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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Drug task force chief resigns

Thursday, June 16, 2005

The 16th Judicial District Drug Task Force is looking for a new task force chief.

Drug Task Force Chief Scott Russell resigned June 3 to take a position with the Arkansas State Police. His last day as chief was June 18.

"This is the fulfillment of a lifelong desire to work for the state police," Russell said. "I'll miss working narcotics. It's a job that I absolutely love."

Russell, 38, said the need for a more secure job also figured into his decision to leave after serving as chief for 6 1/2 years. He said funding for the state's drug task forces has been cut severely this year and may be cut more next year.

Last year the drug task force employed four investigators, plus Russell and Drug Task Force Administrator Danny Ramsey.

Currently, the drug task force employs three investigators and is in danger of losing more personnel.

Arkansas' drug task forces were set up in 1988 to help local and state police tackle the growing drug problem. The sharp rise of methamphetamine distribution and use in the area has been the biggest challenge of his term, Russell said.

"When I was working as a sheriff's deputy in Phillips County in the mid-1990s I didn't even know what a meth lab was," Russell said. "Last year we busted 118 of them, a record for this area."

In 2001 the 16th Judicial District Drug Task Force, which covers Fulton, Izard, Stone, Independence and Cleburne counties, busted more methamphetamine labs than any other drug task force in the state, he said.

That same year statistics showed that per capita, Arkansas had the highest number of methamphetamines users in the country.

"It's an epidemic that has to be curbed in this area," Russell said. "It hasn't hit any of the major population centers in the eastern part of the country, but it will."

Russell said the drug task force's success in the area can be attributed to the five county sheriffs and other local law enforcement officers.

"They've all been great to work with," he said. "Whenever we needed help the sheriffs have been right there for us."

A drug ring allegedly led by Newton "Bubba" Willingham that was busted in 2004 was Russell's most important bust while working in Fulton County, he said.

The multi-million dollar drug ring stretched across the tri-county area.

Willingham and his co-conspirators have been charged in federal court with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and other charges. Their trials are slated to begin in federal court in September.

Russell said he will testify in those cases and all other state and federal cases he has brought before the prosecutor's office during his time with the drug task force. When he finishes his training at the Police Academy, Russell will work as a trooper in Troop F in Ashley County.

"My goal is to come back to this area," Russell said. "I love the country and the people up here. This is a wonderful place."

Russell said he is unsure who will replace him as task force chief. He said it takes a special person to work in narcotics.

"Sometimes you leave on a Monday and don't come home until Thursday, depending on what happens," Russell said. "The only thing I won't miss are the hours."

Russell said he plans to work for the state police until he can retire with full benefits. After that he plans to run for sheriff in Fulton County.

He said he will miss his colleagues with the drug task force.

"That's a great group of guys to work with, Russell said. "This has been the best job I've ever had. I know those guys will build on the foundation that has already been set."

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