Drugs: An Inside Look

Sitting off of Hiwassee Street, the 10th Judicial District Drug Task Force complex is a rather unassuming structure. There are no signs or fanfare to let visitors know where they are. No rough and tough guards standing watch outside. Just a fabricated building of no consequence with enough parking for about 25 cars. Surprising for an agency  celebrating its 20-year anniversary.

Inside is much the same. Beyond the entry room is a waiting area that doubles as a break room for Drug Task Force agents. Piled in front of a medium-sized television are cases of water and caffeinated drinks—Mountain Dew, Diet Dr. Pepper, Coca-Cola. Against the opposite wall is a large leather couch. In the corner, a small table is surrounded by child-sized chairs painted in primary colors.

In Comes Mike

Everything was typical of a normal office until 6-foot 9-inch Director Mike Hall walked in the room. He’s an imposing figure, and while he considers himself the “softest” cop anyone will ever meet, his size keeps people from knowing it.

“I don’t get many people that try to resist me—especially when I’m in tactical clothing. I’m only 230, 240 pounds.” He said, “I’m not huge when it comes to mass, but when you put all the stuff together and somebody comes up to your chest… It’s funny because it comes with respect. The other way, when you’ve got victims, it makes them feel secure. Being big for me has been a blessing my entire life.”

Unfortunately, having to be intimidating has had its toll. Hall—who is also the praise and worship leader at Mt. Olive Church of God—says working on the Drug Task Force has given him a new perspective on people—one he doesn’t necessarily like. For one, he’s become painfully aware of his surroundings. One could argue he is on the border of paranoia, never sitting with his back to a door, frequently looking over his shoulder and being afraid of being in large crowds when not on duty.

When Hall speaks, one sentence says it all: “I don’t trust people.” It’s how many law enforcement professionals end up. However, Hall says he works hard to try and maintain a sense of humanity and compassion for those around him. He does this by avoiding socialization with fellow law enforcement professionals when he’s not on duty and not dwelling on his work when he’s at home. Hall also finds strength and peace at church.

But maintaining balance isn’t always possible.

Preventing Future Queens

The stress of being on the Drug Task Force recently manifested itself in the actions of now suspended agent Bobby Queen. Hall knew Queen had some serious issues in his personal life, so Hall did what he would do for any of his agents. He told Queen to take some time off. Shortly after Queen’s return, Hall took him for some training in the warm state of Florida. Between training sessions, the two went fishing and relaxed.

Queen told Hall it was the best few days he’d had in a long time.

Then they got home. And Queen took his wife hostage.

“When Queen came home, one more thing mounted above all the other stuff and all that stuff piled together and it was just the perfect storm,” Hall recalled. “He flipped his wig. He lost it. If there’s any case of temporary insanity, he fit it at that point. Talking to him on the phone at that time, he was not the same person I just got back with on a great trip. It happened that fast. No warning, just boom! Oh my gosh, I can’t believe this is happening.”

Despite missing Queen on the Drug Task Force, Hall has realized he has to move forward—for his own good and for the good of those under his charge. “It is what it is. I hate it for him. I hate it for the Task Force,” Hall said. “I didn’t see this one coming down. I hope I don’t see another one coming down. [Queen] didn’t really produce any triggers for that to happen. At the same time, his conscious was so shocked that, who knows? If he wasn’t in law enforcement, if he was just Joe Blow on the street, he could have done the same thing.”

In an effort to help other agents avoid a downfall like Queen, Drug Task Force agents rotate from one team to another. Some work the streets, others Interstate trafficking and still others fight illegal prescription drug use. Hall also keeps an eye on his guys to make sure they’re not showing signs of potential problems. The Task Force doesn’t have an on-call psychologist or counselor, but most agents wouldn’t want to talk with one anyway. But Hall is excited about a new hire to the Interstate section of the Drug Task Force who has a degree in counseling. Hall expects the other agents will trust the new agent and will feel comfortable talking with him.

As strange as it may seem, agents don’t always need to talk about their jobs. In fact, dealing with the roughage of the 10th District isn’t the worst stress of being a member of the Drug Task Force. It’s everything else.

“When you get home, your wife’s like, ‘I thought you were going to be home at dinner.’ You’re like, ‘Well, something came up, I couldn’t be home at dinner.’ And your kids are like, ‘Hey daddy, are you ever going to come home again?’ Then every time a case comes up that you know this is the only time you’re going to be able to do it, you call home and are like, ‘Hey, I’m not going to be able to make it home again.’ You dread the call,” Hall said. “The stress of that phone call for not going home—that’s worse than anything.”

Time To Break

As with any stressful job, joining the Drug Task Force is not a lifetime commitment. According to Hall, it’s not even something people would want to do for more than a few years. It’s too hard on a person.

“You can’t work this job 20 years. Who’d want to?” he asked. “When you’re dealing with drugs, you’re not just dealing with drugs and drug addicts. You’re dealing with everything they deal with. The biggest is pornography. Man, who wants to see that every day? You go into a house and it’s nothing but pornography. It’s just the grime of life. Everything has its toll, but you’re dealing with some of the lowest people in society. [After] 20 years, it affects you. You go home with images in your mind that you can’t get out. Things you didn’t think you’d ever see. Situations you see children in and there’s not that much you can do about it.”

Despite the frustrations of the job, agents of the built-for-stress Drug Task Force carry on to ensure the safety and well-being of every resident of Bradley County, Cleveland and the rest of the 10th Judicial District. Here’s to another successful 20 years.

Published in Bradley News Weekly.