Downtown Ringgold

(RINGGOLD, LA) On a late June morning, before the sun came up, people in a small, sleepy north Louisiana town awoke to flash grenades and bright police lights.

The Bienville Parish Sheriff’s Office, with help from the FBI, Louisiana State Police and several neighboring law enforcement agencies, raided homes across Ringgold on June 28. They called it “Operation Meltdown.”

It was the culmination of an 18-month federal investigation, which produced 26 arrest warrants for people in and around Ringgold. Officers arrested 17 people that morning, all on charges related to distribution of methamphetamine and cocaine.

Since Operation Meltdown, warrants were obtained for four more people, and five more arrests were made.

Sheriff John Ballance

Sheriff John Ballance

"I look at it like a den of snakes,” said Bienville Parish Sheriff John Ballance the morning of Meltdown. “We've been cutting the tail off. We got the heads today."

But why has the small town of Ringgold become such a magnet for drug activity?

"I can't answer that question. We have problems in other places, but it's just not as big as this. I don't understand it," Ballance said. 

Ballance has been sheriff for 18 years. He’s been in law enforcement even longer. As long as he can remember, Ringgold has always been essentially one and the same with illegal drug activity.

“You can go just about anywhere within 50 miles of Ringgold, and they say it’s pretty much if you want drugs, you can go to Ringgold to get it,” Ballance said.

According to the most recent U.S. Census data available, fewer than 1,500 people live in Ringgold.

Ringgold sign

The town is more than 20 miles from the nearest interstate, Walmart or hospital.

Ballance believes the lack of economic drivers in Ringgold, like a trade school, have contributed to the increased prevalence of drugs over years.

“Industry’s not going to come in there, when you don’t have skilled people to fill the jobs,” Ballance said. “So there’s nothing for them to do.”

Ringgold’s mayor, Donna Wiggins, agrees with Ballance. A lifetime resident of the town, Wiggins watched as the drug trade sucked much-needed revenue out of the local economy. Businesses have shuttered throughout the town, whose streets are lined with empty, run-down storefronts.

"We hurt every day just to keep our water system going," Wiggins said. "It's (given) us a bad reputation. You tell them you're from Ringgold sometimes, and you have to take up for your town because, 'Oh, that's the drug capital of north Louisiana.'"

Kenny Ryan, another lifelong Ringgold resident, remembers when things changed.

Kenny Ryan

Kenny Ryan

“It was a nice place to grow up in-- live in -- up until probably 20 years ago,” Ryan said. “I went to school in Ruston, and when I came back, it kind of went downhill.”

Ryan remembers his hometown as a friendly, trusting community, where people could leave their doors unlocked and feel safe.

“There’s no businesses in town. Everybody’s moved out, probably because of that. You can’t keep anything out. No – can’t leave your doors unlocked,” Ryan said.

“A majority of our crimes are coming from drug activity. People are hooked on meth or hooked on cocaine. We've had shootings, we've had some murders, and all kinds of property thefts," Ballance said. 

The problems have led to a vicious cycle of despair in Ringgold.

Mayor Donna Wiggins

Mayor Donna Wiggins

"It's heartbreaking. It's discerning,” Wiggins said. “We have so many people here that are living off the government, that don't have jobs, that are struggling. And some of them turn to drugs."

Operation Meltdown was evidence of that cycle. Most of the people arrested were repeat offenders.

Some of them were arrested in a similar raid in 2006 called Operation Johnny Ringgold, which netted 40 arrests.

The problem, according to Ballance, was that the offenders were not kept off the streets long enough.

"They bond out, and they get back on the street, and in order to pay their fine money, they're going to deal dope," Ballance said.

Now, the bond amounts are set higher, at no less than $100,000 per charge. Many of the suspects face more than one charge.

"It can work two ways against the sheriff. It can be good, or it can kill you,” Ballance said. “But I don't care. I'm out to get the people that are putting this meth or cocaine on the streets.”

Of the 30 warrants issued, eight suspects are still on the loose and the federal investigation continues.

Ballance, who has two years left in his current term as sheriff, believes he can put a big dent in the drug problem in Ringgold before he runs for re-election.

“Since (Operation Meltdown), I’ve had several people see me and call me and say, ‘Thank you so much. We’re able to sleep at night. The traffic’s not on our street,’” Ballance said. “They were wanting this.”

"We're trying to get back on our feet. We're doing things through trying to grants… and we're slowly but surely digging ourselves out and trying to make it into the town we grew up in," Wiggins said. “I just don’t want Ringgold to be known as – about drugs. We’re a small town with a big heart.”

The Ringgold Police Department, which consists of a chief and four officers, was not involved in Operation Meltdown.

“That’s something that needed to happen," said Roosevelt Kinsey just like every town and city, we’re not exempt from this problem. Every town and city I know has this problem with narcotics and drugs.”

When asked if he was hopeful that the arrests will help control the drug problem in the future, Kinsey replied, “I cant say hopeful. I can at least say that I pray that it will, and I would like for it to."

Arrested so far, their charges, bonds, previous convictions and disposition of sentences:

  1. Krisean Adams Sr., 33, four counts of manufacture/distribution of Schedule II CDS, two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a juvenile, two counts of distribution of harmful material/publications. Bond: $1.1 million. 

Previous conviction: June 2012, felony possession of marijuana, sentenced to 10 years.

  1. Alandre D. Brooks, 28, two counts of manufacture/distribution of Schedule II CDS and one count of manufacture/distribution/cultivation of Schedule I. Bond: $150,000.

Previous conviction: August 2012, three counts of distribution of Schedule II CDS, sentenced to 5 years.

  1. Miles Jerome Carter, 50, one count of distribution of harmful material/publications, three counts of manufacture/distribution of Schedule II CDS. Bond: $400,000. 

Previous conviction: February 2011, distribution of Schedule II CDS, sentenced to 5 years.

  1. James C. Coleman, 42, conspiracy/attempt to distribute CDS. Bond: $500,000. 

Previous convictions state court: February 2004, possession of Schedule II and aggravated flight from an officer, sentenced to 2 years.

Previous conviction federal court: September 2009, possession with intent to distribute less than 20 grams of cocaine, sentenced to 120 months; sentenced reduced in February 2013 to 100 months; sentenced reduced again in October 2015 to 82 months. Sentenced to supervised release beginning June, 28, 2016.

  1. Kathy M. Fritz, 50, two counts of manufacture/distribution o Schedule II CDS and one count of manufacture/distribution of Schedule III CDS. Bond: $750,000.

Previous conviction: January 1995, possession of Schedule II and distribution of Schedule II, sentenced to 5 years.

  1. Frederick Earl Holman, 58, one count of manufacture/distribution of Schedule II CDS. Bond: $250,000.

Previous conviction: June 1992, 7 counts of forgery, sentenced to 3 years; August 1995, simple burglary.

  1. Roderick Skeet Johnson, 53, of three counts of manufacture/distribution of Schedule II CDS. Bond: $300,000.

Previous conviction in California: August 1992, aggravated battery, sentenced to 3 years.

Previous conviction in Red River Parish: November 1998, illegal use of a weapon, sentenced to 2 years.

  1. Ljoy Jones (aka Littlejoy Hamilton), 60, conspiracy/attempt to distribute CDS. Bond: $100,000.

Previous conviction: September 1989, burglary.

  1. Andrecus Love, 35, manufacture/distribution of Schedule II CDS. Bond: $250,000.

Previous convictions: November 2011, simple burglary of an inhabited dwelling and distribution of Schedule II CDS, sentenced to 5 years each count; February 2013, insurance fraud, sentenced to 3 years; September 2015, possession of Schedule II CDS, sentenced to 5 years; May 8, 2018, possession of legend drug and resisting an officer with force or violence, sentenced to 3 years each count; May 18, 2018, illegal possession of stolen things, sentenced to 3 years.

  1. Tevin Love, 27, manufacture/distribution of Schedule II CDS. Bond: $250,000

Previous conviction: February 2011, possession of Schedule II CDS, sentenced to 4 years.

  1. Debarlo T. Reed, 27, two counts of manufacture/distribution of Schedule II CDS. Bond: $500,000. 

Previous conviction: April 2012, two counts of distribution of Schedule II CDS, sentenced to 7 years.

  1. Edward T. Reed, 48, seven counts of manufacture/distribution of Schedule II CDS. Bond: $700,000.

Previous convictions in Ouachita Parish: October 1989, possession of Schedule II CDS, sentenced to 7 years; August 2009, possession of cocaine, sentenced to 4 years.

Previous convictions in Smith County, Texas: April 1999, possession with intent to distribute Schedule II CDS and possession of cocaine, sentenced to 10 years.

Previous conviction in Bienville Parish: March 2004, principle to possession of over 400 grams of cocaine, sentenced to 6 years.

  1. Jamarcia LaTroy Woods, 34, two counts of manufacture/distribution of Schedule II CDS and one count of manufacture/distribution of Schedule III CDS. Bond: $750,000.

Previous convictions: March 2005, possession with intent to distribute Schedule I CDS and possession of Schedule II CDS, sentenced to 5 years concurrent.

  1. Roderick Andre Woods, 41, two counts of manufacture/distribution of Schedule II CDS. Bond: $500,000. 

Previous convictions: September 1994, distribution of Schedule II CDS, sentenced to 5 years; March 2006, possession with intent to distribute Schedule II CDS, sentenced to 8 years; January 2011, distribution of Schedule II CDS, sentenced to 10 years.

  1. Albert Levon Miles, 48, four counts of manufacture/distribution of Schedule II CDS. Bond: $400,000.

Previous convictions in Harris County, Texas: 1993, theft, sentenced to 2 years; 1996, possession with intent to distribute cocaine, sentenced to 18 years; 2003, possession of cocaine, 9 months.

  1. Johnathan Dewayne Jones, 34, three counts of manufacture/distribution of Schedule II CDS and fugitive out-of-parish. Bond: $300,000.

Previous convictions: April 2008, aggravated battery, sentenced to 5 years; January 2013, distribution of Schedule II CDS, sentenced to 10 years.

  1. Talanceo D. Miles, 28, one count each of possession of Schedule II with intent to distribute and conspiracy/attempt to distribute CDS. Bond: $100,000.
  2. Alexis Nicole Bradley, 33, conspiracy/attempt to distribute CDS. Bond: $250,000.
  3. Steven L. Patterson, 47, three counts of manufacture/distribution of Schedule II CDS. Bond $750,000.
  4. Robert Earl Stafford, 64, four counts of manufacture/distribution of Schedule II CDS. Bond: $1 million.
  5. Ashley Reliford, 32, two counts of manufacture/distribution of Schedule II CDS and fugitive out-of-parish. Bond: $500,000.
  6. Kenneth Lofton, housed in Bayou Dorcheat Correctional Center on a detainer hold for Bienville Parish.
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