Asheville -- April 16, 2024: For Immediate ReleaseU.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of North Carolina: Today, Dena J. King, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina,

announced criminal indictments against 13 individuals on drug and/or gun charges. The indictments are the result of multiple joint investigations led by federal prosecutors, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), and the Asheville Police Department, into the alleged distribution of narcotics, such as fentanyl, and illegal firearms activity in the Asheville area.

“When our streets are plagued with drugs and illegal guns, our communities pay the price,” said U.S. Attorney King. “The charges announced today are the result of our concerted efforts with our law enforcement partners to remove drugs and illegal guns from our neighborhoods and reduce the violence and criminal activity fueled by the drug trade. We are stronger together. When we join forces, our crime reduction efforts are more effective and we can better protect our citizens and vulnerable communities from dangerous drugs and gun-induced violence.”

“ATF has a shared commitment with our law enforcement partners to address violent crime relentlessly and from every angle,” said ATF Special Agent in Charge Bennie Mims. “By removing firearms from illegal possessors and shutting down firearms and drug trafficking networks, we’re breaking the cycle of violent crime and making our communities safer.”

“The Asheville Police Department values its local, state, and federal partnerships. This collaboration has made Western North Carolina safer from the destructive influence of those who exploit addiction, and the tragedies caused by gun-related violence. We will continue to work together as a team to foster safer neighborhoods for all residents and visitors.” 

The names of the 13 individuals and the offenses pending against them are:

Darrien Quantael Cannady, 35, of Asheville, is charged with three counts of distribution of a controlled substance containing a detectable amount of cocaine base. The alleged conduct occurred between August 2022 and November 2022, in Buncombe County.

Aric Rashad Harper, 30, of Swannanoa, N.C., is charged with possession of machineguns and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. The indictment alleges that, in November 2022, in Buncombe County, Harper possessed two machinegun conversion kits, commonly known as “Glock switches.” A Glock switch, or “auto sear,” is an illegal conversion device that enables a conventional semi-automatic pistol to function as a fully automatic firearm.The indictment further alleges that, during that time, Harper unlawfully possessed a pistol, knowing that he had been previously convicted of at least one crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year.

Eric Kelvin Hart, 42, of Asheville, is charged with distribution of methamphetamine. The indictment alleges that Hart distributed the methamphetamine in September 2022, in Buncombe County.

Valachie Wendell Hendon, 41, of Asheville, is charged with four counts of distribution of fentanyl, one count of distribution of fentanyl and methamphetamine, two counts of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, and three counts of possession of a firearm by a felon. The indictment alleges that, between April and May 2023, Hendon engaged in the distribution of fentanyl in and around Buncombe County and illegally possessed firearms. The investigation led to the recovery of two privately manufactured firearms (ghost guns), eight firearms, including an AR-type rifle and a 12-gauge shotgun, and more than 80 rounds of ammunition, that the government contends were involved in the offenses charged in the indictment and are subject to forfeiture proceedings.

Jamal Marqui McDaniel, 46, of Asheville, is charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine; nine counts distribution of methamphetamine; one count of possession with intent to distribute fentanyl and methamphetamine; eight counts of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime; and six counts of possession of a firearm and/or ammunition by a felon. The indictment alleges that, between September 2022 and February 2023, McDaniel engaged in the distribution of fentanyl and methamphetamine in and around Buncombe County. The indictment alleges that McDaniel, during the relevant period, distributed the controlled substances while in possession of firearms. The investigation led to the recovery of two ghost guns, eight firearms, and ammunition, that the government contends were involved in the offenses charged in the indictment and are subject to forfeiture proceedings. McDaniel’s co-defendant, Glisa Nechole Ponder, 43, is charged with conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine and distribution of methamphetamine.

Christopher Deshawn Nelson, 41, of Asheville, is charged with four counts of distribution of methamphetamine and three counts of felon in possession of a firearm. The indictment alleges that, between June 2022 and August 2022, Nelson allegedly distributed methamphetamine in Buncombe County and elsewhere and illegally possessed three firearms on three separate occasions. Nelson was previously convicted of at least one crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year and he is prohibited from possessing firearms.

Dequan Tyrie Payton, 33, of Arden, N.C., is charged with distribution of fentanyl and three counts of distribution of methamphetamine. The indictment alleges that Payton distributed the controlled substances between September 2022 and November 2022, in and around Buncombe County.

Ronald Lee Peak, 43, of Hendersonville, N.C., is charged with two counts of distribution of methamphetamine and two counts of possession of a firearm by a felon. The indictment alleges that between July 2022 and August 2022, Peak possessed with intent to distribute methamphetamine in Buncombe County. It is also alleged that, during that time, Peak illegally possessed two firearms knowing that he had previously been convicted of at least one crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year.

Breanna Nicole Reed, 27, of Asheville, is charged with three counts of distribution of fentanyl. Reed allegedly engaged in the distribution of fentanyl between June 2022 and August 2022, in Buncombe County. 

Tyrone Eugene Sitton, 46, of Asheville, is charged with three counts of distribution of fentanyl, one count of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, and one count of possession of a firearm by a felon. According to allegations in the indictment, between November 2022 and December 2022, Sitton distributed fentanyl in Buncombe County. The indictment further alleges that Sitton, knowing he had been previously convicted of at least one crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year, knowingly and unlawfully possessed three firearms, including a 12-gauge shotgun and a rifle. The indictment also charges Sitton’s co-defendant, Maurice Antonio Jeter, 42, of Hendersonville, with possession with intent to distribute fentanyl.

Khalil Tirik Shabazz, 28, of Asheville, is charged with three counts of knowingly and intentionally distributing a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of cocaine, a Schedule II controlled substance. The indictment alleges that Shabazz distributed the controlled substance in July 2022, in and around Buncombe County.

The charges in the indictments are allegations. The defendants are innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

In making today’s announcement, U.S. Attorney King commended the ATF and the Asheville Police Department for conducting the investigations that led to the federal charges.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Asheville are prosecuting the cases, including Christopher Hess, Alex M. Scott, and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Annabelle Chambers.

The cases are part of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), a program bringing together all levels of law enforcement and the communities they serve to reduce violent crime and gun violence, and to make our neighborhoods safer for everyone. On May 26, 2021, the Department launched a violent crime reduction strategy strengthening PSN based on these core principles: fostering trust and legitimacy in our communities, supporting community-based organizations that help prevent violence from occurring in the first place, setting focused and strategic enforcement priorities, and measuring the results.

In July 2022, as part of PSN, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, in partnership with the ATF, launched  Think Again, an informational campaign to educate the public about gun crimes  and illegal firearms purchasing or misuse and to increase the reporting of illegal firearms activity to law enforcement. The campaign encourages the public to submit an anonymous tip about illegal firearms and other criminal activity to the ATF by calling 1-888-ATF-TIPS (1-888-283-8477), via text at 63975, or online at WWW.ATF.GOV/ATF-TIPS.

For additional information about our Think Again initiative, please visit our website. You can view our Think Again Public Service Announcements here.


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