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Agencies raid Smoker's Video stores in synthetic drug investigation

Police conduct drug raids at stores on Beach, Normandy, Emerson

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Police raided three Smoker's Video stores Wednesday in Jacksonville as part of a long-term investigation into synthetic drugs.

The stores sell smoking devices, tobacco and adult novelties, but the raids, which began around 10 a.m., involved synthetic drugs, like Spice or K2, at the stores on Beach Boulevard, Emerson Street and Normandy Boulevard.

While police said details about the raids would come from Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi at a 2 p.m. Thursday new conference, a News4Jax crew outside the store on Emerson Street saw one person in handcuffs being put into a patrol car.

I-TEAM: Owner has criminal history

The owners of the Smoker's Videos in Jacksonville are Gregory Burris, Lauri Burris and Ronald E. Brown Jr. A neighbor of the Burris' told News4Jax that he saw them being taken away by police Wednesday.

The neighbor said it appeared the couple went with police willingly.

“They walked two people out, a couple, through the garage, and put them in one of the JSO cars,” Jack Dolman said. “There was no reluctance to get in the cars. It wasn’t like, 'I don’t want to go' or that type of thing. They put one in one side and one in the other.”

Police have not said how many arrests were made or who was arrested. No one connected to the store was available for comment.

The I-TEAM spent the day digging into records of one of the business' owners and uncovered an apparent criminal past.

In 2002, Greg Burris was arrested for eight racketeering charges and 25 counts, including possession of obscene material, in a case tied to another video store in central Florida.

He pleaded guilty to four of the obscene material charges.

The I-TEAM also found that Greg Burris sued a state attorney in central Florida in federal court, arguing his inability to sell adult videos was a violation of his civil rights. The case was dismissed.

Burris has owned 10 other video-related business in Florida and Georgia, including one in Jacksonville Beach and others in Largo, Clearwater, Hollywood, Orlando, Gainesville, Oviedo and Palm Bay, but they are all inactive, according to the Florida Secretary of State. His Georgia stores were in Savannah and Jonesboro.

Jacksonville stores source of drug complaints

Synthetic drugs, like Spice, are not pot, but can be just as potent for getting high. A woman who works at a store near one of the Smoker's Video properties said the drugs being sold at the stores attracted all types of people.

VIDEO:  Agencies raid 3 stores in synthetic drug investigation

“I would see people around the side of the building, out front, just slumped over,” said the woman, who asked not to be identified. “You could tell they weren't really there. People sitting at the bus stop, most likely zoned out.”

Officers were seen bringing boxes out of all three businesses, which had been the source of numerous complaints about drugs. 

Frank Salmons said synthetic drugs, specifically K2 or Spice, are a big issue in the area.

“There are a lot of people around here on it,” he said.

He said he was glad to see the raids taking place Wednesday.

“It's been a very long-term investigation (involving) several state and local agencies in the Jacksonville area,” Jacksonville Sheriff's Office Public Information Officer Melissa Bujeda said.

Bujeda would not confirm the different local, state and federal agencies involved, but dozens of officers and agents served arrest and search warrants at each of the locations. One agency spotted was Naval Criminal Investigative Service.

She said no one was injured in the serving of the search warrants Wednesday.

Raids are end of long process

News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith said police are strategic in raiding all three stores at the same time.

“The reason they are doing them all together is because if they did just one store, then the other stores could be tipped off,” Smith said. “It would give them time to get rid of any evidence that would be there in the store.”

He said the scope of the agencies involved is an indication that the investigation likely goes beyond Duval County.

“They are at the end of the investigation at this point,” Smith said. “Whenever you are dealing with some type of drug bust, even though it's synthetic marijuana, it is still illegal, so this has been a long process, but they may have had informants come in making purchases, getting names and dates, getting all their ducks in a row for the court proceeding.”

With more details to come from investigators, people in the neighborhood said they’re just glad the store is closed for now.

“It creates a lot of crime around here, you know?” Robert Smith said. “It used to be good around here 10 years ago.”

Dangers of synthetic marijuana

According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, the drugs often called “synthetic marijuana” are – in reality – very different from marijuana. They contain powerful chemicals called cannabimimetics and can cause dangerous health effects.

The drugs are made specifically to be abused. Like many other illegal drugs, synthetic marijuana is not tested for safety, and users don’t really know exactly what chemicals they are putting into their bodies.

These synthetic drugs can be extremely dangerous and addictive. Health effects from the drug can be life-threatening and can include:

  • Severe agitation and anxiety
  • Fast, racing heartbeat and higher blood pressure
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Muscle spasms, seizures, and tremors
  • Intense hallucinations and psychotic episodes
  • Suicidal and other harmful thoughts and/or actions

Poison center experts -- as well as many federal, state, and local government officials -- have called synthetic drug use a risk to the public’s health and a hazard to public safety.