ST. PETERSBURG — A months-long covert investigation into the buying, selling and using of illegal drugs in Williams Park ended Thursday with the arrest of 17 people, police said.
But police aren't done yet. Narcotics detectives said they've been building criminal cases against more than 30 people since mid 2009 and that officers are still looking for the rest.
The downtown park is a regular hangout for city's homeless, transient and panhandling population. Some of those arrested were from among those ranks, police said, but others were drug dealers using the homeless as cover for their illegal activities.
"We're not going to let the park fall into the hands of the wrong people," Mayor Bill Foster said Thursday.
The investigation was sparked by complaints of open drug dealing and drug use in the area from residents, business owners and even the police officers who regularly patrol downtown. That prompted the department's vice and narcotics unit to target the park several months ago.
The suspects are accused of dealing in ecstasy, marijuana, crack cocaine and powder cocaine and prescription painkillers like hydrocodone, and oxycodone. Police pointed to two suspects in particular as the park's worst offenders.
The first was Theorn Luvorn Daniels, a.k.a. Byron Jackson, 48. He is a registered sex offender still on probation when he was arrested Thursday on charges of possession of crack cocaine, sale or delivery of crack cocaine, two counts of sale of marijuana, two misdemeanor counts of possession of marijuana and violation of probation. He was held without bail.
Daniels served nearly two decades in prison for offenses such as sexual battery, aggravated assault, battery on a law enforcement officer and being a felon in possession of a firearm, according to state records. Daniels was wearing an ankle-monitoring device when police arrested him in his apartment at 1625 16th St. N., police said. He was released from prison in August.
The other suspect high on law enforcement's list was Andre Demetrice Bullard, 36, who was arrested on two counts of possession of crack cocaine, two counts of sale of crack cocaine, sale of powder cocaine and possession of powder cocaine. Bullard, of 326 First Ave. N, was held in lieu of $90,000 bail.