Chief gets tough on drugs
PICAYUNE - The undercover narcotics officer sits in an unmarked car, waiting to buy prescription drugs from a woman he says has sold them to him before.
One of the woman's children stands nearby, accustomed to watching drug deals go down, the officer says. The man approaches the woman, buys some drugs and makes arrangements for another drug delivery just before Christmas.
The man pulls out a gold shield and identifies himself as a police officer. But not just any police officer - Police Chief Jim Luke.
The stunned woman replied, "Are you kidding?" Luke recalls.
The arrest Luke described is one of several he has made under cover in the past month. It's part of his "get tough" stance against drug dealers since he became police chief in March.
Luke said he has been going under cover in the city's busiest areas and he doesn't disguise himself. He just wears plain clothes.
"If they will sell drugs to the chief of police in broad daylight, they will sell drugs to anyone, including your children," Luke said.
He identified the woman, arrested Nov. 16, as Toni Eileen Gwinn. Other officers arrested her husband, George Henry Gwinn, at a nearby home. Police seized the couple's vehicles and tried to console their children, Luke said.
The narcotics involved were Xanax, an anti-anxiety medicine, and Lorcet, a pain-reliever. Both are available legally only by prescription.
The wife, held on $285,000 bond, is charged with conspiracy and seven counts of selling a controlled substance. She faces up to 270 years in prison if convicted. The husband, whose bond is $105,000, is charged with three counts of selling a controlled substance. His possible penalty if convicted is up to 90 years in prison.
"It just goes to show that no matter who the drug dealer and no matter who the drug buyer, it always hurts our children," he said.
"A child does not have to take drugs, sell drugs or possess drugs for it to ruin their lives."
Luke, with 32 years in law enforcement, has implemented DARE, a Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, in the public schools. Earlier this month, police arrested 18 suspected drug dealers in an undercover operation that drew them to a fake storefront to pick up a free big-screen television; they were arrested instead.
Luke also plans to hold town meetings, led by counselors, to address drug problems.
Cmdr. Joel Hudson of the department's criminal investigation division said Luke means business.
Drug dealers in Picayune have two choices, said Hudson.
"Either stop selling drugs or pack up and get out of our community... Have no doubts, we are coming after you."