 21 marijuana plants,” Harris said.
While Harris said Rogers and Hensley have done a “good job” over the years and commended their efforts in locating and seizing the plants, he said the growing of marijuana has led to the arrests of a number in the county.
“I think it’s pretty common knowledge that as long as I’ve been sheriff we’ve had a zero drug tolerance policy,” Harris said. “It may not be in writing, but I think everybody over there knows that.”
Harris said he has met with Rogers and Hensley, and the officers explained Duncan and Honeycutt were not arrested because they felt they would’ve been unable to locate the marijuana plants without promising the alleged violators they would not be arrested.
The written reprimands issued to Hensley and Rogers will be placed in their personnel files. Harris said no further action will be taken against the officers in the matter.
Duncan and Honeycutt are scheduled to appear in Unicoi County Sessions Court on Jan. 19.