Last year Bay County law enforcement agencies declared war on methamphetamine. They've thrown a lot of time and effort into breaking-up meth labs and arresting the people making the drug.
But surprisingly, a lot of the so-called drug makers are walking the streets today.
In fact, half of the suspects in meth trafficking cases from 2003 wound-up on probation, or received no punishment at all. Some attorneys working on those cases say it's because there was no evidence linking an accused trafficker to his or her alleged crime.
They say police officers and sheriff's deputies are "overcharging the people they arrest.
"John" was arrested during a meth bust last October. Members of the MAD task force charged him with trafficking crystal methamphetamine at a Panama City Beach house. But John says he was just at the wrong place, at the wrong time.
"I told everything I knew as far as my name. They wanted to know who was in the house, but I didn't know because I hadn't been in the house. The original officer said he wasn't going to arrest everyone, but when the MAD unit came up next thing I knew we all got charged with trafficking," says "John."
“John" pled not guilty, and sat in the Bay County Jail for four months. Then the court dropped charges, saying there was no evidence linking "John" to the drug activity inside the house.
"John's" first public defender says it's a common scenario.
"When you see all this in the paper, yes the police are doing their job; but understand that when there's a bust and there are five people charged with the highest charge of trafficking you can almost bet that a good percentage of those are people that are meth users, addicts, who need outpatient and inpatient treatment immediately," says Public Defender, Georgette Beller.
Sheriff Frank McKeithen says it's true that some meth users get caught up in meth investigations. He says in those cases probation and treatment is the answer, but meth traffickers should serve time behind bars.
"John," who’s now in jail on unrelated charges, says he's not the only one facing this the same situation.
“I definitely believe there's a problem out there, but I think the sheriff's department kind of went hog wild. They got turned loose to do pretty much what they wanted to do. Charge who they wanted, how they wanted."