Cover photo courtesy of Franklin County Schools.
The distinctive reek coming from the produce truck got Franklin County police officer Josh Alexander’s attention as it pulled into the Sewanee Elementary School on Nov. 18. Within minutes, the school resource officer had found a large cache of fentanyl and marijuana as well as drug paraphernalia. Even more alarming, the officer learned that the delivery truck driver, Christopher Duncan, had just delivered produce to two other Franklin County schools.
Josh Alexander, Sewanee Elementary School’s Resource Officer (SRO), said nothing initially seemed amiss as the Hunstville, AL-based delivery truck arrived. He quickly turned from greeting students, however, when he noticed the smell.
“It was a face I was familiar with,” Alexander said, “Over the last few weeks, he’s been dropping produce off at the school. That morning, I noticed the odor of marijuana [coming from his truck]. But there’s a lot to look into there, because from our training, we should know [by smell] if it’s green, or fresh, marijuana or if it’s already burnt. It smelled very fresh to me.”
“When he came back out [of the school], I confronted him about the smell. At first, he tried to divert a little bit, but when he realized he wasn’t getting back in his truck yet, he started to come clean,” said Alexander.
Upon searching the truck, Alexander found 7.6 ounces of what he believed to be fentanyl, 9 ounces of weed, over 4,000 dollars in cash, and a loaded 9mm handgun. At some point while searching the truck, Alexander called the Sewanee Police Department for assistance.
“I didn’t want to leave my back to him while I searched the truck on school grounds without having someone to at least have eyes on him if I needed help,” said Alexander.
Alexander hadn’t been asked to meet with every delivery to the school, due to the high volume of deliveries and his other responsibilities. “They are coming and going so often, and you get familiar with their faces, and they are more or less vetted through their companies,” Alexander said.
But after the incident on November 10, more surveillance of routine visitors is “something we’ll more than likely have to look into in the future, knowing what we know now,” Alexander said. “And yes, we focus on safety, but I don’t want the school to feel so over-protected that the kids don’t feel like they can move and go and be children. We want to encourage them to be children,” says Alexander.
“It was just a random thing. He made a mistake, and [I] had enough experience on the road and intuition to call him on that mistake and dig a little deeper,” said Alexander.
Asked if Duncan intended to sell in or near the Sewanee area, Alexander said, “I believe that what I found that day was not intended for here. I think [he was taking it] back home.”
Alexander has worked as the resource officer for Sewanee Elementary School for over a month. His duties include checking the school’s outer doors to make sure they stay locked; scanning the woods behind the building to ensure “no one is there who isn’t supposed to be;” and helping out around the school, all while building relationships with staff and students.
“[Being an SRO] wasn’t something I was looking for at the time, but once I got into the job, I fell in love with the atmosphere of working with the kids and being able to see the difference you can make in a child’s life,” said Alexander, “Mostly, it’s just hanging out and having fun building relationships with the kids.”
Sewanee Elementary Principal Allison Deitz praised Alexander’s work, which included helping revise safety plans soon after he arrived. “Getting Deputy Josh on board was huge in many ways. He came with experience with on-the-road law enforcement, and he had been an SRO before,” Deitz said.“He’s very thorough. He checks in with everyone all the time, makes sure our doors stay locked, and things like that. On top of that, he’ll do anything for us. He’s wonderful. He greets the kids every morning, and they feel safe everyday because they see his face as they walk into school.”
In a statement about the case, the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department said Duncan has been charged with-Possession of a Schedule I Controlled Substance With Intent to Manufacture, Deliver, or Sell, Possession of a Schedule VI Controlled Substance With Intent to Manufacture, Deliver, or Sell, Drug Free Zone Violation, Unlawful Possession of a Weapon, and Possession of Drug Paraphernalia. Duncan is being held on a $250,000 bond.