The Spoils of War

everett ragan – photo: colin douglas gray

The Spoils of War

Our look at Savannah's War on Drugs included Savannah Chatham County Counter Narcotics Team Director Everett Ragan and about $280,000 worth of seized cocaine and firearms. Featured in Faces of the South: The Trilogy Edition now on newsstands. Click here to order your copy of Faces today. 

Althought few people have ever heard of them, about 10 minutes outside of downtown Savannah, a team of elite agents works tirelessly to rid Chatham County of illegal drugs. Aided by cutting-edge technology and a few other unique advantages, it's no wonder they're quickly becoming the South's leaders in law enforcement.

It sounds like a late-night TV drama: A large group of local law enforcement personnel is about to close in on three principle suspects they believe are responsible for orchestrating a large-scale cocaine ring anchored  in West Savannah. After several months of conducting intense undercover investigations, employing high-tech surveillance techniques and conducting extensive intel research, they've decided it's time to hit the dealers' houses and make arrests, starting at the top and working their way down a chain of dealers.
 
Earlier that day the team gathered, as they do before all their large raids, at the Chatham-Savannah Counter Narcotics Team (CNT) headquarters , a nondescript yet heavily secured building on Ross Road, where about 45 drug agents, a handful of administrative personnel and two assistant district attorneys make up one of hte most technologically advanced, well-trained and unique local drug units in the Southeast. While at the campus, they ran through details of the raid down to the last factor, mapping out where each agent will go and who will be responsible for what. Their surveillance over the previous months has been so effective they know exactly what time the kilos of cocaine are going to arrive at the houses.
 
That time has now arrived, and sitting in their cars, waiting, they just want to get on with it before their nerves get to them too much. In the minutes just before the suspects and drugs arrive, some of the agents call their spouses and loved ones to say, "I love you," just in case. Others count the seconds.
 
And then suddenly, all their plans unravel. 
 
Thanks to their surveillances techniques, the team finds out in real time that the three principles aren't just transporting drugs; today they also happen to have three acquaintances they have kidnapped over a petty theft of some construction tools. As the agents keep gathering information, they learn that without a doubt the dealers are preparing to kill the kidnapped victims. The team now has to quickly transform into a rescue unit, and they have to hit the house with the victims first. On the fly, they make a new plan and split up. The waiting is cut short-it's time to go.
 
One team immediately hits the house where the victims have been taken, and just as the three ringleaders are leaving, the first arrests are made. Other teams have been directed to the multiple homes where the drugs were about to be delivered, and house after house is successfully raided. For the next 48 hours straight, dozens of people are arrested in rapid succession, evidence is gathered and large amounts of money and drugs are seized. The kidnapped victims have been assaulted but are eventually safe.
 
That sting that ook place about four or five years ago, which was not long after CNT agent Gene Harley says the unit as a whole, which was formed in 1994, began switching its focus from busting numerous drug deals on a day-to-day basis to engaging in these types of long-term, large-scale investigations and raids. "We started doing fewer operations, but they're much bigger and result in much larger seizures," he explains. "We want to get the most bang for our buck." The decision has led to some of the biggest and most rewarding drug busts in Savannah's history.
 
Although they've now been doing large busts for a while, for obvious reasons the West Savannah raid remains one of the most memorable for Harley, although few other people outside of the unit remember, or even heard much about it in the first place. That's the thing about the CNT; they prefer not to talk publicly about their achievements as it might compromise future stings. So for the most part, very little is known about these agents who have quietly become pioneers in the local drug enforcement field.
 

To get a copy of this South magazine back issue and read the rest of The Spoils of War story, click here