Breaking Belmont: Police raid suspected meth lab on Franklin Street

Drug enforcement officers executed a search warrant at 706 Franklin St., where they removed materials used to manufacture methamphetamine. Photo: Bill Emory Drug enforcement officers executed a search warrant at 706 Franklin St., where they removed materials used to manufacture methamphetamine. Photo: Bill Emory

Officers are still searching for answers surrounding a methamphetamine production lab found last week in an apartment on Franklin Street. On the morning of Wednesday, October 9, members of the Jefferson Area Drug Enforcement (JADE) executed a search warrant at 706 Franklin St.—a house that’s divided into four apartments—and confiscated equipment and chemicals known for being used in the production of crystal meth. No meth was being cooked at the time of the raid, and investigators wouldn’t elaborate on what was inside barrels sitting outside of the house during the raid.

The owner of the house—Reggie McDaniel, according to the city’s GIS mapping tool—rents the rooms to four separate tenants. Charlottesville Police Sergeant Joe Hatter, who oversees the JADE task force, said investigators are still gathering more information on who, specifically, was responsible for manufacturing the drugs. Three individuals were detained and then released on Wednesday, and Hatter said no arrests have been made.

“If a suspect is developed on who was actually making the meth, I think our plan is to try to do a direct indictment at the next city grand jury on October 21,” Hatter said.

Hatter said the meth lab bust posed a different scenario from what the JADE task force—which includes officers from Charlottesville, Albemarle, the University of Virginia, and the state police departments—normally handles.

“In a lot of narcotics cases we’re only investigating distribution, so it’s a different process,” Hatter said. “As far as the lab itself, it poses a lot more danger to everybody involved, and it just requires a lot more cleanup.”

A nearby neighbor who asked to remain anonymous said she wasn’t at all surprised by the bust. She and her late husband had suspected it for years, she said, and she’d heard rumors that the manufacturers weren’t exactly quiet about their business.

“I don’t know who lives there, and I don’t want to know,” she said, adding that she’s always felt safe in the neighborhood until now.

Shortly after the raid, city officials posted signs outside the house stating that it’s currently uninhabitable. A female’s voice could be heard through the door on Thursday morning, but Neighborhood Development Services Director Jim Tolbert said as of now, the house has not yet been determined to be safe, and should be empty.

“We’ve deemed the house uninhabitable at this point, and we’re still investigating,” Tolbert said. “We may be able to say ‘go back in there,’ but we don’t know yet.”

Tolbert said his staff are looking to other localities and agencies, like the Department of Environmental Quality, which have dealt with similar situations in the past to make their determination. Just last month, two suspects were arrested in nearby Waynesboro after the town’s third meth lab bust of the year, and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office arrested a man on October 1 for the same reason, but it’s a first for Charlottesville.

“This is kind of new to us,” Tolbert said.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the process of making a house inhabitable again after long-term methamphetamine manufacturing is lengthy and dangerous. A 48-page document called Meth Lab Guidelines advises localities to hire environmental or health professionals to conduct sampling and testing. The guidelines recommend that almost everything in the house—from electrical fixtures, carpet, and mattresses to books, clothing, and silverware—be dumped and replaced before residents return.