Drug bust's chemistry

Sunday, May 29, 2005

The chemists say it's the adrenaline that makes hearts beat faster at times like this.

The adrenaline glands are triggered by the brain, which is usually triggered by an environmental situation -- a downward look from the top of a skyscraper, the instant just before a car accident, the steady buildup before the ball is snapped in a football game.

As 10 Jackson police officers, including six on a special response team, survey the newly built brick house down the moonlit street, it's the fear of the unknown that triggers the adrenaline. The fear of what might be on the other side of that door.


Late Tuesday afternoon, Jackson Capt. Bob Bonney finally got his hands on the search warrant. He had been watching a house in an upper-middle class neighborhood for several weeks. Whispers from tipsters and undercover officers said it had drug activity.

A female suspect had been seen on more than one occasion leaving her Jackson house and traveling to Cape Girardeau's south side between 2 and 4 in the morning in recent days. The house on Mansfield Place had already produced one arrest in March. In that bust, which was triggered by a non-drug-related call, the woman's boyfriend was arrested and sent to jail for operating a meth lab. She was not charged or arrested since she wasn't at the house at the time of the bust.

By 6 p.m., Bonney has alerted Lt. Rodney Barnes about the warrant, and Barnes contacted the six members of Jackson's special response team, who, not unlike the men of Paul Revere's day, are ready in a minute's notice to grab their guns and leave their families at the dinner table.

It's 8 p.m. now, less than an hour before dark, and the response team members are sitting in a basement conference room of the Jackson Police Department, waiting for one of the men to put in the surveillance tape that was filmed a few minutes earlier.

A beefy and confident-looking undercover officer wearing a ball cap backwards, a gray T-shirt and denim shorts sits at the back table. The chief, James Humphreys, is wearing casual khaki police gear. Bonney has on a police T-shirt. The others are dressed in black uniforms.

The officer setting up the video clicks downward through the channels. Meanwhile, some of the others release their nervous energy by trading crude jokes and insults.

These cops are not saints. Most of them cuss. At least one of them smokes. At least one of them chews tobacco. But these men, generally likable characters, aren't here tonight to teach a Sunday school class. They're here to remove one, possibly two drug users from their town. And they've been catching drug users consistently for three months despite threats that have been made against some of them. This will be their 14th tactical mission.

The shallow laughter ends once the short video starts. It shows the brick house from both directions of the street. There are two vehicles in the driveway. A white Explorer and a blue Jeep Liberty.

Lt. Rodney Barnes quickly summarizes tonight's task. He gives them the names of a woman and a man who may be at the residence. In 1998, the police did a drug bust involving this same woman, and a man she was with was armed with a gun in a shoulder holster.


The response team is a tightknit group.

There's Jesse Chisum, known by his buddies as the "mean one," a short and lean military guy with a shaved head and a no-nonsense attitude. There's Tony Henson, 33 who started as a prison guard and is finally doing what he dreamed of doing: working the streets as a cop. There's Jim Barker, the oldest guy among a group of fairly young men and the butt of all the grandpa jokes. And there's Barnes, Scott Eakers and Darrell Sievers.

Other officers not on the response team will assist tonight, too. Tisha Hecht, the only female of the group and Jackie Wilson, perhaps the "nice guy" of the bunch, will help control the suspects. Hecht will also help collect evidence, along with Humphreys, Bonney and the undercover officer.

Each will play a part in tonight's raid. They already know their assignments, but Barnes goes over them again just to make sure.

"Sievers is going to breach," says Barnes, who designed tonight's plan. "Jesse's got the point. Tony's No. 2, I'm No. 3, Scott's No. 4, Barker's No. 5. Canine is going to the rear of the residence.

"I don't know if she's got children there, but I know that she has a 13-year-old daughter and a 3-year-old son."

He then details the exact route to the scene. They will park at a corner of the street and walk down to the brick house. In extremely dangerous situations where suspects are known to have weapons, no-knock warrants may be issued and the police can bust down the door without as much as a "hello." But Barnes reminds his officers that they have a "knock warrant," meaning they will knock on the door and wait 20 seconds before breaking down the doors.

"I don't expect them to open the door," Barnes says.

Bonney says his information suggests that the suspect has been doing meth for about nine days in the house. He has noticed that the Explorer has been parked in the driveway instead of the garage recently, meaning they may find something such as a meth lab in the garage. Bonney hopes to seize a lab, maybe some cocaine. But there is no way to know for sure.

Barnes walks back to a detailed drawing showing the layout of the house. He tells each officer where they will go once they get in the door.

The officers soak up the information, and before long they're putting on their gear. Even in real life, there is something cinematic about the officers strapping on their bullet-proof vests and helmets and slinging their weapons over their shoulders. The gear, paid for with Homeland Security grants and donations, seems more appropriate for the gang-banging alleys of Detroit or Chicago. But on this Tuesday night in Jackson, the response team will be armed with a machine gun, a shotgun, several Glock pistols and a door ram. Barnes admits that the best thing about the equipment and the combat uniforms is the intimidation factor.

"We're going home tonight boys," Sievers says. "They're going to jail and we're going home."


It's almost 9 p.m. and not as dark as Bonney would like it to be. But the timing was his call. If the raid is going to be successful, it's going to be a long night collecting evidence and filling out paperwork. And Bonney, the city's employee of the year in 2004, has to be back in for some meetings by 8 a.m. the next day. On most occasions, Bonney prefers the response team to perform after midnight.

On the drive to the scene, Bonney tells Hecht that he hopes the blue Liberty is still in the driveway. The female suspect drives the white Explorer. The blue Liberty may belong to the male suspect.

The police cars stop just down the road from the suspects' house.

The six response team guys get out of their cars and walk quickly toward the house. The men line up at the door. Sievers, then Chisum, Henson and so on. The Cape Girardeau police canine officer and his dog take their places in the back yard.

But there's a problem. The vehicles that were in the driveway just a few minutes ago are no longer there.

Just as Sievers is about to pound on the door, there is a call from the undercover officer in the pickup truck.

"Abort," he says.

The decision comes from chief Humphreys, who is riding shotgun.

The men are surprised and quickly retreat, scanning the neighborhood for moving objects.

They gather on the street corner and Humphreys gives a quick explanation. He wants to make sure there is somebody in the house before serving the warrant.

"Let's get out of here and get somewhere we can brief," Humphreys says.

The police caravan heads toward Litz Park. There are many questions to be answered.

Did somebody tip off the suspect? Why didn't we have someone watching the location? Was the house indeed empty?

Almost immediately after arriving at Litz Park, the undercover officer takes his unmarked vehicle back to the neighborhood for surveillance.

After a few minutes, Bonney comes up with an idea. He pulls out a cell phone, dials a number and hands it to Hecht, the female officer.

"Hello, is Judy there?" she asks innocently. "OK. I'm sorry. I must have the wrong number."

She hangs up the phone.

"It was a male subject."

About that time, the undercover officer notifies the response team that the white Explorer has just arrived at the residence.


This time, there is no abort.

Sievers pounds on the door.

"Police! Open the door!" Barnes shouts and begins counting.

Twenty seconds pass.

She's at the door. The officers see her through the glass.

A few seconds pass and then an explosion of words comes from the officers. Their words are clear, but their voices have the same effect as a pack of dogs protecting their territory.

"Open the door! Open the door! Open the door!" the men bark over and over again, their words overlapping one another.

Twenty-one. Twenty-two.

Finally, about 30 seconds after the knock, a 40-year-old blonde opens the door. She is stunned, her eyes wide, her mouth gaping open.

Chisum is the first to enter.

"Put your hands in the air!" he tells her. At first she is too scared to move. Then she puts her hands up. Chisum, followed closely by Henson, zooms past the suspect. They look around the room and head quickly to the basement. Siemers directs the suspect to lay down on the living room carpet and she does.

The other officers quickly glide through the house, checking for movement, people and animals. Just a few weeks ago, one of the officers used a Taser on a vicious Rotweiller. The dog died a few days later.

Chisum searches the basement. He comes back upstairs for a secondary search. He enters one of the bedrooms and turns around to find a 3-year-old boy in a T-shirt and diaper with a plastic gun, pointing it at him.

"Get your f

a-- out of my room," the boy tells the cop in a cute little voice.

Chisum immediately recognizes that the gun is fake.

The initial and secondary searches reveal that there are only two people at the residence. The woman and the boy.

The woman is already beginning to plead her case.

"There has been nothing going on here," she says. "I swear. This is craziness."

The police send in the dog.

The search has begun. One officer looks at the telephone. Bonney's cell phone number wasn't on the caller ID. Apparently they called the wrong number after all.

Chief Humphreys, Capt. Bonney and the undercover officer from the SEMO Drug Task Force are looking for signs of a meth lab, but find none.

Humphreys begins by looking at canisters on top of the kitchen cabinets. Several minutes go by with no results and the officers, particularly Bonney, are getting nervous that they went through all this trouble for nothing.

Then Humphreys pulls down a plate from a cabinet above the stove.

"Aha," he says.

It's a silver-colored plate with a brown residue on top. There is also a razor blade and a spoon.

Bonney and the undercover officer surround the plate. Bonney retrieves a couple of methamphetamine detectors, which are tubes smaller than a cigarette butt. He rubs the tube over the plate. Almost immediately, the tube turns blue.

"There you go," Humphreys says while watching the tube change colors.

"I was starting to feel bad," Bonney says.

A short time later, the woman's 13-year-old daughter arrives home to a house full of police.

"What happened?" the girl asks.

"I have no idea," the mother replies.

The search moves to the bedroom and master bathroom, where the officers tear apart the clutter.

The undercover officer finds a small glass tube hidden inside a lipstick dispenser. The residue inside the tube tests positive. He finds another tube hidden in the leaves of a fake plant above the toilet.

"This girl's a hider!" he says loud enough so Humphreys and Bonney can hear.

Humphreys, in the woman's bedroom now, finds a Play-Doh can and opens it up to find rusty-looking things that look like metallic caterpillars. The undercover officer calls them "chor-boys." They're like scrub pads that are broken apart and put in crack pipes to filter out the crack.

"We've got enough to arrest her right now," Humphreys says.

"Let her keep lying herself into a corner," the undercover officer says.

Humphreys, who had planned to be packing for his upcoming trip to Hawaii to visit his in-laws, sorts through an unorganized dresser, but he's having no luck. On top of the dresser, the local news is reporting on a big fish that has been caught.

Humphreys grumbles under his breath.

"I hate dopeheads," he says.

While the officers are searching, the boy wanders around the scene, no longer cursing at the officers.

"What are you finding?" he asks the undercover officer.

"We're just looking," he says. "Where's the stuff Mom tells you not to touch?"

"Nothing."

"Nothing? This stuff is for girls, isn't it?"

"Yeah, not for mens!"

The boy walks over to Bonney, who is knee-high in a closet searching through piles of clothes.

"What are you finding in my house?"

Bonney changes the subject.

"What kind of gun you got there?"

"It's a super gun," the boy says. "That shoots. Spoosh."

"I think your mom's calling you."

"No, she's not."

Several minutes go by and the officers keep looking. Suddenly, the voice of the 13-year-old girl bursts from the living room.

"Why did you let this go on in this house again?" she says, half yelling, half crying. "Don't talk to me again."

"There's nothing going on," the mother says. "This is all from the last time."

When the officers get around to questioning their suspect after both children leave with their grandmother, she swears that everything the officers found was leftovers they missed from their visit in March. The cops aren't buying it, especially the plate above the stove.

"I checked up there myself last time," the undercover officer says.

It doesn't really matter, anyway, the officers say. The items are still in her possession.

She tells the officers that she's turned her life around. That she's got a job, that she's got her kids back from the Division of Family Services. That she's clean. That her brother, who has had a drug problem in the past, may have come over while she was gone.

The undercover officer asks her to prove it.

"Will you do a urine drop?" he asks.

"Yes, but only with my attorney present."

The police and suspect go in circles about the attorney for several minutes.

Tired of arguing, the conversation comes to a quick conclusion. The undercover officer raises his right hand to stop the conversation.

"That's a guilty answer," he says.

Bonney calls for the arrest and the woman, begging for the officers not to do this, is escorted to the police car. She is charged with the possession of drug paraphernalia.

In the next few hours, the officers find more evidence. Bonney discovers a coffee can in one of the basement closets. He hands it to Humphreys, who pulls out several small, empty plastic baggies and a few strips of aluminum foil.

There is residue all over them, but nothing substantial. Humphreys looks through every one. There are a couple with enough residue that lab technicians may be able to get enough residue to constitute a weight, which could result in a conviction on possession of a controlled substance.

Hecht has placed all the evidence in brown lunch bags, marking each one and jotting down descriptions on forms.

Bonney yawns a couple times. Humphreys, as the night goes on, becomes more and more the comedian.

They consider the raid and the search a success, even though they didn't find a lab or the second suspect. They made some mistakes. They should've had eyes on the house after the surveillance video was taken. And dialing the wrong number was unfortunate.

But they look at the bright side. They learned new lessons. And they figure there is perhaps one less drug abuser on the streets of Jackson.

It's 12:03 a.m. now. Time to go.

The police turn off the lights and lock the door.

The adrenaline and the energy are gone now. So are a mother, a daughter and a 3-year-old son.

All that is left is a messy, empty house.

And the police's knowledge of what was behind that door.

bmiller@semissourian.com

243-6635

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