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Ride in car leads Athens officers to drug arrests

By Seth Burkett 340-2355

ATHENS — A spin in a robbery suspect's car failed to lure his accomplice out of hiding, but detectives did get nibbles from drug dealers while cruising the streets in it, Athens police said Friday.

Police Lt. Floyd Johnson said three people went up to the white Thunderbird and sold crack cocaine to him and Detective Dustin Lansford.

"It surprised me at first. ... I thought everybody around here knew me," said Johnson, who has been with the police department more than 25 years.

Johnson said the detectives weren't even trying to conceal their identities, because they weren't out hunting for drug dealers.

Searching for gunmen

They were searching for one of the gunmen involved in a robbery on Sommerest Drive at 10:37 p.m. Thursday.

The two male victims told police that two black males in black hoodies and bandanas pulled up in a white car and ordered them to the ground, said police Capt. Marty Bruce. Bruce said the robbers struck one of the men in the head with a handgun.

Bruce said Howard L. Moore Jr., 26, of 806 Sandifer Road confessed to the robbery.

Officer Shelby Castro had found Moore's white Thunderbird parked on Sandifer Road behind Sandifer Road Church of Christ. Moore, who was standing in the street, began asking why the officer was looking at his car, Bruce said.

Bruce said police found gloves and masks in Moore's yard.

Somewhere between the scene of the robbery and Sandifer Road, the second robber had climbed out of the car.

Detectives drove the car around the west part of Athens, hoping it would draw the second robber out of hiding.

Series of drug buys

Instead, it led to a series of early-morning drug buys.

Police arrested Mitchell E. Gilbert, 43, of 1801 Levert Circle, Tonya Victoria Sasper, 40, of an unknown address on Westview St. and Ernest Williams, 40, of 902 Acorn Hill Circle on charges of distributing a controlled substance.

"I used to work strictly drugs, so doing (a buy bust) is second nature to me. But it's been a long time since I've made a drug buy," said Johnson.

Moore, Gilbert, Sasper and Williams were taken to Limestone County Jail. The second robbery suspect remained at large Friday evening.

Johnson said he expects further arrests, but police won't be borrowing Moore's car to make them.

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