A joint operation spearheaded by the Glynn/Brunswick Narcotics Enforcement Team was conducted Tuesday afternoon at four locations in the Brunswick and Glynn County area where four search warrants were executed.
Police discovered what was believed to be at least one location where suspects had been processing and packaging what is believed to be the illegal chemical known as synthetic cannabinoid or synthetic marijuana, commonly referred to as "spice" or "herbal incense."
Investigators of the local narcotics team said they've been working countless hours over the last several months and even more recently since people have become ill from smoking a product labeled as "Crazy Clown."
Local investigators said they've been working with the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, the Georgia Drugs and Narcotics Agency, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Crime Laboratories since about two-dozen people locally have been transported to the emergency room after smoking the chemical-laced leafy material, often advertised as herbal incense.
"Because the producers of these synthetic drugs often change the chemical make-up of the compound to bypass newly enacted criminal laws, our agency has been working closely with the state crime lab to identify exactly what has been making these people sick," said Chief Matt Doering, of the Glynn County Police Department. "While we can usually easily identify cocaine and marijuana, the challenge our drug investigators face with these synthetic drugs is that until the crime lab analyzes the substance, they have no idea if the substance that has been seized is even illegal."
Four search warrants were executed Tuesday afternoon by the narcotics unit with assistance of the Brunswick and Glynn County police departments. Police raided Mary Jane's Emporium on Altama Avenue in Brunswick just after 4 p.m., immediately followed by three homes of employees and the owner of the store.
Upon entering one of the homes on Fourth Avenue on the south end of Brunswick, officers said they discovered what appeared to be devices and equipment used for the production of the synthetic substances. The area was at that point treated as a hazardous environment because officers were unsure if the chemicals responsible for the people becoming sick were located in the home.
The Brunswick Fire Department assisted by the Glynn County Fire Department responded and decontaminated the occupants of the home, as well as officers that initially dressed in Hazmat suits to clear the area of potential hazardous chemicals.
There was never any immediate threat to residents in the neighborhood, according to authorities.
"The joint effort the members of the drug unit, police departments and the fire departments was excellent," Doering said. "It speaks very highly of the dedication of all those involved to see the cooperative effort."
Capt. Terry Wright, commander of the narcotics team, reported the arrest of four people during the raids. Parker LaRoche, 45, was charged with five counts of possession with intent to distribute a Schedule 1 controlled substance. He was also wanted for probation violation.
Lawrence LaRoche, 22, was charged with giving a false name or information to a law enforcement officer. Both are from Brunswick. The two were arrested at Mary Jane's Emporium at the time of the raid.
Arrested at the Fourth Avenue home were Sean LaRoche Jr., 22, and James Thompson, 19, both of Brunswick. LaRoche Jr. was charged with five counts of possession of a Schedule 1 controlled substance with intent to distribute, while Thompson was charged with three counts of the same charge.
The three charged with drug violations were being held without bond at the Glynn County Detention Center.
Investigators said they're still sorting through evidence and several items will be sent to the crime lab for further analysis. Anyone with information about the illegal distribution of the illegal synthetic substance or any other illegal drug is asked to call the Glynn/Brunswick Narcotics Enforcement Team at 912-554-7550 or Silent Witness at 912-264-1333.