Sheriff’s deputy describes difficulties of double life

11:27 am | March 14, 2013

Hannah Reagan is a 17-year-old high school transfer student from Nashville with a checkered past and a broken home, trying to fit in with her peers in the Carter County school system.

Donna Rogan is a 22-year-old sheriff’s deputy and a college student, the product of a private Christian school and a supportive family.

The two are near opposites in nearly every aspect but one — they’re the same person.

To expose the drug subculture festering just under the surface in Carter County’s four high schools, Rogan assumed a new identity as part of a 10-month undercover assignment nicknamed “Operation Jump Street,” for the 1980s crime drama and a later film centered on the members of a youthful police unit who posed as students to fight crime in schools.

“I have to say, it was nothing like the movie,” Rogan said of her undercover work that resulted in the arrests of 14 people, including nine students. “But I did have the experience of sitting in a class and feeling really dumb because I couldn’t remember things I knew I had already learned.”

Just two days after her undercover operation was announced in a press conference, Rogan sat down with the STAR to discuss what it was like to take on her role as Hannah and the sacrifices required.

Almost a year ago today, Sheriff Chris Mathes hired Rogan to carry out the investigation after she responded to an employment advertisement seeking applicants for reserve deputies.

“I wanted to be in law enforcement since I was in high school,” she said, noting that her father serves as a reserve deputy in Washington County. “I did the Explorer program with the Johnson City Police Department as a high schooler. It’s always been something I’ve been interested in, particularly working narcotics.”

Because of her youthful appearance, Mathes said Rogan was a perfect fit for the 10-month undercover assignment in the schools.

“During her initial interview with the reserves, one of the things I distinctly asked was what her goal was,” Mathes said. “She voiced that she wanted to be a police officer, an investigator, and had a strong desire to be a federal DEA agent. You don’t see that every day, and it’s a different drive, somebody that wants to work drugs.”

In mid-March 2012, Rogan began working with the department’s drug unit, and a couple of months later went into the police academy.

Even though the sheriff, a former undercover drug agent himself, warned Rogan of the psychological difficulties she would face in the task, Rogan said they were even more dramatic than she imagined.

“Starting from pretty much the day I decided to accept this position, I had to step out of my life as Donna and just kind of disappear,” she said. “The sheriff was very up front when he offered me the job, saying it’s going to take sacrifice, it’s going to take commitment on my end, it’s going to mean I can’t go out in public much.”

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