East Tennessee Initiative Hopes To Stem Drug Trafficking from Detroit

District Attorney offices in East Tennessee are touting the early success of a joint initiative tackling drug trafficking between Detroit, Michigan and East Tennessee.

The new “313 initiative,” nicknamed after the area code for Detroit, is aimed at identifying, targeting and dismantling individual operations and groups from the Detroit area who have chosen counties in East Tennessee to distribute narcotics. 

Knox County District Attorney Charme Allen from Knoxville county said that the illegal drug pipeline from Detroit ultimately leads to more associated violent crimes and overdose deaths.

“We are here today to make a statement and to let those individuals from the 313 area code know that Knox County and the surrounding counties are no longer a place that you are welcome, this is officially a hostile market for those of you who want to peddle your drugs in our area,” Allen said at a press conference announcing the initiative. 

“Every crime you look at, you can really trace it back, if you go far enough, to some drug nexus. So anything we can do to stop the drugs from coming in is not only going to decrease our drug crimes, they’re going to decrease everything from our violent crimes, all the way down to our shoplifting,” Allen said in February. 

Allen also pointed to 39 suspected overdose deaths in January in Knox County alone, as one example of why this initiative is so important to the District Attorneys in the area. 

“It is true that gang activity may have taken a little bit of a foothold in Knoxville, but the footprint is spreading to all of our communities,” Blount County DA Ryan Desmond said. “That’s why this collaboration is so important.” 

Last week, four multi-agency drug busts under the ‘313 Initiative’ were conducted, resulting in the arrest of seven people from two different states. The suspects, Thamar Kareem Malik Farris, Terrell Erick-Shabazz Brown, Kevin Quatory Vaughn and Davon James Sharpe face charges varying from felon possession of a handgun to manufacture, deliver, sell and possess various drugs such as fentanyl, methamphetamine and cocaine. 

During the operation, more than half a pound of fentanyl and two pounds of methamphetamine were confiscated by police. Two of the drug busts occurred at traffic stops as part of the investigation according to a recent press release.

Allen told WVLT Knoxville in late February that the agencies collaborating on the “313 initiative” have made 60 arrests since it began in December. Participating agencies have made 46 arrests of people in Tennessee with connections to Detroit. 

Fourth District DA James Dunn said the joint effort will attempt to dismantle individual and drug trafficking organizations by using a quicker approach.

“Often these investigations are lengthy in nature with the investigations taking months or even years to conclude, the 313 Initiative is an approach where individuals and drug trafficking organizations are identified and quickly dismantled, using a more short-term investigative approach, such as traffic stops by bust, search warrants, giving enforcement the ability to address more trafficking in a shorter period of time,” Dunn said. 

DA Allen’s office declined to comment on what specific tactics have been used by the joint initiative to speed up arrests when The Crime Report reached out for comment. 

Officials said that data and investigatory documents from the initiative will be shared between collaborating agencies using an online database instead of the more traditional case file approach where other districts may not have direct access, allowing more interdepartmental transparency and communication. 

Chris Irwin, a criminal defense attorney and organizer and self-proclaimed anarchist who recently organized a recent protest against the police treatment of Lisa Edwards, who died shortly after being in police custody in Knoxville, says the Knoxville drug problem goes deep.

 “This town is dead center between the north and the south, the Mississippi and the East Coast, there’s always been oceans of drugs coming through this town and all the criminal injustice system has done is grab the people that are bad at drug dealing. It’s like, um, a quality control for dealers,” Irwin told The Crime Report. 

Irwin says he was somewhat radicalized by being a defense attorney for a few years and left about a year ago. 

“It’s the drivers. It’s the disposable folks [being arrested], they don’t impact the network at all, they make a big fuss about it. But no, I don’t think it addresses any of the underlying issues of addiction” Irwin said.

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