by Luke Jones
Posted 4/2/2012 12:00 am
Updated 11 months ago
Southeast Arkansas was shaken up in October when a team of 800 law enforcement officers stormed Phillips and Lee counties and arrested about 70 residents, several of them police officers.
(Click here to read a related story on nonprofit work in Helena-West Helena.)
(Click here to read a related story on some Helena natives' thoughts on their town's future.)
Chris Thyer, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, said the operation had been planned for two years and focused on drug dealers and the policemen protecting them. Thyer said it was likely the largest single-day takedown in the state’s history and one of the largest in the country. In the past few months, several of the arrested have pleaded guilty, including four of the five police officers, Thyer said. Most of the rest are awaiting trial.
“We’re working our way through those indictments, through those 70 individuals,” Thyer said.
The biggest problems in the area, Thyer said, are the stagnant economy and a lack of education.
Since the sting, Thyer has spent time in and around Helena-West Helena, following up with residents and officials and preparing for the next step in what he said is a multi-prong investigation.
“I think that members of the community are starting to hold their head up,” he said. “I don’t think this was a short-term fix. It’s not an easy fix. It’s a situation where my office and the local authorities, the local prosecutors and the local police departments join hands and work together to get rid of as much of the criminal elements in town as possible.”
Thyer thinks it will take a concerted effort from Gov. Mike Beebe and the Arkansas Department of Education to bring industry back to the area and aid the school systems.
“It’s going to be something that will put that community back on its feet,” he said. “Several different areas will come together and work … to make it the thriving community it once was.”