Neighbors’ complaints about a group of dogs running loose in a Bishop neighborhood led deputies to discover methamphetamine labs Monday afternoon.
“Animal Control got here, and they saw some things that they thought we should know about,” said Sheriff Scott Berry. “Once we got here, we were confident that what we had here was a meth lab.”
While other people sometimes stayed at the house, the home primarily was the residence of Christopher Sumner, 47.
Deputies arrested him on Jan. 28 after he was charged with violating probation in Newton County; neighbors said the dogs had been acting aggressively since then. Deputies, as of Monday afternoon, had yet to charge Sumner in connection with the meth operation, and they plan to investigate further to see if the equipment belonged to him or one of the other people who frequented the house.
Deputies’ first priority was to get the caustic byproducts created by methamphetamine manufacturing out of the house.
“We’ve got to get this cleaned up,” Berry said. “We have two wet (or operational) labs in there, so we will have to get an outside hazmat company to come in and clean this up.”
Deputies wore hazmat suits and respirators as they combed through the house for evidence Monday.
Neighbors made several complaints to Animal Control over the years about Sumner’s dogs running loose and to the police about the state of Sumner’s residence. Neighbors stepped up their complaints last week when the dogs seemed to become more aggressive, said Jeff McNeill, who has lived next door for 11 years.
“I can’t say that I’m surprised, not at all,” McNeill said. “I am surprised that it took this long, honestly.”
McNeill never knew what was going on next door, but recalled how Sumner and other people who lived there used to burn things in the backyard at all hours of the night, producing an acrid, chemical smell, McNeill said.
“I assumed when I smelled those smells (that) they were just burning copper,’ McNeill said. “But maybe that was meth.”
The sheriff’s office arrested Sumner in October on charges of driving with a suspended license. At the time, he had a truck bed full of scrap metal that deputies suspected he had stolen, according to an Oconee County sheriff’s report.
When deputies secured a search warrant to go into Sumner’s house Monday, they found a few small-scale meth labs and lots of dog feces.
A fire pit in the backyard was filled with pieces of burnt batteries and bits of metal, and empty cans of solvent were strewn around the yard. Batteries and solvent are used in the production of methamphetamine.
It’s not uncommon for Animal Control officers to discover evidence of illegal activities when they are dispatched to investigate animal neglect or abuse, said Oconee County Animal Control Director Catlyn A. Vickers.
“It’s not the rule, but it’s not unheard of,” she said.