2 prison guards busted, 8 suspended in pill ring

Charles Gregory Combs
Charles Gregory Combs Florida Department of Corrections

In the latest turmoil for the Florida prison system, two guards have been arrested — including a major — for their alleged role in a prescription pill ring. Eight other prison staffers were not arrested but were suspended with pay.

The Bradford County Sheriff’s Office announced the arrests on Wednesday.

Maj. Charles Gregory Combs, 35, a Florida State Prison staff member known as Chicken Hawk, was fired Wednesday shortly after he was booked on felony charges of drug distribution and smuggling. Deputies zeroed in on him after an earlier bust, on June 11, of fellow Florida State Prison corrections officer Dylan Oral Hilliard, 25.

Hilliard, an auto racing enthusiast, was cuffed while tinkering with his race car. He allegedly sold pills to support the hobby, which apparently gave rise to the name of the investigation, Operation Checkered Flag.

The sheriff’s office said it learned that Hilliard would buy large amounts of Oxycodone from people with legitimate prescriptions and then sell the pills on the black market to make money to support his hobby.

For months, the guard was under surveillance by detectives as he sold the drugs from his house and from the prison where he worked in Raiford, the sheriff’s office said.

The six-year DOC employee was arrested after he purchased a “trafficking” amount of Oxycodone during a sting. According to the arrest report, an agent sold Hilliard 43 pills for $940. For that, he faces charges that include trafficking in opium or a derivative. He resigned from the department.

Combs was booked into Bradford County Jail Wednesday on $450,000 bond. In his 14-year history with the department, Combs had one written reprimand for conduct unbecoming in 2003. Hilliard had no such discipline on his record.

During the operation, about 80 people — at least eight of whom are Department of Corrections employees — were identified as buying and/or selling Oxycodone with Hilliard. The investigation of their alleged roles in the operation continues.

“The Department has zero tolerance for the actions taken by Mr. Hilliard and Mr. Combs and will continue to provide investigative assistance and fully cooperate with the requests of the BCSO to ensure that a thorough investigation is completed,” said McKinley Lewis, communications director for the Florida Department of Corrections.

The arrest follows a year in which inmate deaths soared to new heights, dozens of corrections officers were fired, several were arrested for alleged brutal treatment of inmates, the head of the prison system retired and Florida lawmakers held a series of hearings on prison reform.

Although Florida State Prison, home of the state’s Death Row, employed the two guards who were arrested, Lewis said he was aware of no evidence that the pills were being smuggled into the prison.

In a news release, Sheriff Gordon Smith praised the cooperation from different agencies, including the Department of Corrections and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

“Their desire to ferret out those people who do not maintain the highest of professional standards is in lockstep with the expectations here at the Bradford County Sheriff’s Office.”