Gary officials, police tout substantial drug busts in Gary, Merrillville

Gary officials, police tout substantial drug busts in Gary, Merrillville

Cocaine, heroin, guns and money were among items confiscated after two unrelated raids at different homes — one in Gary and one in Merrillville — by the Gary Police Department and its partners over the span of two days.

Ronald Jeffries Jr., of Gary, was arrested March 27 and is facing nine felony charges after police raided a home in the 5100 block of Ohio Court in Gary as a result of an investigation into a drug trafficking operation at the address. The day before, on March 26, John Ebler of Merrillville was arrested on two felony charges related to a month-long investigation into a drug trafficking operation at his address.

Gary Mayor Eddie Melton, his police Chief Derrick Cannon Sr., Commander of Investigative Services Jack Hamady and Lake County Prosecutor Bernie Carter gathered to share news of the arrests and charges as Melton nears his milestone 100th day in office.

Melton said when he got into office, public safety was a top priority along with putting the right leadership in place at the police department, a move he says is working. He said Cannon was tasked with helping to develop a law enforcement strategy for the city that is more effective.

“Today is evidence of that,” Melton said.

Cannon said the investigation and subsequent arrests were made possible with the city’s partners including the Hammond and Merrillville police departments, which aided in the investigations.

He pointed to community involvement as the key partnership that made a difference in these cases. Cannon said once police were informed of suspicious activity by members of the community, they were able to conduct the investigation and move forward swiftly with arrests. Without that input, the investigations may not have occurred, he said.

Hamady said investigations into these two separate drug trafficking cases started in February after tips were received from the community.

Hamady said police knew they were dealing with a dangerous individual when entering Jeffries’ home. Once inside they found 13 weapons — eight rifles, three handguns and two shotguns. Police also discovered 42 grams of heroin and crack cocaine at the home.

Police confiscated $12,000 from the scene which will be submitted for asset forfeiture.

Hamady said when the SWAT team burst into Jeffries’ residence he was in the process of making a batch of crack cocaine in his kitchen. He attempted to discard the drugs and tossed a bag, later determined to contain heroin, on top of the kitchen cabinets, Hamady said.

When an officer went to recover the bag, things got scary, he continued.

As the officer was getting the bag down from on top of the cabinets, it broke open spilling the contents all over him. At the time the contents of the bag were unknown, Hamady said.

According to the probable cause affidavit, just under a gram of fentanyl was purchased from Jeffries by a confidential informant a week prior. Hamady said police administered Narcan at the scene as a preventative measure and transported the officer to the hospital where he was treated and released without incident. The substance later tested positive as heroin, Hamady said.

Hamady said the investigations and arrests are part of a larger effort to target drug trafficking operations that provide illicit substances to lower-level dealers in Gary.

Homicides in Gary are down 71% in the first three months of 2024 over the first three months of 2023. There have been five homicides so far in 2024 including one that took place overnight Tuesday. Details have not yet been released.

There have been 26 gunshot wounds in the city so far this year compared to 27 during the same period in 2023, about a 4% drop.

Hamady attributes some of the successes to more readily available technology including license plate readers and the city’s Real Time Crime Center. Police currently have 1,484 live video feeds into the police department and the ability to tap into 694 registered residential cameras if something were to happen near one of the cameras.

Cannon said police presence in the city is up and homicides are down in the first three months of 2024 compared to the same time in 2023. Police have responded to 20% more calls for service year over year.

“I’ve challenged the agency in every area to be more efficient,” Cannon said.

“It’s very important to be able to hold these people accountable,” Cannon said.

When asked if the Gary Police Department is continuing on the path established during the partnership with the Indiana State Police under former Mayor Jerome Prince’s administration, Melton said he will be keeping the lines of communication open with the ISP.

Melton said when he took office he spoke with Gov. Eric Holcomb and Indiana State Police Superintendent Douglas Carter to thank them both for the time, energy and resources put into the city and agreed to keep the lines of communication open.

He said ISP was able to provide various assessments of the department including some policy recommendations that have proved useful.

Prosecutor Carter said the ISP is still very much involved with the Lake County Homicide Task Force and Gary is a big part of that. ISP has committed three troopers and one excise officer to work in the unit. He said Cannon also has requested a senior prosecutor be stationed in the Gary Police Department, a move Carter said he will make happen in the next couple of weeks.

Jeffries was charged with dealing in a narcotic drug, a Level 2 felony; dealing in a narcotic drug, a Level 4 felony; two counts of dealing in cocaine, a Level 5 felony; two counts of dealing in a narcotic drug, a Level 5 felony; maintaining a common nuisance – controlled substance, a Level 6 felony; and possession of cocaine, a Level 6 felony. He was released from the Lake County Jail on a $10,000 bond.

Ebler was charged with two counts of dealing cocaine, a Level 2 felony. He was released from the Lake County Jail on a $5,000 bond.

An earlier version of this story misstated Ronald Jeffries Jr.’s background.