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Sheriff gets vocal on pursuing drug dealers

Stepping out of the traditional role of the reserved and detached lawman, Franklin County Sheriff A.J. Smith has been speaking out loudly and directly as his department heats up its pursuit of meth dealers.

Beginning about a month ago, in a series of regular Facebook Live broadcasts, Smith took aim at a woman accused of meth trafficking, Amber Branch, 43, of Eastpoint, who he termed “the meth tornado,” complete with vivid imagery of a cyclone.

“We’re coming for you,” Smith said in his broadcast, terming Branch “a prolific drug dealer” and pointing to a lengthy rap sheet, dating back to 1995, with crimes that appear to have escalated in seriousness.

“The ‘meth tornado’ needs to be locked up and away and hopefully we can get the feds to indict her and maybe we can put her away for the rest of her life because she’s not going to quit,” he said. 

Smith said that in keeping with seizure laws, the department had taken possession of Branch’s camper and car. “But I’m sure she’ll find some other means of transportation,” he said.

Branch has been barred from driving since Feb. 2015 when she pled guilty to the felony of being a habitual offender of driving while her license was suspended.

“If you see her driving, call us,” Smith said, noting that she had been able to make bail after a bondsman put her on a payment plan.

“I’m sick of the drug dealers in our country; I’m going to wage war against them,” he said. “A person like her does not belong on the streets of Franklin County.

“In the past she’s been an informant,” Smith said. “She’s not a person of good character and she’s selling dope in our community.

“If we want our community to be drug free, it’s going to take everybody working together,” he said. 

Branch was later apprehended June 16, and ordered held without bond. She is represented by Tallassee attorney Stacy Sharp, the assistant regional conflict counsel.

Last week, Smith directed his focus on Howard Westley Ellerson, 32, a sometimes resident of Apalachicola, who he said was being sought on a federal warrant for trafficking in at least 500 grams of meth.

“I am not talking grams or ounces, I’m talking pounds. A lot of times it’s laced with fentanyl,” said Smith. “He’s a career criminal, and one of our major traffickers here in Franklin County.

“He’s been connected to a host of people here who he is supplying drugs. He is selling death to our community,” he said. “The amount of drugs he has been pushing in our community is enormous.”

In addition to holding up a mugshot of Ellerson, Smith pointed out a rap sheet he said included several arrests for sale and possession of drugs as well as weapons charges and fleeing law enforcement. His office said arrests have been in Franklin County, as well as Augusta, Georgia and Greensboro, North Carolina.

The sheriff said Ellerson was among three indictments handed down by federal law enforcement last week, with the two other local people having been apprehended by law enforcement. “There are other indictments coming down,” Smith said. 

The sheriff praised Lt. Wesley Creamer and Detective John Nunez for the work they have been doing with federal prosecutors and the Drug Enforcement Agency.

‘They’re a two-man wrecking crew on this stuff,” he said. “We’re a small agency and we’re getting a lot of things done.”

Smith said Ellerson has family and friends here, and also likes Bay County and Augusta, Georgia, and urged people to come forward and share his whereabouts. 

“I am sure he’s going to hide under a rock somewhere,” he said. “Let’s get this gentleman off the streets and get him locked up where he belongs. He needs to be in jail.

“Howard Ellerson, we’ll be seeing you in orange baby,” Smith said.

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Meet the Editor

David Adlerstein, The Apalachicola Times’ digital editor, started with the news outlet in January 2002 as a reporter.

Prior to then, David Adlerstein began as a newspaperman with a small Boston weekly, after graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He later edited the weekly Bellville Times, and as business reporter for the daily Marion Star, both not far from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

In 1995, he moved to South Florida, and worked as a business reporter and editor of Medical Business newspaper. In Jan. 2002, he began with the Apalachicola Times, first as reporter and later as editor, and in Oct. 2020, also began editing the Port St. Joe Star.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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