Probe into Abilene head shops continues as DEA works with local police

Federal agents raid Abilene head shops

ABILENE, Texas - Local law enforcement continued Thursday to collaborate with Drug Enforcement Agency officials, a day after the DEA served federal search warrants on Abilene head shops.

Abilene police and the Taylor County Sheriff's Office joined the DEA on Wednesday as the warrants were served on both locations of Mr. Nice Guys – on South 14th Street and on Butternut Street.

According to Abilene Police Chief Stan Standridge, undercover agents purchased several items and some tested positive for elements of synthetic marijuana that are illegal at the federal level.

"I cannot be specific, but you can be assured that we are investigating financial leads, product delivery leads, and ongoing attempts by some shops to simply relocate and start over," Standridge said Thursday.

On June 14, the Abilene City Council unanimously passed a zoning ordinance to force head shops to relocate to commercial or industrial areas within four months. The ordinance was passed in order to prevent the shops from doing business near schools, churches and homes. 

In an email, Standridge said he doesn't anticipate "arrests today or even this week."

"Lab analysis is a long process, and thereafter we have to seek prosecution," Standridge said.  "One of the factors to consider is whether we file state charges or federal charges."

Standridge said such decisions "must be worked out" with the assistant U.S. attorney in Lubbock and the District Attorney in Abilene.

From the Previous story:

Drug Enforcement Agency officials served federal search warrants on both Abilene locations of Mr. Nice Guys on Wednesday.

Mr. Nice Guys has two shops; one on South 14th Street and another on Butternut Street.

According to Abilene Police Chief Stan Standridge, undercover agents purchased several items and some of tested positive for elements of synthetic marijuana that are illegal at the Federal level.

One person was taken from inside the Butternut location and placed inside the back of a police car, according to the KTXS crew on the scene.

The Taylor County Sheriff's Department and Abilene Police Department assisted with the search the Drug Enforcement Administration with the search.

Officials on scene said the raid is part of a nationwide search warrant operation.

Around 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, Abilene Police Chief Stan Standridge issued the following press release to sum up this incident and how these businesses have been handled in the past several months:

ABILENE, TX – In January 2013, first responders began responding to an increasing number of calls involving bath salts and synthetic cannabinoids, otherwise known as "fake pot." Since then, more than thirty citizens have been treated at local emergency rooms, and in May alone, the Police Department responded to an estimated 46 incidents. The Police Department was aware of the limitations of enforcement afforded by Texas statute, since synthetic cannabinoids were not included in the definition of a controlled substance analogue. Bath salts were already addressed and therefore prosecutable, but the fake pot that is marketed as herbal potpourri was not addressed in the law unless it had one of 148 banned chemicals. The Police Department began weekly undercover buys of these products and submitted them for lab analysis. Most products returned negative for one of the banned chemicals.

The Police Department collaborated with the Drug Enforcement Administration, the City Attorney's Office, Planning and Development and the Texas Attorney General's Office to address these matters. Additionally, the City of Abilene tried to address the statute limitations through state legislation, albeit unsuccessfully. Through collaboration, enforcement efforts began in March and included: issuing citations for violations of municipal ordinances (including nuisance business practices and littering); a zoning ordinance change to require head shops move away from residences and schools; undercover buys resulting in minors purchasing tobacco that resulted in citations; drug investigations that resulted in two felony search warrants by the Abilene Police Department's Special Operations Division (Xotica and Cotton Mouth, with two felony arrests made from Cotton Mouth); citations and enforcement against four businesses for not having certificates of occupancy; and culminating today with federal search warrants at both Mr. Nice Guys' locations (Butternut Street and S. 14th). The Abilene Police Department and the Taylor County Sheriff's Office assisted the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) with these warrants, after undercover buys by Abilene Agents revealed purchased products had federally banned chemicals.

Additionally, two Assistant Attorney Generals from the Dallas field office came to Abilene and visited with the Police Department, City Marshal's Office and City Attorney, to identify enforcement measures including criminal and civil options. The AG's Office greatly assisted local efforts by alerting us to federal and state requirements on commodity packaging. This in turn identified appropriate penal violations such as Texas Penal Code 32.42, Deceptive Business Practices. This statute states that a person commits an offense if, in the course of business, he sells a commodity that is mislabeled. Mislabeled is then defined as varying from the standard of truth or disclosure in labeling prescribed by law. Consequently, any persons selling bath salts or synthetic cannabinoids in Taylor County will be subject to criminal prosecution, up to and including arrest.

The Abilene Police Department is committed to the safety of this community, and all surrounding communities. The Department has notified surrounding agencies of these enforcement efforts to ensure head shops do not relocate and begin selling synthetic cannabinoids again. As of today, no head shops are selling bath salts or synthetic cannabinoids in the City of Abilene, and all Taylor County law enforcement partners will monitor them to ensure strict compliance with local, state and federal law.

As Police Chief, I am very proud of the collaborative efforts of the many persons and systems that contributed to this effort. Taylor County residents are well served by these professionals, and I am very thankful for the Attorney General's Office and the Drug Enforcement Administration. I also appreciate our media partners' efforts to keep our community informed. We are better together, and now our citizens are safer without these dangerous products being sold in Abilene or Taylor County.

In a press conference, Standridge said, "The police department took every measure of enforcement that was within legal boundaries and we followed them and today is a success."

"If you are caught with these products you may be prosecuted.

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