OKEECHOBEE — “We’re stretched to the limit, but we’re coping. I’ve got some tired people.”
Okeechobee County Sheriff Paul May was referring to the time and effort his deputies are putting in while handling some of the security duties at the Okeechobee Music Fest being held just off of N.E. 144th Street.
To illustrate that point Detective Lieutenant Brad Stark said of the 151 calls handled by the sheriff’s office Friday, 67 were at the Music Fest.
The festival got under way Thursday, March 3, and will end Sunday night, March 6.
But until then, nearly 500 members of the event’s security staff will be kept busy. That number not only includes deputies from the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO), but law enforcement officers from several other county and state agencies.
And while there is a large contingent of law enforcement at the outdoor concert, event organizers are footing the bill for each and every one of them.
“They are paying for the entire security force. Anything else that comes up they will pay for also,” pointed out Sheriff May.
On the first night of the event, 26 people were arrested on felony drug charges. And by about 2:30 p.m. Friday, another eight were waiting to be booked. Some of them were being held in a mobile jail from Palm Beach County.
Of those 26, three men are facing drug trafficking charges. One of those three — Ahmed Mohamed, 22 — was actually caught dealing by detectives from the Okeechobee Narcotics Task Force.
Mohamed is charged with trafficking in methamphetamine and trafficking in MDMA, which is also known as ecstasy or Molly. He is also charged with possession of a controlled substance (synthetic cathinone), possession of cocaine, resisting a law enforcement officer with violence, possession of marijuana under 20 grams and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Synthetic cathinones are also known as bath salts, and are man-made chemicals related to amphetamines.
His bond had not been set as of newspaper deadline.
Mohamed was seen selling suspected powder cocaine, stated a detective’s arrest report.
“(Mohamed) was parting a white powdery substance on a $20 bill and then pouring it onto the side of the other two subject’s hands. The two subjects then began snorting the white powder from their hands,” stated the report.
Assistant state attorney Terry Tribble said due to the number of people arrested, judges had to hold two first appearance proceedings. One was held Friday morning, which is the normal time, while a second was held at 3 p.m. by an Indian River County circuit judge.
Also arrested on drug trafficking charges were Frank Christopher Mitrani, 25, from Hernando, Fla., and John Murray, 20, from Duluth, Ga.
Mitrani was arrested by OCSO Deputy Kristen Gray on felony charges of trafficking in a controlled substance (percocet), possession of cocaine, possession of marijuana over 20 grams and possession of amphetamine.
According to the deputy’s arrest report Mitrani was in possession of more than 10 grams of cocaine, 44 grams of marijuana and 13 grams of percocet and amphetamine pills.
All of the suspected drugs were field tested with positive results, stated Deputy Gray.
Mitrani is being held in the Okeechobee County Jail on $20,000 bond.
Murray was arrested by OCSO Deputy Matt Crawford after his K-9, Mick, alerted to a radio on Murray’s 2010 Volvo.
“Inside the radio was a plastic bag of 46.6 grams of MDMA (ecstasy) in capsules. There was also one bag with empty capsules inside the radio as well,” stated Deputy Crawford’s report.
The deputy went on to indicate numerous small empty baggies were found in the trunk of the Volvo, as well as a butane cooker “that is used to make a different form of MDMA,” added the report.
Murray’s bond had not been set as of newspaper deadline.
Arrest affidavits indicate people from as far away as Battle Creek, Mich., and Toledo, Ohio, were arrested and are being held on bond.
Mr. Tribble explained if they are released on bond they will be expected to return to Okeechobee for their court appearances.
He said their attorney can apply for a waiver and if the judge allows it, the defendant won’t have to appear for his initial arraignment. Sometimes the defendant would also be allowed to miss some of their court appearances if their attorney applied for the proper waiver in time and that waiver was approved by the judge.
“If the judge does not approve their not being here, they would have to return for court,” he added.
Sheriff May said his agency has had two years to prepare for the festival and he’s using everybody he has available.
Lt. Stark added emphasis to the sheriff’s statement by pointing to his nearly empty Criminal Investigations Division department.
“We have 80 percent of our assets out there (at the festival). You can just look around and see we’re a skeleton crew around here,” he said.
He was quick to point out, though, that while all but two of his 13 detectives were working the festival there is still a full compliment of road patrol deputies throughout the county.
“We still have ample protection for the citizens of Okeechobee County,” he assured.
Lt. Stark also pointed out that Detective Cari Arnold is checking on a gun that was taken off one festival goer. He said a security officer found the gun and turned it over to the sheriff’s office.
While the deputies are making their ways through 12-hour shifts, Lt. Stark said it’s also important to remember the agency’s four K-9s that are being used to search car, after car, after car. Like their human handlers, the K-9s are extremely tired.
“The dogs have to take periodic breaks,” he offered.
This includes K-9s from other agencies as well.
As of Friday morning, the event’s web site indicated the continuous concert is sold out, which means 30,000 tickets were sold.
That along with festival volunteers, staff, bands and crews, said Lt. Stark, could mean there are about 40,000 people at the festival.
Well, except for those in the county jail.
Eric Kopp is a staff writer for the Okeechobee News