By Kevin Hogencamp
Maj. Bill Berry says if it weren’t so criminal and if lives weren’t at stake, it might be humorous: A little section of Panama City is known to drug investigators as “Little Albany.”
That moniker and the large number of Albany residents recently arrested on drug charges in Panama City signify the expanding connection between outlaws in the two communities, says Berry, the Albany-Dougherty Drug Unit commander.
“We share intel with (drug investigators) in Panama City and they do the same with us, and I couldn’t believe it when they told me about an area being known as ‘Little Albany,’” Berry said. “It just blew me away.”
So, while, some communities within communities have monikers such as “Little China” and “Little Italy” because of dense ethnic populations, part of Gulf County is named after “The Good Life City” for all the wrong reasons, particularly cocaine trafficking. Thus, the trek between Albany and Panama City could be called “Cocaine Highway.”
“They are catching so many of our citizens for dope dealing in one area there that it would be like naming part of Albany ‘Panama City’ or ‘The Beach’ because of a large number of their drug dealers in a section of our community,” Berry said. “I don’t know if that is a compliment or not.”
Still, not all of the residents of “Little Albany” are criminals, he said.
One recent drug arrest of an Albany resident in Panama City resulted in tragedy. Convicted drug felon Rickey Massey died last November after being Tasered by investigators during a drug arrest. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement ruled that Massey died of a drug overdose because he ingested cocaine during his encounter with police.
Last week, two of six people arrested in a drug-trafficking operation in Panama City are Albany residents. In April, all six people arrested on drug charges had Albany addresses. At least three other drug busts in Panama City involving more than 12 arrests had Albany ties.
Because of this trend, Panama City and Bay County, Fla., authorities say they have their sights squarely set on Albany drug dealers in their community.
“We just don’t want drugs in our community and we don’t want people bringing them in from other cities,” the Panama City Police Department’s Sgt. Jeff Becker said recently. “It’s a pretty far distance (to Albany) so that’s part of the connection we want to find out, why are they coming here, why are they picking Panama City?
Becker and Berry say they are continually following leads between Albany and Panama City, trying to prevent the beginning of higher crime.
“All kinds of crimes stem from drugs,” said Becker, “that’s why we fight drugs and that’s why we’re going to continue to fight that battle.”
Berry said there is a “very regular line of communication” between his agency and the Bay Area Drug Gang Enforcement Squad (BADGES).
“Some of our investigators talk to them so regularly they know their (investigators’) home phone numbers,” Berry said.
On Oct. 12, Bay County Sheriff Frank McKeithen announced the arrest of six people after executing search warrants at local hotels due to the BADGES investigators developing information on cocaine trafficking from Albany to Bay County. More than an ounce of cocaine, prescription pills and drug paraphernalia were seized.
Arrested were Jimmy Lee Wallace, 23, of 806 W. Mercer Ave., Albany; Michael Rambo, 34, of 116 Mockingbird Lane, Albany; Thomas Michael Palmer, 36, of Panama City; Cheryl Marie Burnett, 34, of Tallahassee; Marissa Cathryn McCracken-Griffin, 25, of Panama City; Quentin DeShawn Bell, 37, of Stone Mountain, Ga.
All six face various drug charges and additional arrests are anticipated, authorities said. BADGES consists of investigators from the Panama City Police Department, Bay County Sheriff’s Office and other agencies.
During a traffic stop in which Massey was Tasered in an encounter with police, 25-year-old Jarell Laconte Daniels of Albany was arrested along with a Panama City man and charged with possessing a controlled substance with intent to distribute and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Authorities say that as police were walking up to the vehicle, Massey swallowed what turned out to be crack cocaine. When officers tried to stop him, a struggle began, and one of the officers Tased Massey. Massey then went into medical distress and later died at the hospital, authorities said.
Massey had been convicted of possession of cocaine twice, in 1995 and 2001, according to the Georgia Department of Corrections.
Later, on April 13, Daniels was among six Albany residents arrested during an investigation that included executing a search warrant at a Panama City residence.
Others arrested were Demetrius Weeks, also known as Erik Bernard Weeks, 39, charged with trafficking a controlled substance (hydrocodone), possessing cocaine with intent to distribute, possessing less than 20 grams of marijuana, and possessing drug paraphernalia; Robert King, 29, trafficking a controlled substance (hydrocodone) and possessing drug paraphernalia; Shawn Michael Keith, 37, trafficking a controlled substance (hydrocodone), providing false identification to a law enforcement officer, and possessing drug paraphernalia; Santanna Marie Johnson, 23, possessing cocaine, possessing drug paraphernalia, possessing a firearm by a convicted felon; and violating probation on a previous cocaine charge possession; and Sean Bernard Frazier, 21, possessing marijuana less than 20 grams.
Among the Albany residents also arrested this year by Panama City and Bay County authorities are Derrick Raymon Marshall, 33, failure to register as convicted felon; Samantha Renea Thomas, 20, 2555 Crescent Drive, cocaine possession with intent to sell, possession of cocaine, possession of less than 20 grams of marijuana, possession of narcotics equipment; Vanessa Rashaun Thomas, 22, 2555 Crescent Drive, tampering with evidence; Darren Leon Ball, 18, 1416 Roosevelt Ave., and Roderick James Solomon, 36, keeping public nuisance structure for drug activity, possession of marijuana with intent to sell, manufacture or deliver, destroying evidence, possession of narcotics equipment.