Task force has protected county since 2019


Since its inception by county prosecutor Anneka Collins in 2019, the Highland County Task Force has garnered more than 260 indictments on more than 1,150 charges, had 67 people sentenced to community control and saw criminals sentenced to 437 years in prison.

The task force was established in December 2019 when Collins said she developed the idea because no law enforcement agency was actively pursuing drug trafficking cases in Highland County. In presenting the idea to the Highland County commissioners, Collins noted that the majority of crime is tied directly to drugs as well as the majority of Children Services cases.

When the commissioners approved the request, Collins went to longtime local law enforcement officer Randy Sanders and asked him if he would be interested in heading the task force. Sanders and Collins then met with the sheriff and police chiefs of the county and discussed their ideas with them.

“All of them were extremely excited to get the task force off the ground and all donated money to the task force,” Collins said.

Sanders began working with Brian McNeil of the Greenfield Police Department in January 2020 and they immediately began purchasing illegal narcotics from known targets in Greenfield and Operation Clean Streets was underway. By March 2020, the task force and the Greenfield Police Department served the first search warrants on known targets. In June 2020, the task force presented its first cases to a grand jury and the first round-up was completed in Greenfield.

Following the success of Operation Clean Streets, the task force became extremely busy and in 2021, Collins said she went back to the commissioners and asked for the funding to hire a second Investigator. Sanders was promoted to chief investigator and Chris Bowen was hired as the second full-time investigator for the task force. The next large-scale operation of the task force was Operation Ice Breaker, primarily focused in Hillsboro. Following Ice Breaker, the task force completed Operation Party Crashers and is currently working on Operation Fetty Stop.

“The task force has grown considerably since 2020 when Randy and Brian were the only two conducting the investigations,” Collins said. “Other than Randy and Chris, there are two patrolmen assigned to the task force from the Greenfield Police Department and one officer from the Hillsboro Police Department. Additionally, the detectives from the sheriff’s office assist with operations as they are able. The task force has received additional donations from all the law enforcement agencies and has bought new equipment for use by all county law enforcement as well as secured new search software that is available for all law enforcement agencies.”

Funding for the task force comes from several sources. The salaries of Sanders and Bowen are paid from the county general fund. The vehicles they drive were purchased by clerk of courts Ike Hodson from a title fund. The officers assigned to the task force by the other agencies are paid by their respective agencies. The funding of the undercover buys, the gas for their vehicles, and the money to pay informants is funded by the US 23 Major Crimes Task Force. For example, during Operation Ice Breaker, the US 23 Major Crimes Task Force supplied the task force with about $60,000. As a member of the US 23 Major Crimes Task Force, Highland County receives funding, equipment and members’ assistance. In exchange, when any member of the US 23 Major Crimes Task Force needs assistance, members of the Highland County Task Force assist. This has allowed the building of a strong working relationship with the surrounding counties, Collins said.

“The task force recognizes that treatment for addicts and education for our youth are paramount. As such, when the sheriff’s office asked the task force to take the education piece over, Randy and Chris jumped at the chance,” Collins said. “The task force is given a portion of Law Enforcement Trust Money each year to purchase education materials and they go to the area schools as well as civic organizations in order to give talks and interact. Additionally, Randy, myself, Terry Briton and treatment coordinator Tonya Sturgill are working diligently to implement a new type of Overdose Response Team that will also become involved before a person actually overdoses to push addicts into treatment.

“Other than interacting with the community and schools, the task force stays relevant in the county with the task force Facebook page where followers participate in polls, can watch round-up reels, learn about drugs and other crimes, and get a good laugh.”

From 2019 to March 1, 2024, the task force confiscated a half-pound of fentanyl, 6.26 pounds of hash liquid, 5.02 pounds of hash, 6.82 pounds of meth, 2.21 pounds of mushrooms, 14-plus grams of cocaine, 49.77 pounds of marijuana and .93 pounds of other drugs.

It has conducted sexual assault investigations; investigated involuntary manslaughter; recovered multiple stolen cars; recovered a stolen tractor, camper and side-by-side ATV; conducted operations to curtail the theft of catalytic converters; and undertaken cases of failure to appear and having weapons under disability; and recovered stolen property.

It has collected restitution of $7,365 and fines of $4,518.

Forfeitures to task over the years include:

2020 — $3,223, 2006 Ford truck and a property at 510 McKell Ave. in Greenfield.

2021 — 2011 Ford Taurus, 2005 Cadillac, 2008 Chevrolet Malibu, 2009 Honda Civic, 2011 Jaguar and $3,820.

2022 — 2003 Infinity, 2004 Ford Explorer, 2002 F150, 2001 F250, 2013 Ford Focus, 2017 Chevrolet Cruz, 1987 Chevrolet Chevette, 2014 Ford truck, 2000 F150, 2001 Jaguar, 2007 Dodge Caliber and $6,661.

2023 —$43,392, PPS .9 mm, 2014 Honda Civic, property at 5004 S.R. 138, 1999 Lexus RX 300, Jaguar, Crossman Shockway .22, Mossbarger 12-gauge, PFB 16, tools, Kawawsaki side-by-side, .9 mm Taurus, 2007 Honda Accord, 2012 Chevy Silverado, Honda motorcycle, 1998 Chevrolet Tracker, Hyundai, Sporter SE 202, Ruger .22 long rifle, Taurus C2C .9 mm, property at 12358 Butters Rd., Arctic Cat ATV, property at 653 Pine St., 2004 Chevrolet truck, Ruger .380 special, Mossberg 702 .22 caliber, Ruger .9 mm, Glenfield Model 60 Marlin .22, Savage Mark 2 .22 caliber, Stevens 12-gauge, security equipment and a mower.

”The Task Force is extremely proud of the education prong of the task force,” Collins said. “The sheriff’s office discontinued the DARE program and in 2021, they asked the task force to take over the education of illegal narcotics. Since then, chief investigator Randy Sanders and investigator Chris Bowen have gone to different schools and civic organizations and provided information regarding illegal narcotics, as well as what the task force does. Each year the sheriff’s office provides a percentage of their Law Enforcement Trust Fund for education purposes. The task force has purchased multiple learning tools for use in the schools and chief investigator Sanders has prepared a Power Point which is updated regularly with real life cases and situations. Sanders and Bowen are also active in career fairs at the various schools.“

Information for this story was provided by Highland County Prosecuting Attorney Anneka Collins.

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