Police take readers inside LaPlace raid, arrests of 3 linked to violence (possible homicides)
LAPLACE — Dawn was still a few hours away as S.W.A.T. officers approached a home on Cambridge Drive in LaPlace.
It was almost 2 a.m. Friday, and the officers knew the home likely contained weapons, drugs and more than one person capable of violent acts, police later said.
The first noise anyone heard was the BOOM, as St. John Sheriff’s Office personnel breached the home’s front door.
Major Tanner Mangano, special operations division commander, said police encountered 30-year-old Craig Lee Jr.
The LaPlace man and convicted felon reacted instinctively, jumping to the floor and lying on his stomach. Police said he didn’t move at first, waiting to respond until police had fully identified themselves.
He was wearing a beanie, one that when stretched out revealed itself to be a ski mask, complete with just openings for two eyes and a mouth.
Another man was in the house during the raid, police said — Devonte Johnson. The 25-year-old Garyville resident was in a middle bedroom, and he tried to escape through a window.
That’s where he met S.W.A.T. officers, according to Mangano, who said Johnson retreated back inside and surrendered peacefully.
Mangano said Lee Jr., Johnson and the home’s chief resident — 51-year-old Craig A. Lee Sr. — have been named persons of interest in several violent crimes in St. John Parish.
Sheriff Mike Tregre doubled down on the assertion, noting the trio’s names have popped up in numerous local homicide investigations dating back years.
Lee Sr., who was not home during the police raid, was arrested a few hours later while approaching the home.
“Nobody was injured on both sides,” Mangano said. “They ended up surrendering peacefully. All my guys went home safe. It is the absolute best outcome. We trained for it.”
Following the arrests, police noted Lee Jr. was in the living room area where three firearms were within arm’s reach. Mangano noted the guns were “locked, loaded and ready to go.”
Through the course of their search, detectives recovered an AK-47, two AR-15s and two handguns.
Police said one of the handguns has already been linked to a batch of stolen weapons from a Thibodaux gun store, and they believe further examination and investigation will more than likely link the other firearms to shootings in and around St. John the Baptist Parish.
Police said they also recovered eight grams of cocaine, a gram of methamphetamine, 20 dosage units of Xanax, two grams of marijuana, two grams of heroin, two dosage units of amphetamine and drug distribution equipment.
Mangano described the drug tools on scene linking the suspects as “100 percent sellers.”
“It’s packaged already for sale,” he said. “It’s pre-weighed.”
Tregre noted the seized narcotics were not for personal consumption.
“Those are distributers right there and willing to protect themselves at all costs,” he said.
Police began their case in April after receiving word that Lee Jr. was moving in and around LaPlace.
A suspect in multiple violent crimes throughout St. John, police said their last official contact with Lee Jr. was some time ago when, set for trial on drug charges, he abruptly fired his lawyer and never showed back up to court.
His parole violation and contempt of court violations mounted, putting him squarely in the forefront of police attention.
Mangano said it was learned Lee Jr. might be frequenting a home in the 1500 block of Cambridge Drive, where his father resided.
Special Operations Division officers began conducting surveillance and other investigative tactics, observing Lee Jr., Lee Sr. and Johnson entering and exiting the home on multiple occasions.
Mangano said it was crucial for police to build a case beyond Lee Jr.’s contempt of court charges, noting last week’s drug and narcotics arrests forced higher bonds and allow police more time to work bigger cases.
“Had we not done our due diligence, not opened up our investigation and just decided to arrest him on his contempt of court and parole violation, he would be back out on the streets and all this would still be with him,” Mangano said. “He has refused to show up for court for over two years now. The court system will hopefully take that into consideration.”
Sheriff Mike Tregre is adamant more arrests and greater charges will follow last week’s raid.
“Their names have surfaced for years in St. John Parish,” he said. “The investigation is still very active. If the people we know would just have the courage to tell us a little bit more, then we could probably solve a number of crimes in St. John Parish. The community helped us tremendously to track these guys down. We just need some more help.
“This is just one phase of many. This will not stop. We’re not going to take a day off. We’re going to continue. My team is very well trained and prepped.”
Craig Lee Sr. posted a $343,000 bond and was released the same day as his arrest.
He is charged with more than a dozen drug and gun crimes.
Lee Sr. has been arrested 15 times since 1987 in St. John Parish, police said.
Johnson is charged with ten drug and gun felonies relating to the investigation.
Police said he has been arrested more than 10 times since 2012 in St. John Parish and was transferred to the Catahoula Correctional Center.
Lee Jr. is charged with five counts of illegal carrying of a weapon with a controlled dangerous substance, five counts of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine, Xanax, heroin and cocaine; illegal possession of a stolen firearm and numerous other charges.
He is being held locally in lieu of a $745,500 bond.
Police said he has been arrested more than 20 times since 2006 in St. John Parish.
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