Agard drug raid a campus anomaly

The Feb. 6 arrest of Max Blackburn ’10 by the Williamstown Police Department (WPD) on charges of possession and distribution of illegal substances was, according to several campus officials, the first case of its kind in the College’s recent history. Nonetheless, administrators hold that the incident does not seem indicative of campus-wide trends relating to drug crimes and was not an unusual case in the broader scheme of local police investigations. Three counts of possession were laid against Blackburn, who was arrested after a three-month investigation by the WPD and the Berkshire County Drug Task Force (BCDTF) led to the obtaining of search and arrest warrants. The resulting search turned up evidence of illegal drugs and related accoutrements in Blackburn’s possession.

According to WPD Police Chief Kyle Johnson, “This was a standard drug investigation, led by a Williamstown Police Officer and supported by the BCDTF.” Full-time police officers from throughout the county and state troopers assigned to the office of the Berkshire District Attorney constitute the task force, which works as a whole on a weekly basis. The role played by Campus Safety and Security was brief, limited only to the actual encounter with Blackburn in his room in Agard House.

Blackburn was released from WPD custody after a fellow student put up his $500 bail. He declined to speak with officers at the time. At present, Blackburn has met his Feb. 11 arraignment at the Northern Berkshire District Court, which will continue in a pretrial on March 16 with his private attorney.

“The WPD and [Security] have a great working relationship that continues to grow and strengthen,” Johnson said. “The biggest asset is the information sharing between the two agencies. They provide us information regarding possible crimes on the campus, and we provide them with the findings of our investigations. Not every tip or [piece of] information results in arrest or criminal charges – some do, as in this case. We are the agency responsible for criminal investigations.”

The College has had the protocol of contacting WPD with evidence of illegal drugs on campus in place since spring 2007. In this case, Security was contacted only to assist and stand by at Agard, according to Director of Security Jean Thorndike. The primary responsibility of Security is to contact the police and to “notify CSS supervisors and contact a Dean-on-call when any serious incident involving a student occurs on campus,” Thorndike said. These procedures were followed in the Agard investigation.

There have been no notable changes in either the frequency or severity of student drug-related cases at the College in recent years. The most recent similar incident transpired in January 2006 when deans of the College asked three students to take time off after a campus-wide investigation yielded evidence of possible marijuana distribution and cocaine possession, but according to officials this case has had little to no bearing on current policies.

“I haven’t sensed any change in the campus’s relation to drugs,” said Dave Johnson, associate dean of the College. “We deal with every case individually, and this one doesn’t represent any trend, which I’m happy about. This is the first time I remember an actual police raid.”