Third District Circuit Court Judge Kent E. Smith sentenced a local man considered by law enforcement to be an organized crime figure to 160 years in prison this past week.
A Union County jury found Walter “Cookie” Carruthers guilty of drug trafficking while within 1,500 feet of a church or school, while in possession of a firearm and while being a convicted felon. There was a separate charge for being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Police Chief Chris Robertson said they consider this a major victory for law enforcement. “It is rare to see this kind of sentence in a non-capital case,” he said.
The conviction is the culmination of nearly three years’ work and involves one trial with a hung jury and related jury tampering charges.
The chief said the case began in July 2018 after Carruthers was paroled on a previous charge.
He moved to 706 Glade Street, down from the Clark Street intersection and almost immediately, police began to get complaints from neighbors about the location and possible criminal activity.
Robertson said his department began an investigation and surveillance, but that was difficult because Carruthers was cautious. He had sentries around the area and it was not easy to find informants to help may drug buys.
By this time, police believe, Carruthers was selling drugs on a fairly large scale, running a fencing operation for stolen goods sometime traded for drugs, and even involved in prostitution.
“They were much more organized,” he said. “By this time it was a full-blown criminal organization.”
The break actually came through a separate burglary investigation.
The suspect, Dorian Robertson, confessed to burglary and admitted to trading items to Carruthers for drugs as well at taking some to Game Stop to sell.
Robertson said they obtained a search warrant in October 2018 and went to the house with police, the special response team, Mississippi Highway Patrol officers and sheriff’s deputies.
“We arrested Carruthers, Reggie Boles and Clay Potts,” the chief said. “We also recovered a large amount of meth.” The quantity of drugs was great enough to warrant a trafficking charge rather than possession or sales.
Officers also recovered firearms and other stolen items, ownership for some that still has not been determined.
Carruthers first faced trial in March 2020, right before the pandemic shut things down, but that trial resulted in a hung jury.
It was later alleged that Carruthers, through his sister, approached a juror and may have contacted more than one. Jury tampering charges are still pending from that.
In the second trial, the jury was only out about an hour and 20 minutes, the chief said. A large part of that time was just doing the necessary paperwork, he added.
The reason for the lengthy prison term is partly because the crimes were within 1,500 feet of New Birth Church, Wells Chapel Church and Rainbow Learning Center. That brings an enhanced penalty, doubling the usual sentence.
In fact, the trafficking charge brought a 40-year sentence with three enhancements adding 40 more each, to be served consecutively. There was also a 10-year sentence for the firearm possession but that is to be served concurrently.
Because Carruthers qualifies as a habitual offender, barring appeals or some legislative action, he will have to serve the full 160 years – or as long as he lives – without being eligible for parole.
“The most important point is that in order for law enforcement, for everybody, to be successful to stop these type problems, we need to have help from the community,” Robertson said. These days, he said people are more hesitant to serve on juries and he commended those who did.
“No matter what we do, if we don’t have a component from the community there is absolutely nothing we can do,” he said.
“I am very thankful to live in New Albany where people are willing to help,” he continued. “This was not just a dope house but an ongoing criminal operation that was going to put more people at risk.”
“I really enjoyed growing up in New Albany and I want to keep that for our children,” he said. “I feel like if we do our job citizens are always going to back us up. Citizens don’t realize the role they play for us.”
“I’ve been dealing with him (Carruthers) since he was 13,” Robertson said. “This was a big win for all of us.”Cookie Carruthers, drug trafficking, enhanced penalty, fencing, habitual criminal, New Albany, Northeast Mississippi, police, prostitution, Union County