Chambers case brings to light drug connections 4/15/2015

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 17, 2015

Sheriff Dennis Darby talks with Gene Wallis at the Batesville Exchange Club. The Panolian photo by John Howell

Chambers case brings to light drug connections

By John Howell
The investigation into the burning murder of Jessica Chambers has led investigators to previously unknown drug-connected corruption, death threats and “some really rough people,” Panola County Sheriff Dennis Darby said during a recent meeting of the Batesville Exchange Club.

Darby spoke as part of a series of meetings where elected officials have been invited to describe their jobs. Retiring Justice Court Judge Bill Joiner and Circuit Clerk Melissa Meek-Phelps spoke at earlier meetings.

The incumbent sheriff described his job as “kind of a coordinator,” especially dealing with the drug violations.

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“People don’t understand the extent of the drug trade,” Darby said. “With drugs you have corruption, you have stealing, you’ll have robbery,” he said.

“You’ve got to work with other agencies,” he said, citing law enforcement connections developed during his 30-year-career with the Mississippi Highway Patrol that he has expanded during his tenure as sheriff.

“You’ve got to have support from the public, too,” he added.

“We’ve got some tremendous investigators with our department on a level that is above what I’ve ever worked with,” Darby continued.

With the Chambers murder, “… right off the bat we associated ourselves with some of the best of the best,” he said, citing the FBI, DEA, U.S. Marshals and other state and federal agencies with extensive forensics and investigative resources.

“We’re (not) out here by ourselves trying to solve something and not doing anything. They’re working on it 24/7 right now.”

“We’ve got several hundred people that we have interviewed in this girl getting killed; we’re having to go back through,” Darby continued.

“A bunch of them are lying, but you’ve got to figure out what they’re lying for.”

“We’re wanting to know the association and you tell them: … ‘we’re not concerned about your selling drugs or bringing drugs from Mexico or whatever, … I want to know your association with anybody or any knowledge that you know about this murder, … So quit being so sensitive, quit being so nervous about you’re setting in here because we know that you are a dope dealer,’” Darby said, describing the nature of the interviews with many of the persons of interest in the Chambers’ investigation.

“But what we’ve gotten out of this is we’ve gotten a lot of information that we’re using to control the drug epidemic here.

“We’ve uncovered some stuff that we’re going to be able to use; …we’ve uncovered some big corruption here,” Darby asked. “Have y’all noticed it’s been kind of quiet here lately?”

“This is a hard one,” Darby said, reflecting an assessment similar to another offered by a Justice Department official who spoke in Batesville last week.

“There was gasoline involved in this; this girl was doused in gasoline; they did the testing and everything to know that,” Darby said.

“The car was totally burned,” he continued. “DNA, a lot of the factors that you normally use; it burned up; that’s a criminal’s greatest fear is leaving any evidence,”

“We have a couple of possibilities, but they’re not going to tell us; they’re real, real bad drug addicts.”

“That would indicate that they’ve done this before,” said Exchange member Bobby Baker.
“This history with the person we suspect (is that he) has done this before,” the sheriff said.

“There’s also a life or death threat that they put in front of them,” Darby said. “These people will kill you or threaten to kill you and they can kill you in numerous ways,” he said.

“You can’t make something happen; it’s hard,” he said. “Do I feel like it’s going to be solved?,” he asked. “I do. but it’s not going to be done overnight.”

In other areas of drug investigation:
•“We’ve got a lot of heroin now. We made an arrest several months ago, our biggest source was coming in we knew it, we took time and prioritorized getting this dope. It was coming out of Arizona; we knew it.
“I don’t just go in there and grab somebody just because he’s got some dope and put him in jail; you’ve got to do reports on this stuff.”
With the reports, “You extend because you want the person that sold him the dope and the person associated with that dope,” Darby said.

Low-priced heroin is filling a void that has been created by increasing prices for methamphetamine, the sheriff said.

• “Spice” an over-the-counter product smoked as synthetic marijuana has been responsible for two deaths in Panola County during recent months, he said;
• “Codeine is really big,” in the county, the sheriff said.