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Second cop on DEA task force faces drug charges

Published on March 14, 2023 at 2:05 pm

A second member of a federal drug enforcement task force based in Jacksonville has been charged with a drug crime.

Former Nassau County sheriff’s Sgt. James Darrell Hickox, 37 of Callahan, was arrested Friday on a charge of intent to distribute controlled substances. His arrest came the same day that veteran Highway Patrol Trooper Joshua Earrey was charged with unlawful use of a controlled substance.

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The two men served on the same Drug Enforcement Administration task force, but court documents do not indicate whether the cases are connected.

Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper said he was “shocked, disgusted and beyond angry” about the arrest of Hickox, a 17-year department veteran.

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“He has let down his coworkers, our community, thrown away his career, as well as embarrassed his family,” Leeper said in a statement Monday. “I am firmly committed to holding our employees to the highest ethical standards. Although law enforcement officers are human and humans make mistakes, his actions are unforgivable. We will do whatever it takes to ensure we are holding ourselves accountable.”

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The investigation into Hickox began in late August when the FBI interviewed a man who had been arrested for drug-related offenses. The man, with drug-related convictions since 1996, said he had information about “criminal activity” that happened while Hickox supervised him as a confidential informant, the complaint said.

The informant also was supervised by another law enforcement officer, who was not identified in Hickox’s criminal complaint.

The informant said Hickox and the other officer stole seized drugs and cash and conspired to use controlled substances, the complaint said. The informant said he and another “cooperating defendant” were allowed to keep some of the drugs and money found during law enforcement searches.

In order to make sure the seized drugs weighed the same as listed in the original seizure documents, “a cutting agent” was added, the complaint said. The informant also was “illicitly rewarded with some of the cash seized during a law enforcement search,” the complaint said.

With a federal search warrant issued Friday, agents searched Hickox’s garage, where they found two rocklike substances that tested positive for crack cocaine, a loaded handgun and a bag containing 44 grams of fentanyl, the complaint said.

More bags of cocaine and fentanyl were found, while three shoeboxes containing about $100,000 cash also were found, plus just over $76,000 in a locked bedroom safe, the complaint said. A search of the Hickox’s office at the sheriff’s department found about 400 Ecstacy pills.

FBI agents interviewed the other officer, who said Hickox taught him how to “surreptitiously open sealed evidence bags” of cash seized by the DEA so money could be removed, then “reseal the bags without detection,” the complaint said.

The investigators also found that Hickox had “routinely deposited thousands of dollars in U.S. currency in a day” at multiple ATMs, but he said he did not recall where that money came from, the complaint said.

A separate federal complaint focuses on Earrey, charged with unlawful user or addict of controlled substances while in possession of a firearm.

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Earrey was a trooper for 22 years, assigned in 2020 to the DEA task force, the complaint said. The Florida Cabinet named him Trooper of the Year on May 27, 2009, when he was assigned to FHP’s Contraband Interdiction Program as a K-9 handler in Troop G in Jacksonville.

The Highway Patrol had no comment about his arrest, other than to say that Earrey was fired Friday.

The FBI investigation into Earrey began at the same time as Hickox’s, after an unidentified confidential defendant was arrested on drug-related charges.

The informant told investigators the trooper had been addicted to oxycodone for back pain for about a year and often bought seven to 10 pills at a time.


author image Reporter, WJCT News 89.9 Dan Scanlan is a veteran journalist with almost 40 years of experience in radio, television, and print reporting. He has worked at various stations in the Northeast and Jacksonville. Prior to joining the WJCT News team, Dan spent 34 years at The Florida Times-Union as a police and current affairs reporter.
author image Reporter, WJCT News 89.9 Dan Scanlan is a veteran journalist with almost 40 years of experience in radio, television, and print reporting. He has worked at various stations in the Northeast and Jacksonville. Prior to joining the WJCT News team, Dan spent 34 years at The Florida Times-Union as a police and current affairs reporter.