Last Thursday, Macon County Sheriff's Office Citizens Academy participants got an inside look into the undercover operations of the county's Narcotics Unit.
After being elected Sheriff, Robbie Holland made it a priority to develop a Narcotics Unit in Macon County. Prior to his tenure, the western counties of North Carolina shared two narcotics officers for a couple of months out of the year. After becoming Sheriff, Holland applied for a grant that allowed Macon County to hire its first Narcotics Officer. Within the first year, the drug arrests in Macon County increased by 56 percent.
The Narcotics Division of the Macon County Sheriff's Office (MCSO) has two full time detectives, Kenny Cope and Chris Murray, and one part-time detective, former Franklin Police Chief Terry Bradley.
Murray came to the MCSO as a United States Army veteran, discharged in 1989. He holds a BS degree from West Texas State University. Murray joined the Houston Police Department in 1991 and quickly advanced to Field Training Instructor. After nearly 10 years in Houston, Murray moved to Macon County to be closer to family. He started his tenure with MCSO as a road deputy before being promoted to detective in the Narcotics Division, where he has been for the last nine years. Murray has completed both the basic and advanced DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) Drug Investigation course and is currently certified in Clandestine Lab Investigations.
“The Narcotics Unit utilizes various tools during our investigations,” explained Murray. “We use citizen information, confidential informants, the Crime Stoppers hotline, K-9 officers and undercover surveillance when collecting information on cases involving drug crimes.”
According to Murray, the goal of the Narcotics Unit is to proactively work toward drug suppression in order to reduce the number of drug related offenses in Macon County. From 2011-12, MCSO's Narcotics Unit handled 175 cases, made 161 felony arrests, filed 100 misdemeanor charges, and executed 24 search warrants as well as worked with the Asheville-based DEA on 54 federal cases.
Over the last six months, the Narcotics Unit has made 15 federal charges, seized 288 grams of methamphetamine, 28 grams of crack cocaine, 265 marijuana plants and shut down three indoor growing operations.
“Here in Macon County, one of the biggest problems we see is methamphetamine,” said Murray. “It is powerfully addictive and is becoming easier and easier to make.”
Methamphetamine is a crystal-like powdered substance that sometimes comes in large rock-like chunks. When the powder flakes off the rock, the shards look like glass. Meth is usually white or slightly yellow, depending on the purity. It can be taken orally, injected, snorted or smoked.
“We are seeing fewer and fewer meth labs, but that is because the “shake and bake” method of manufacturing the drug is becoming more common,” explained Murray. “People are using household items like Drano and other over the counter products to mix and create the drug.”
According to Murray, methamphetamine costs drug uses anywhere from $100 to $120 for one gram of the drug, which is typically a day's dosage.
Not only is the drug an extremely addictive and expensive substance, users can develop a tolerance quickly, needing larger amounts to get high. In most cases, meth users stop eating and sleeping and take more meth every few hours for days, "bingeing" until they run out of the drug or become too disorganized to continue. Chronic use of the drug can cause paranoia, hallucinations, repetitive behavior (such as compulsively cleaning, grooming or disassembling and assembling objects), and delusions of parasites or insects crawling under the skin. Users can obsessively scratch their skin to get rid of these imagined insects. Long-term use, high dosages, or a combination of both can bring on full-blown toxic psychosis, often exhibited as violent, aggressive behavior. This violent, aggressive behavior is usually coupled with extreme paranoia. Methamphetamine use can also cause strokes and death.
Next to methamphetamine, marijuana stands as a commonly used drug in Macon County. The Narcotics Division is responsible for the eradication of the drug throughout Macon County. MCSO works with the State Bureau of Investigation, the National Guard and the Highway Patrol during marijuana eradication projects. “Last year we seized 200 plants and were able to shut down several growth operations,” said Murray.
Citizens Academy members were able to witness a mock covert drug operation in which the Narcotics Unit set up surveillance through a confidential informant to make a drug bust. During the mock scenario, officers tailed a vehicle of a known drug dealer and recorded surveillance and conversations of the drug dealer selling to an undercover informant.
Items seized during drug operations either remain in the county, or depending on the monetary value, can be taxed federally. Some items are seized by the state and the monetary value of those items are placed in a fund that is used for the state's education.
Citizen Academy participants also learned about the officers behind the Civil Process and Courthouse security (CHS). Lieutenant Mike Trammel is over the CHS and Civil Process Division of the MCSO and has four officers who work with him.
Trammel began his career with the MCSO in 1986 at 20 years of age, first working as a part-time jailer and dispatcher. After becoming full time, he was transferred to the Patrol Unit. Trammel worked in the Patrol Unit for five years before being promoted to sergeant with the responsibility for supervising patrol operations. Trammel was later transferred to Civil Process/CHS and subsequently promoted to lieutenant over the unit. He was a founding member of the MCSO's Emergency Tactics Team, which is now known as the SRT (Special Response Team). Trammel holds a North Carolina Sheriff's Standards Advanced Law Enforcement Certificate in addition to other awards for his service and experience.
Trammel is responsible for the supervision of officers who secure the courthouse during daily activities. The Macon County courthouse typically holds court every day of the week. With three court rooms, the courthouse has civil, traffic, and/or Superior Court on any given day.
The Civil Process Division serves civil processes issued by the court system. Civil – as opposed to criminal – refers to such things as lawsuits, divorces, subpoenas for court, child support, judgments, small claims court, etc. Most often the court issues a paper, and civil process deputies serve the paper to the named person(s). The paper often tells the named person(s) a court date or an action that must be taken.
In addition to courthouse security, Trammel's division is responsible for delivering subpoenas and summonses throughout the county. In 2012, the Civil Process Division delivered 10,340 subpoenas and are on track to deliver 14,496 this year, which amounts to half of the county's population.
Summonses are writs directed to the sheriff that require him to notify a person named that an action or suit has been brought against him in the court which issued the writ. The summons also gives the person(s) other information such as when he's required to appear in court, when he has to answer the claims of the other party and what type of action or suit is being sought after. The MCSO delivers these papers generally in person.
“I think it is important to note that this division continues to operate with the same personnel levels with a growing amount of responsibilities,” said Major Andy Shields. “Like so many other officers, this department is forced to multi-task to get everything done.”
Lynn Dulakis oversees courthouse operations. The courtroom security portion of the unit is responsible for the day-to-day security of defendants, judges, members of juries and others in the courtroom. According to Dulakis, the courthouse security staff has to secure the facility before court each day, as well as prepare and escort the judge to court. During court, the bailiffs are required to keep order in the court which ranges from manning the metal detector at the door, to keeping the courtroom quiet for the judge. After court, the courthouse security escorts the judge to their cars and then secures the facility for the day.
“Court is probably the most dangerous thing our officers cover,” said Major Shields. “Everyone's nerves are on edge and they are usually there for a reason they are not happy about.”
Amber Wright is an officer within the Civil Process/CHS Division that hold a completely separate responsibility. Wright is responsible for maintaining the county's sex offender database and for keeping in contact with all registered offenders. Wright works with other states and counties to track sex offenders who move to Macon County to ensure they are compliant with the laws and provisions of the judgements handed down based on the crimes they commit.
Sheriff Holland assigned Wright the duty of manning the sex offender registry in order to provide one position who is always available as a community resource for concerned citizens as well as for offenders to be able to promptly and adequately report to the sheriff's office.
Next Week's Citizens Academy will explore the K-9 Division of the Macon County Sheriff's Office.