It was a first for the Fourth Judicial District – the padlocking of a private home that had been found to be a public nuisance.
At a Tuesday news conference, Jefferson County Sheriff Jeff Coffey said that following a months-long investigation, a special operations team went to a home on St. Paul Drive in Dandridge at 7 a.m. Tuesday. The home was the object of a search warrant on Feb. 22, at which time seven people were charged with possession of drug paraphernalia.
Coffey says drug activity continued at the home, and there was evidence that methamphetamine and fentanyl were being sold from the residence.
Following consultation with District Attorney General Jimmy Dunn, a grand jury met in special session on Monday. The panel returned indictments naming the three residents of the home; John Gene Bennett, 51; his son, Johnnie William Bennett, 24; and his nephew, Dartagnan Scott Bennett, 29.
They were indicted for sale and delivery of meth and fentanyl and counterfeit controlled substances. The three are being held without bond until a later hearing.
Coffey said the methamphetamine was not manufactured in the home. In addition to that drug, seven small packages of either fentanyl or heroin were seized during the raid. The sheriff said fentanyl is a pharmaceutical drug which is 100 times stronger than morphine and 50 times stronger than heroin.
Coffey says said his goal since being elected has been “if you are dealing drugs, we are going to go after you.” He said that on a daily basis he sees drug abusers and the impact that drugs are having on their family and community.
“Sometimes they feel hopeless, but we see many of the crimes that are committed are tied into drugs,” Coffey said. “People say you can’t win the war on drugs. Well, you are never going to win the war if you don’t try.”
Dunn said he filed a petition “for abatement of a nuisance.” He said in the past such petitions have targeted business places but the law also applies to private homes.
“Based upon the drug activity, we went to the court (Judge Duane Slone) with our petition and he issued an order of padlocking. He put a notice on the door indicating it had been padlocked according to the statute. A hearing on the padlocking issue is set for Sept. 3 before Slone.
The prosecutor said the home is owned by Sharon L. Bennett, the mother of John Gene Bennett, and the grandmother of the two other defendants.
Coffey said he believes the homeowner knew about the activities in the home. And Dunn said she may be charged in the future if there is evidence she knew about the illegal activity.
Asked if the padlocking move sets a precedent for the district, Dunn said, “Very definitely. I can only speak for the Fourth Judicial District, but the sheriff and I have talked many times about how to combat crime and this is one of the methods, and this is what we intend to do. The people in the neighborhoods of the district want it stopped.”