LITTLE ROCK UPDATE:
Seventy people, including five police officers, have been indicted on charges centering on purported large-scale drug-trafficking operations in the Phillips and Lee County areas, the U.S. District Attorney for Eastern Arkansas said Tuesday.
Christopher Thyer said at a news conference that around 800 police officers from various agencies worked to round up the suspects beginning early Tuesday morning in the first phase of an effort dubbed "Operation Delta Blues." Fourteen of the suspects remained on the loose as of Tuesday afternoon.
Thyer prefaced his remarks noting he grew up in eastern Arkansas and often heard rumors of corruption.
"For far too long, a small minority of individuals have taken over this community," he said. "What was once an idyllic garden has sprouted weeds. And up until today, no one was willing or able to eradicate those weeds ... We are here to stay until each and every one of those weeds are pulled up by roots."
The arrested suspects will appear in U.S. District Court in Little Rock beginning Thursday morning. Thyer said prosecutors will seek to have the "vast majority" of them detained.
Thyer described the suspects as "kilo-level suppliers and distributers" and police officers who aided them, primarily in Helena-West Helena. The drugs were cocaine, crack cocaine and marijuana, he said.
The five police officers - who have all been arrested - are accused "of protecting criminals by taking bribes to look the other way," said Valerie Parlave, Special Agent in Charge of the Little Rock Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The officers are identified in indictments as Herman Eaton, Robert "Bam Bam" Rogers and Sgt. Marlene Kalb with the Helena-West Helena Police Department, Robert Wahls with the Marvell Police Department and Winston Jackson with the Phillips County Sheriff's Department.
Thyer noted in his remarks that the Helena Mayor - Arnell Willis - came to his office with a delegation of others about a month ago complaining of a "culture of corruption" and asking for assistance.
"Well, mayor, today I can tell you what I couldn't tell you a month ago," he said. "The federal government is here and the federal government is here to stay."
One agent was reportedly shot in the upper left thigh during the arrest process Tuesday morning. He was said to be in stable condition with a non-life-threatening injury.
A suspect fired shots in one other incident, but no one was hurt.
Thyer said he could not comment on where the investigation goes from here, but that this is only the first phase.
"These 70 individuals charged today are not the end of the investigation," he said. "They are in fact the beginning. They are the first weeds we are pulling up."
An FBI agent says five police officers are among dozens of people arrested or indicted in a major drug and weapons case in eastern Arkansas.
Details on the case are not expected to be released until a 2 p.m. news conference in Helena-West Helena, but Supervisory Special Agent Jason Pack said more than 60 people were targeted by investigators and most have been apprehended. He said they included five police officers, though he didn't know if they were members of the city police department.
The five officers were arrested early Tuesday.
Pack described the charges as "drug and gun" related.
A woman who answered the phone at the Helena mayor's office said Mayor Arnell Willis would have no comment before the 2 p.m. news conference.
There was no answer at a phone number listed on the city website for police chief Uless Wallace.
United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas Christopher Thyer said in a statement that a significant number of arrests and indictments would be announced at the news conference.
Those scheduled to attend the event include Thyer and representatives from the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Internal Revenue Service.
Read tomorrow's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.
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