Operation Candy Crush: RCSO investigation implies District Attorney's Office at fault

Apr 10, 2018 at 10:18 am by Michelle Willard

Operation Candy Crush

An internal affairs investigation into "Operation Candy Crush" found Rutherford County Sheriff's Office deputies did not violate any department policies during the investigation, according to a summary report of the investigation.

"I have completed the investigation and find there are no policy violations committed by the Narcotics Division in re: operation Candy Crush," Lt. Matt Goney, RCSO Office of Professional Responsibility.

But Goney found "(narcotics detectives) and other Sheriff's Office employees appeared to have concerns over the legality of CBD from the very beginning of the investigation" and about padlocking the businesses.

Their concerns were heard by officials with the Rutherford County District Attorney's Office but in the end overruled.

According to the report, deputies were concerned about the legality of CBD-containing products, store owners' knowledge of its legality "and the opioid problem."

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The investigation into the sale of products containing cannabidiol, a.k.a., CBD, began Feb. 3, 2017, after an RCSO narcotics detective saw an advertisement on Facebook for gummy candies. The detective purchased the candies and submitted them to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Crime Laboratory for analysis.

On May 12, 2017, RCSO received the "Official Chemistry Report," which listed the candy as containing CBD along with 5-Fluoro ADB, a synthetic drug that is illegal in Tennessee.

The detective met with two other narcotics detectives and an attorney from the Rutherford County District Attorney's Office to review the report and get legal advice on how to proceed with the investigation.

"One concern was the lab report stated CBD was a Schedule VI (drug), but it could not be found in Tennessee Code Annotated," Goney wrote, adding the detective spoke with TBI and DA employees several times about the state law.

At the meeting, "detectives were assured CBD was an illegal Schedule VI product and that it needed to be prosecuted," Goney said.

One of the detectives asked the unnamed ADA about CBD products that are sold on Amazon.com.

"He states an ADA advised we were not going after Amazon," Goney wrote. The detectives were then advised to buy similar products from tobacco shops and vapor stores.

The lead narcotics detective told Goney he and several other detectives spoke with their supervisor Lt. Bill Sharp "on multiple occasions his concerns in the prosecutorial direction of CBD cases." They also offered different options like sending warning letters to resolve the case other than presenting to the Grand Jury.

"Most detectives agreed that padlocking businesses was extreme," Goney said, adding Sharp wanted to postpone the case.

Goney said the DA wanted the case to be presented to the October 2017 Grand Jury, but it was pushed back to December 2017.

"(The lead narcotics detective) slow-walked the CBD case from going to Grand Jury in the later part of 2017 because he wanted more assurance the products were illegal," Goney wrote.

In response to the delay, the DA went to Sheriff Mike Fitzhugh to speed up the investigation, according to the internal affairs report. Fitzhugh refused to overturn Sharp's decision but recommended a meeting between the narcotics division and DA's Office.

On Jan. 4, the lead narcotics detective received an email with the subject "CBD memorandum" from the ADA. It contained an attachment titled "Memorandum of Law Regarding the Sale of Substances Containing Cannabidiol in Tennessee," which was the wrong law to apply in the case of the products in question.

On Jan 11, the lead narcotics detective attended a meeting at TBI headquarters, which made the detective doubt the course of the investigation, Goney wrote.

The meeting "consisted of what he described as 'lawyer talk' that was unclear to him," Goney wrote. At the meeting, a TBI employee told the detective that CBD was a scheduled substance but could not tell him if it was illegal in this case.

"The same employee advised he could not test for the percentage of THC. TBI was very clear they did not have the equipment," Goney said.

The lead narcotics detective then asked a TBI attorney if the products are illegal. The TBI attorney couldn't answer before the ADA "allegedly turned and stated … that this stuff is illegal and we are going forward with this. (The lead narcotics detective) stated he felt shut down by the ADA," Goney wrote.


On Feb 2, "a contentious meeting (was held with the detective and ADA) where detectives again expressed various concerns," Goney wrote, but the ADA again told the detectives the products are illegal.

Operation Candy Crush was executed on Feb. 12 and a press conference was held.

After the operation was executed, local law enforcement came under scrutiny for arresting 21 individuals and charged them with felonies for possessing and selling a schedule VI drug, in the form of CBD, at 23 stores across the county.

On Feb. 13, an advocate for the use of industrial hemp said Rutherford County Attorney General Jennings Jones used the wrong law to indict and arrest the store owners.

On Feb. 15, ADA John Zimmermann, who led the prosecution of the cases, sent an email to a narcotics detective with the subject "Bill just introduced," according to records obtained by the Voice in an open records request.

The email contained an attachment of a bill that became Tennessee Public Chapter 369 in July 2017. The law makes any topical or ingestible, industrial hemp-derived products legal to sell and possess in Tennessee as long as the products do not exceed a THC threshold of 0.3 percent.

Following a week of being padlocked, the Rutherford County District Attorney filed papers Wednesday, Feb. 28 to dismiss all civil and criminal charges in the "Candy Crush" saga.

In a press release announcing the dismissal, Jones laid the fault on TBI analysts and advice.

On March 2, Goney asked Fitzhugh to start an administrative review of Operation Candy Crush.

Michelle Willard is a freelance journalist who fills her days with social media marketing, politics, true crime, and taking complaints. You can complain to her on Twitter @MichWillard or by email michelle(at)murfreesborovoice.com.

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