Alachua County Sheriff’s Office “removed” from DEA task force; Watson responds by withdrawing all deputies from joint task forces


Alachua County Sheriff’s Office (ASO) has been removed from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) task force, and the responsibilities and funding will be transferred to Gainesville Police Department (GPD). Since then, Sheriff Clovis Watson, Jr., has withdrawn from four other joint task forces with local and federal agencies.

The agreement for the HIDTA task force provides for funding, equipment, and the ability to seize or forfeit drugs, property, and cash. A February 1 letter from Watson to GPD Acting Chief Lonnie Scott, Sr., confirms, “As you know, the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office was removed from HIDTA, the joint venture our agencies operated under for decades with our drug units.” The letter continues, “This has caused us to evaluate all combined units and make major changes in restructuring our investigations bureau.”

Gainesville Alachua County Drug Task Force

The letter to Chief Scott goes on to inform him that ASO is “recalling our deputies on loan to outside agencies effectively immediately as part of our focus on the critical need for local law enforcement and to better serve our community obligation by directing resources to local operations. This includes recalling our deputies in the Gainesville Alachua County Drug Task Force (“GACDTF”). The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the GACDTF provides the ability to end the agreement with 30 days’ notice, which began on February 1.

That MOU, between ASO, GPD, and the University of Florida Board of Trustees, provides for ASO, GPD, and the University of Florida Police Department (UPD) to form a combined narcotics and organized crime task force. Each party is responsible for its own expenses. Part of the agreement requires the Sheriff to appoint GPD and UPD personnel to the task force as deputies with “full privileges and authority to act as deputy sheriffs” within Alachua County while working on task force investigations. Forfeitures are divided between the agencies via a formula in the MOU. The MOU was just signed on December 1, 2021, by Sheriff Watson and was intended to be in effect until December 31, 2025. The MOU provides for any party to cancel its participation with 30 days’ notice.

DEA Gainesville Resident Office Task Force

A January 31 letter from Watson to the DEA office in Gainesville serves as notification that ASO is also recalling its deputies from the Gainesville Resident Office Task Force. The agreement for that task force was most recently signed on August 5, 2021, by Watson and took effect on October 1. The agreement notes the “detrimental effect on the health and general welfare” of people in the region of trafficking in narcotics and dangerous drugs; Watson agreed to detail two experienced officers to the task force for a period of “not less than two years.” DEA agreed to assign eight Special Agents to the task force. DEA also agreed to provide necessary funds and equipment, including office space, office supplies, travel funds, funds for the purchase of evidence and information, investigative equipment, training, and other support items. DEA also agreed to pay overtime for the deputies assigned to the task force. That agreement will also terminate in 30 days, in accordance with the MOU provisions for cancellation.

FBI Jacksonville Safe Streets Gang Violent Crimes Task Force

Another January 31 letter from Watson provides notice to the FBI office in Gainesville of termination of a loaned deputy agreement between ASO and the FBI for the Jacksonville Safe Streets Gang Violent Crimes Task Force. That agreement was entered into by former Sheriff Sadie Darnell in 2018 and will terminate 30 days after the letter. The agreement paid for overtime costs, but otherwise each party is responsible for its own costs. Asset forfeitures are “equitably shared” between the participating agencies. 

FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force

A third January 31 letter from Watson provides notice to the FBI office in Gainesville of termination of a loaned deputy agreement between ASO and the FBI for the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF). This agreement was also signed by former Sheriff Darnell in 2018 for an indefinite period and can be terminated with 60 days’ notice. 

The mission of the JTTF is to facilitate information sharing among members to prevent, preempt, deter, and investigate terrorist acts that affect United States interests. The FBI provides for overtime reimbursement under the MOU, along with office space, support staff, furniture, office equipment, and vehicles, when needed. Forfeited assets are distributed among the participating agencies.

“Vision for Specialized Investigative Units”

In response to our request for comment, we received a copy of a February 1 letter from Sheriff Watson to Undersheriff Joel DeCoursey, Jr., with the subject “Vision for Specialized Investigative Units.” The letter explains that Watson has suspended specialized units such as Patrol Criminal Interdiction Unit (PCIU), Countywide High Intensity Patrol (CHIP), and Youth and Community Resources Unit (YCRU) “and reorganized to maximize our effectiveness under the constraints of staffing.” He added that he was recalling deputies on loan to federal agencies based on a recent Federal Court case “which left Martin County TFO deputies personally liable in a civil suit while working for a federal agency, combined with our need for deputies in unfilled positions throughout our agency.”

This letter again confirms that ASO was “removed from HIDTA” and says those deputies will operate as an autonomous ASO unit: “This provides a tremendous opportunity for our highly-experienced team to build an unfettered unit from the ground up based on their knowledge of the newest technology and investigative techniques and our considerable resources.”

We requested comments from Sheriff Watson, GPD, North Florida HIDTA, and the DEA about the reason for removing ASO from HIDTA. Sheriff Watson provided the letter above, which does not give the reason for the removal; we spoke on the phone with North Florida HIDTA and the DEA, but neither provided any comment; GPD spokesman Graham Glover confirmed that ASO has been removed from HIDTA and that “GPD will be reconstituting a narcotics and violent crime task force in coordination with the State Attorney’s Office and other state and federal officials.”

  • Yeah, thats what we should do, years of work and collaboration down the drain, guess he forgot about all the mistakes made and lack of cooperation leading up to 9/11 – Very interested in his recent purchase of three brand new tahoes for his Majors too (Not on state contract, why the rush?) and very interested in why so many people are leaving the agency, almost one very other day in calender year 2021 — Clovis is not good for this county or the Law Enforcement community.

  • I’m taking all my toys and going home.

    Thanks to the new culture within the sheriff’s department, it’s no wonder deputies are leaving as quickly as they can. As one commenter has already mentioned, those new vehicles are NICE. Wonder how many deputies they could have put on the road for the couple hundred thousand they paid for those?

    • His son is or was the Sales Manager at Gainesville Nissan. So he probably has some inside connections in the car business.

  • That makes me feel so much safer lol what a joke ridiculous Gainesville soon to be Portland Oregon twin

    • It is a sad day for the citizens of Alachua County. The work these units have been able to do in the past, speaks for it self. There was a reason ASO was dropped. That will be interesting when it is revealed.

      By breaking the agreements with the other agencies, he has left the county, who he swore to protect, in protected.

  • Well I kinda got the impression that he is protecting his deputies from the extremely corrupt leftie FBI and demonrat Federal gov. Since the Feds are the ones that dropped ASO.

    • No, he is protecting his deputies from civil suits. That means he’s protecting officers from civil suits from regular citizens. That means he’s getting rid of a layer of accountability.

  • Hey man , he’s woke. He’s learned from Gainesville city commission. “Badges, we don’t need no stinking badges”. Both think they can do as they please, no matter what state or federal laws, rules, regulations or private agreements say. Of course the ASO is a disaster, just like city of Gainesville leadership.

  • It could what ASO says and the need to focus more locally, when resources are limited. We can’t spread out in the hope we get asset forfeitures to pay it off later, when we have serious local issues. Why do people take drugs, is my question?

    • Except for the fact that the DEA pulled its resources away from the Sheriff’s office and is handing them over to the police department.

  • Sounds like the Sheriff is circling the wagons. He is gathering and positioning his old friends in leadership positions which internal procedures and workings will be protected, shutting out all outside influences. No visible checks and balances will be seen from the outside. Remember when Jeff McAdams pulled away from the state FOP and embezzled tens of thousands of dollars and no one knew? Yup, no checks and balances. Something stinks here.

  • You can take a hood out of Merrillwood but you can’t. . . . . .

  • Something is indeed fishy in the swamp. I used to have a lot of respect for ASO but I’m having second thoughts now. They just upgraded their aviation unit with high flying choppers (less perceptible) and really expensive new spy cameras ($300,000) with very high resolution and other enhancements. But my real concern here is DEA hooking up with GPD? GPD is understaffed by 30+ patrol officers and they eliminated two positions they said they had “frozen” which sells the illusion they are better staffed than they are. GPD can’t fund all the nonprofits they control, and the former COP is now the COO for the city during the height of our highest recorded crime spree in the city’s history. No chopper needed; we know where the shooters are. People who know need to come forward and expose the corruption. Especially the high number of high-quality individuals that have left the force. A day or reckoning is coming.

    • I’m waiting for the sheriff’s office to post their slanted version of the issue on their facebook page. I’m surprised they haven’t. Maybe they know that will open the matter up to the real facts. AFogey might not be able to delete incriminating comments fast enough.

    • “Clovis does not play well with others and has some seriously deficient command staff members, to include one who was termintated for charecter issues years ago” He pissed off several sheriff’s for not being cooperative, odds are that led to them complaining about his attitude…He is morally inept and only cares about spending money on his new office, new cars, and having all his trophies staged in his office….

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