Northshire part of county-wide drug sweep

MANCHESTER - During the attention-grabbing "Operation County Strike" that took place all over Bennington County yesterday a handful of those arrested were from the local area.

A total of four suspects were arrested from Manchester, three from Arlington, and one from Londonderry.

Those arrested from Manchester include Steven Wall, 34, on sale of heroin, Amber Grover, 23, on sale of heroin and Oxycontin and possession of a regulated narcotic, Gabriel Otto, 40, on sale and possession of heroin, and Amber Blake, 30, on sale and possession of crack and heroin. Manchester Police Department Police Chief, Mike Hall, said that this is a good step in the right direction but more work still needs to be done to combat a growing drug problem in the area.

"The majority of the individuals who were arrested in Manchester were on charges of sale of heroin and cocaine. There were also prescription drugs such as Oxycontin," he said. "Although there were not that many individuals who actually resided here in Manchester, many of them were in fact selling drugs in Manchester and the surrounding towns."

When asked if there is still work left to be done Hall said, "We have at least three other individuals that either reside here or frequent this area on a regular basis who are still outstanding. Our goal is to arrest them as soon as we can and we have reason to believe that one of those individuals has fled back to the New York City area."

Ryan McDermott, 27, from Londonderry was arrested for sale of suboxone and possession of a related drug.

Those arrested from Arlington include Paula Hill, 26, on sale and possession of crack, Andrew Brainerd, 25, on sale and possession of Hallucinogen, and Larry Clayton, 61, on sale of crack and sale and possession of cocaine.

A total of 47 of the 63 suspects were arrested ranging from age 17 to 61. In a collaborated effort law enforcement officers from Bennington, Manchester, and Winhall, as well as State Police, the Bennington County Sherrif's Department, Federal Agents with U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives were involved.

"The southwestern part of Vermont hasn't really seen a significant amount of drug enforcement in a number of years and what has happened is that most of the focus has been devoted to the major areas such as Burlington, Rutland, Brattleboro and those areas," said Hall. "The outlying smaller communities are becoming thresholds for people who deal in illicit drugs primarily because of the lack of enforcement."

Although the grunt of the operation occurred on Wednesday, the operation is not over, he said. The main goal is to significantly decrease the amount of drugs that come through the area.

"The desire and the use of heroin has increased significantly, therefore the heroin took a leg-hold in our area," he said. "As long as the demand is still here there will be people who come here and supply those demands. What our intentions are is to stay fast the course we have been on for the past several months."

Town Manager of Manchester, John O'Keefe, said that a message has been sent that our area will not back down from this drug issue and that we are taking steps to lessen the amount of drugs in our area.

"A lot of credit to the task force, Chief Hall, the Manchester Police Department, and all agencies involved. It sends a clear message as a community that we wont put up with this. I think the number of arrests for most people were pretty surprising," he said.

With the Manchester Police Department and the Winhall Police Department playing a vital role on the success of the operation, Hall stressed it was important to note that they continue to collaborate in a number of areas that involve significant car accidents to home invasions, said Hall.

"We generally work close with Winhall Police on many issues," he said. "We quite often call upon one another for resources and assistance. We have a very good working relationship. When this [operation] came around our goal was to work with all the law enforcement agencies within the county to get this done."


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