ATHENS, Ga. - Law enforcement officers seized more than 40 firearms and nearly $1 million worth of illegal drugs Tuesday as part of what authorities said was the largest police operation ever conducted in Athens.
Athens-Clarke County Police, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia announced the indictments of 17 people on federal charges and six arrests on state charges after a "coordinated take down" that involved 23 agencies and more than 300 members of law enforcement.
"There's no question that our community is safer now," said Athens-Clarke County Police Chief Cleveland Spruill.
"Operation Benchwarmers" was the culmination of several months of investigation as part of Project Safe Neighborhoods, a Department of Justice program.
Tuesday morning, officers served 15 different search warrants at undisclosed locations and confiscated 43 guns, including 8 assault rifles, $84,013 in cash, heroin, crystal methamphetamine, marijuana, pharmaceuticals, oxycodone, crack and powder cocaine.
Chief Spruill said it was a rash of gun violence in 2019 that prompted him to assign his officers to the operation, including the violent robbery and shooting of University of Georgia lacrosse player Tate Prezzano in April and the murder of Auriel Callaway and her unborn baby outside their apartment in July.
"I don't know that anyone one, specific incident was the catalyst, but I think all of those collectively made us realize that we needed to take a harder look and focus harder on addressing violence--gun violence--in our communities," explained Chief Spruill.
"Operation Benchwarmers" resulted in the arrests on federal charges of:
- Bernard Barnett, 22, of Athens
- Robert Bolton, Jr., 31, of Athens
- Terrell Bush, 45, of Athens
- Shaddrick Cox, 24, of Athens
- Ttajia Forney, 19, of Athens
- Jamian Huff, 34, of Athens
- Nicholas Jackson, 26, of Athens
- Maquila Jones, 20, of Athens
- Antonio M. Mitchell, 30, of Athens
- Armand Payne, 39, of Athens
- Manuel Gonzales Romero, of Athens and Mexico
- Christopher Sanders, 33, of Athens
- Steven Ricole Scott, 43, of Athens
- Jaquavious Turner
- Marques Ward, 31, of Athens
- Rickshun Willingham, 32, of Athens
Investigators continue to look for Andrew Bravo Jimenez.
Officers also took several suspects into custody on state charges, including:
- Luis Besave-Lagunas, Madison County
- Zenon Carrera-Ferrer, Athens
- Dwight Moreland
- Andreas Lane, Madison County
- Adian Mapp, Madiscon County
- Leonard Jackson, Athens
"My hope out of this operation is that they are kept in jail for the rest of their lives or for a very, very long time and that they won't be able to terrorize our community any more," said Chief Spruill.