The sale and use of dangerous drugs and the physical effect on those who use them is probably the biggest challenge faced by law enforcement people today. What began as a nuisance indulged in by a few “hippie” types smoking marijuana in the late ’60s and early ’70s, has grown into an epidemic of deadly killer drugs today.
Like most cities, it took Lima a while to recognize the problem and then to try to figure out what to do about it. Possession and/or sale of marijuana then was a felony and as teenagers around town began to be arrested and suffer serious penalties, the hue and cry went up for law enforcement to do something to stop the sale of marijuana by going after the “big guys” who are making all the money selling the drug to high school kids rather than arresting the kids who bought and smoked the stuff. Easier said than done!
Most of the kids caught with marijuana or other drugs would only say that they bought it from another kid at school. The school administrators were of little or no help because they didn’t want to publicly concede that such a problem existed in their school. Privacy of student lockers was often cited as a reason not to permit unannounced searches of them. Parents voiced objections to such searches because “my child isn’t involved in that and he/she is entitled to privacy and should not be subjected to such tactics.”
The sheriff, chief of police and I had a meeting about the problem and decided to “do something.” Proving that someone (student A) sold an illegal drug to someone (student B) is not easy. To make a drug selling arrest that will hold up in court, you need to have a “controlled” sale and buy. That means that the offender (seller) must sell the drug and accept money from the user (buyer). The buyer must immediately turn over the purchased drug to his controller (law enforcement) who will put the drug into a marked evidence bag initialed by the controller and that law enforcement officer will preserve it for use as evidence in court. We obviously, needed to have someone in the school who everyone thought was a student, but was actually a police officer, and a supervisor that he could turn the evidence over to and who would supervise the entire operation, control the buy money, preserve the evidence and keep his mouth shut.
Because confidential information has a way of leaking out of local police departments, I went “shopping” for a head man. I contacted the prosecutor in Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) and he put me in touch with Dave Barnett who he had used in similar situations and was completely reliable. I met him at a motel in Bucyrus and was stunned. He was a retired 52-year-old former deputy sheriff who looked like he was right off the streets of San Francisco. He was a special deputy sheriff and so had arrest powers anywhere in the state. He was bearded and drove a dilapidated panel truck advertising a plumbing business. All in all, he looked like anything but an undercover police officer.
He rented an apartment for himself and his wife and scouted the territory. We rented a small office in the building at 658 W. Market St. and I persuaded a former secretary to work there to keep track of the evidence and the money that was doled out for buys and type the necessary offense reports. I completed my force by getting one Lima city officer and one county deputy sheriff who were sworn to absolute secrecy about everything, including who, what, when, where and how. To their credit, I was never aware that our setup was compromised.
At this point, I was all set. I had my undercover head squirrel, an office with staff and the money. Now all I needed were people over 21 who could pass for high school seniors. Dave Barnett, my head secret squirrel, had a contact at Owens Technical College near Toledo and produced three graduates from there who were willing to undertake the assignment. We rented three separate apartments and set up each of them to live. I had my law office secretary, Dorothy Bean, take each of the three individually to an apartment and pay three months rent.
Now, we were all set except getting them into the school. My brother, Bob, was the prosecutor in Miami County at the time and, of course, knew the principal of West Milton High School. He persuaded him to provide three transcripts of their attendance which were presented to the principals of the three local high schools we had targeted and were accepted without any further inquiry. Just in case she was asked for her place of employment in case there was some emergency, I persuaded my accountant to let us use him as an employment reference for her. As the old saw says, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.” Well, some of mine did and some didn’t. To see how all of this turns out, don’t miss my next column in two weeks.
Moral of the Story: Plan well, but don’t get your hopes up too high!
Lawrence S. Huffman is an attorney in Lima and a guest columnist in The Lima News.