11 students arrested in bust

WINDER - A six-month undercover sting operation resulted in the arrests Monday of 11 Winder-Barrow High School students.

Three juveniles ages 15 and 16 were arrested along with Christopher L. Barnette, 17; Roderick L. Billings, 18; Randriques F. Butler, 17; Rodney M. Canup, 18; David J. DeRoche, 17; Denver R. Harrison, 17; Justin T. Mayweather, 18; and Roderick J. Thurmond, 19.

The students face multiple drug-related charges.

The arrests began about 9:15 a.m. Monday at the school, about 30 minutes after classes began.

"They waited until after the students were settled in their classes to avoid making a big spectacle," said Lt. Todd Druse, Winder Police Department spokesman. "It was all over within about half an hour."

One juvenile ran into the courtyard and was apprehended by police.

One of the 11 students did not come to school Monday and was arrested at home, with assistance from Barrow County sheriff's deputies.

A 20-year-old undercover agent was placed as a student in the school after Principal Rob Johnson voiced concerns to Winder Police Chief Stanley Rodgers. Johnson had received numerous complaints from parents, students and community members about the possibility of illegal drug transactions at the school.

"This operation began as a fact-finding mission," Johnson said. "We wanted to see if the complaints were true."

During his six-month term, the undercover agent purchased marijuana, methadone, Soma, Vicodin, Lortab, Xanax, Percocet and cocaine in 26 separate transactions, according to Druse.

Teachers did not know the agent was not a student, according to Druse.

"He had to do homework and take geometry," Druse said. "He said he didn't have to take geometry the first time he was in high school. He kept up good grades."

The agent has returned to regular duty at the Winder Police Department.

Dr. Ron Saunders, superintendent of schools, reiterated Barrow County schools' zero tolerance policy.

"I hope the message we are sending is loud and clear," Saunders said. "We care deeply about the lives of our students and this is a tragedy for all the families involved. However, the law is very clear - the school campus is a place for learning."

Johnson prefers to focus daily on the school's productive students.

"It is important for us to uncover this activity, solve these problems and focus our attention on the majority of positive, productive students who come to school every day to get a good education," Johnson said.

A bond hearing for the students is set for 8 a.m. today in Barrow County's magistrate court.

The Barrow County School System offers professional help to any student suffering from drug abuse or addiction, according to Lisa Leighton, spokeswoman for the school system.