Feds: Drug Dealers Operated In Between Elementary School & Day Care Center

An apartment building at 96 Cherry Street in St. Johnsbury on Friday, Nov. 8, 2019. (Photo By Todd Wellington)

Federal prosecutors say a St. Johnsbury couple sold cocaine from their apartment located next to a day care center and across the street from an elementary school.

Chakeshia “Big Mama” Watts, 40, and her husband Jerry Lee Watts, 62, were both taken into custody after agents from U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) raided their home at 96 Cherry Street, Apt. 3, at about 11 a.m. Thursday.

Witnesses say armed federal agents entered the building in plain view of students about to begin recess at the Good Shepherd Catholic School across the street.

Also located next door is day a care center and “Aerie House” - a transitional housing facility for women with substance abuse and mental health issues.

According to court documents, Chakeshia Watts and Jerry Lee Watts used their home they shared with a young child to use and sell cocaine and also allowed others to use illegal drugs there.

U.S. District Court

DEA Special Agent Timothy Hoffmann said agents didn’t have much trouble locating evidence once they entered the apartment.

“Agents encountered Jerry Watts near the closet in the living room,” wrote Hoffman in an affidavit filed in support of the charges in U.S. District Court in Burlington. “Inside the closet, on the floor, agents located a plastic bag inside of which were numerous wax glassine envelopes, and two knotted plastic bags containing suspected controlled substances.”

Agents said they also recovered suspected drugs and drug paraphernalia in the bathroom, in the kitchen and in one other room.

“In a child’s bedroom, the agents located a pipe used to smoke cocaine base and materials used for packaging narcotics,” wrote Hoffman in his report.

Both Chakeshia Watts and Jerry Watts, who according to court documents have have lived in the apartment for about two years, are now facing federal charges of selling narcotics. Each faces a possible sentence of up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Child At Risk

Prosecutors have asked the court to hold both in pre-trial detention.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Nikolas P. Kerest argued in his motion for detention filed Friday that the Watts have lengthy criminal records and are flight risks due to their strong ties to the state of Florida.

“Chakesia Watts’s criminal history is long and replete with illegal narcotics offenses and several previous probation violations,” wrote AUSA Kerest. “Chakesia Watts poses a danger to the community that no set of conditions will address…In addition, the government understands that Chakesia Watts and her husband lived with their young child in Apartment #3 subjecting that child to the risks associated with the usage and distribution of cocaine and cocaine base.”

Kerest made a similar argument to the court about Jerry Watts.

Danger To The Community

“Jerry Lee Watts’s criminal history is long and replete with illegal narcotics offenses,” wrote AUSA Kerest. “As an admitted illegal narcotics user, participant in illegal drug transactions, and a person who maintained a residence where these activities took place, Jerry Lee Watts poses a danger to the community that no set of conditions will address… Jerry Lee Watts appears to have a history of violating court-imposed conditions, including failure to appear, contempt of court, and prisoner escape. This history strongly suggests he will not abide by conditions if released.”

The Court, on its own motion, then ordered the Watts into the custody of the U.S. Marshal Service to be detained pending a Detention Hearing now scheduled for Nov. 13 at 11:30 a.m. in U.S. District Court in Burlington.

Investigators said the raid was the result of a joint investigation between the DEA and the the Northeast Vermont Drug Task into the distribution of cocaine in the Caledonia County area by Chakeshia and Jerry Watts.

SJPD Involvement

According to public records, St. Johnsbury Police Ofc. Steven Hartwell responded to the area in October after hearing a car alarm sounding in the area and had an encounter with Jerry Watts and a small child.

“I drove to that location and found a Ford Expedition with the lights flashing and the horn sounding,” wrote Hartwell in his report. “I then noticed a small child running from the vehicle crying. As I approached the vehicle the child ran back and got into the car. After approximately 2 minutes I was met by a male who advised he was the child’s father. He identified himself as Jerry Watts. He advised that he was not aware that the child knew how to get out of the car seat. It should be noted that it was dark and the vehicle was parked in a very dimly lit location of the parking lot near a one-way entrance. I advised Watts that I would be making a report to DCF about the incident.”

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