EXCLUSIVE: Butts Co. deputies stop contraband allegedly heading to local prisons, sheriff says

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In an exclusive interview, the Butts County Sheriff’s Office told Channel 2 Investigative Reporter Mark Winne that a recent pair of arrests during a traffic stop on I-75 had yielded a huge load of contraband.

Sheriff Gary Long said he’s certain the items were heading to local prisons.

Among the seized paraphernalia, deputies said there was enough methamphetamine in the vehicle for thousands of doses, and it wasn’t the only type of contraband they found.

The sheriff said the bust shined a light on the contraband trade feeding crime inside prisons, and spreading out to local streets.

Long said he believes the state prison system does the best it can with what it has, but that it needs more resources to keep inmates, staff, and the public safe.

On video from inside the jail, filmed exclusively by Channel 2 Action News, deputies are heard on camera asking two suspects if the items seized from their vehicle in Butts County were meant to go to prison as contraband.

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“Was that stuff going to a Georgia prison?” Winne asked the suspects while at the jail. “Did you know if that stuff was headed to a Georgia prison?”

One suspect wouldn’t answer, instead saying he wanted to speak with an attorney.

The sheriff said he was certain the contraband was heading to at least one prison.

“Based on my knowledge training and experience 100% headed to a prison. Every bit of it,” Long said.

Motioning to bags of seized items and documents on his desk, Long showed Channel 2 Action News photographs of what was seized, listing out what deputies found in the suspects’ vehicle.

“We have probably five pounds of cigarette tobacco. Cigarette tobacco is extremely valuable in prison,” Long said. They also found “over 1,000 grams of methamphetamines. This is enough suspected meth for thousands of individual doses, two pounds of methamphetamine is enough to supply pretty much this entire country. This would destroy plenty of lives but you put this in the state prison along with knives and everything else. It’s a very bad situation.”

The sheriff showed Winne pocket knives, store-bought knives, and more.

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“Cellphones, we’ve got cellphones, which is a big ticket in the prison system,” Long continued. “We have drone batteries. And drones are used to fly in the contraband over the walls and drop it and then they’ll have somebody on the inside pick it up. No drone, just the batteries.”

Long said there were no ifs, ands, or buts about it, he guaranteed that the load of contraband his deputies seized on I-75 on Tuesday night was heading to a prison. Many of the items were shrink-wrapped, which the sheriff said was common for contraband.

Deputies even seized a roll of shrink wrap, too. Long also explained how the traffic stop went down.

“The driver and the passenger had totally conflicting stories,” Long said.

The driver was Brandon Kirkland, while the passenger was Mario Kelly.

On camera with Channel 2 Action News in the prison, and on camera with deputies and the suspects, Winne tried to get their side of the story.

“I don’t wanna talk right now,” Kirkland said. Winne pressed them to say whether they were guilty or innocent. “Yeah, I don’t wanna talk right now.”

Winne tried to speak with the other suspect too.

“I don’t have much to say right now,” Kelly said. Winne pressed again, asking if they were guilty or innocent or if they knew what was in the car. “I’m just ready to go in the courtroom, sir,” the suspect answered.

Georgia Corrections Commissioner Tyrone Oliver said in a previous interview that sheriff’s offices and police across Georgia do a tremendous job helping the Department of Corrections keep contraband out of prisons.

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Oliver said that while there is no way to know for sure if the contraband seized in Butts County was heading to a specific prison, it’s still under investigation, he doesn’t doubt that the items were on their way to one.

The commissioner told Channel 2 Action News that his staff are working hard to amp up the fight against contraband, including doing shakedowns, leading to thousands of illegal ones being seized, as well as drones, drugs, weapons, and other contraband items.

Long said DOC does the best it can with limited resources, but it badly needs more, adding that contraband is feeding crime both inside and outside of the state’s prisons.

“Something has to be done, so hopefully this will shine a light,” Long said.

Oliver said store-bought knives are showing up in Georgia prisons, as well as tools and more. Experts working for DOC are now assisting Butts County deputies with analyzing the seized cell phones in evidence.

Both Kirkland and Kelly had hearings Thursday.

Due to the trafficking charge, a judge told Kirkland he would not have a bond because of state law.

A woman believed to Kelly’s mother told Channel 2 Action News that he’d never been in trouble before, had gone to a top private school in Atlanta, and had been through two years of college.

Oliver told Winne that Gov. Brian Kemp and the Georgia Legislature have been “steadily increasing” resources available to the Department of Corrections in recent years.

Channel 2 Action News used pictures from the sheriff’s office and commissioner in this exclusive report.

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