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York Co. drug dealer misses second chance

A drug dealer who police and prosecutors tried to give a second chance at freedom will spend 10 years behind bars after his second drug-related arrest in two years.

Donquavis McConnell, 20, of Rock Hill was one of eight young people police gave an opportunity to stop slinging dope in Rock Hill's Hagins-Fewell neighborhood in 2009.

Instead of being prosecuted at the time, McConnell was provided information about education, job training and a future outside of incarceration.

He was the first of the alleged drug dealers to be caught again with crack cocaine after police and prosecutors showed them evidence against them and told them those charges would never be filed if they stayed out of trouble, said 16th Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett.

Just three months after police and community members offered assistance, McConnell was caught with crack cocaine.

McConnell was arrested again last fall and charged with manufacturing of crack cocaine, third or subsequent offense; possession with intent to distribute cocaine near a school and a probation violation.

He was just sentenced five months earlier to a suspended five-year term and time served on 2009 drug offenses.

McConnell was accused of selling crack cocaine to a confidential informant he met at Club Odyssey in Rock Hill and took to a house Sept. 3, 2010.

In York County court Thursday morning, McConnell pleaded guilty to the drug manufacturing and possession charges in connection with that incident. Judge Lee Alford sentenced him to 10 years without the possibility of parole. That sentence runs concurrent with his probation violation term.

The state didn't make a recommendation on the sentence, but prosecutors did drop the charges from classification of third to second offenses. The manufacturing charge carried a minimum sentence of five years and a maximum of 30 years in prison.

"We told them in the program if we didn't hear from them, they wouldn't hear from us," Brackett said.

"We heard from Mr. McConnell, and today, he heard from me."

Brackett said a 10-year sentence is more than the normal sentence for an offender charged with similar crimes.

"I think we made it clear that he was given a second chance and then probation, and he didn't take advantage of that," Brackett said.

A second chance

Four of the eight men and women in their teens and early 20s have used their second chance, said Rock Hill Police Lt. Roderick Stinson.

Three men and one woman have taken advantage of the programs available and haven't been arrested, he said.

McConnell and three other men have been arrested on some charge since police gave them a second chance.

One of them was arrested in Florida on a drug offense, Stinson said. Another man has drug charges pending prosecution. And the third man has been arrested on minor nondrug, offenses.

"I am surprised that half of the people didn't jump on this opportunity," Stinson said. "We were looking for people we thought we could help. They weren't violent offenders or repeat offenders."

Police targeted young people, ages 16 to 26, for this program, Stinson said.

Those who community members felt could get their lives "on track" with education and jobs to avoid becoming repeat offenders.

The program had two goals - to reduce violent crime in the near-downtown neighborhood and give these young people a chance, Stinson said.

Police were successful in reducing violent crime and taking a bite out of the open-air drug market, he said.

"I think the program is a success," Stinson said. "It's the community and the neighborhood working together. We want to continue to have progress reducing crime and boosting the quality-of-life issues in those neighborhoods."

Through this program and other police initiatives, crime has fallen in the Hagins-Fewell neighborhood in the past two years:

Violent crime is down 50 percent

Property crime is down 42.5 percent

Drug arrests are down 27.4 percent

All reported crime is down 45.8 percent

How it works

Police Chief John Gregory sent a letter to each targeted suspect and members of their families delivered by a police officer which told the suspects they had been identified as a street-level drug dealer. Each person was invited to the police department and told they would not be arrested that night.

In August 2009, they were summoned to the department where dozens of community members told them drugs and violence on the streets where they live wouldn't be tolerated any longer.

The group was then shown surveillance photos and video from undercover drug operations with them exchanging drugs for money. Months in advance, officers surveyed the Hagins-Fewell neighborhood, asking about drug sales. They asked who was selling drugs and where was it being sold.

Undercover informants bought drugs from the people identified as alleged drug dealers. Audio and video recordings were made of the drug transactions, and police built a criminal case against each person.

Officers made them a deal. Police told the targeted suspects of their investigations and that if they stopped selling drugs and did not commit any violent crimes, the cases already built against them would not be brought before a judge for potential arrest.

Instead, they were told of assistance available to them, including education, job training programs, mentorships and other initiatives available through local, state and federal agencies.

"I was offering the chance of a lifetime," Brackett said. "He (McConnell) just had to take advantage of the hand that was being extended for help."

Stinson said he personally provided information on transportation, school loans, programs to take to McConnell on at least two occasions, and told him to come visit him in his office.

McConnell told the judge he didn't have an occupation and never took advantage of what he was offered.

Some did.

Half of the suspected drug dealers given a second chance have taken it. They have managed to turn their lives around and not get arrested again.

Pastor Bernard Gill of Taking the City Ministry said he sees the success first-hand when some of those involved in the program have stayed out of trouble by getting involved in the community.

"We have had people in the community who were afraid to come out of their houses because of the crime," Gill said. "This program has definitely helped those young people and our streets.

"This was an attempt to take the community back."

Gill said he sees some of the eight people they confronted in that room around staying out of trouble.

"I work with them," he said. "It is good to see them trying to make a difference in the community."

He said some of them help out at outreach programs at Sunset Park support events and holiday functions.

"I think we made an impact on them that day," Gill said. "It was a great experience. I'm disappointed we had to come to court today."