Second in a series: How are narcotics warrants obtained?
‘He doesn’t know he’s right’
The thing about the Ranger is he intimidates you by what he might know, and just doesn’t talk about – that’s his strong suit. – veteran lawman
McGregor – When police answered a call at 801 N. 3rd, the bleeding victim they found told them he got shot in the back while trying to “settle some s__t.”
He said he had a problem with a man who lived at 107 Johnson St., a man he said had been selling dope to his brother.
An offense report revealed how Jose Valdez went to see Shawn Johnson at his house. In the melee that followed, he alleged, Jason Saldana shot him in the rear shoulder with a .44 magnum.
Indian attack, plain and simple.
That’s when retired Texas Ranger Steve Foster, who now serves as Chief of Police in this city, put a seasoned veteran on the case, one of a select group of perhaps a dozen narcotics officers in the state who wrote the book on how to work such a case – for all it’s worth.
Jose L. Coy, a retired Sergeant with the Department of Public Safety’s Narcotics Service, is presently a Special Investigator for the McGregor Police Department. Neither of the veteran lawmen returned a phone call placed to them.
In corporate parlance, his status would be that of a consultant. In the dime novels written about the old west, he would have been called a “hired gun.” Judges who read his affidavits of probable cause know better.
Judges know his probable cause affidavits will stand up to the scrutiny of the defense bar, the appeals courts, and public opinion. They sign the paperwork that certifies there is a reasonable suspicion that evidence may be found on the premises to be searched, or the surrounding property. They furthermore authorize the arrest of the people he says may be found there, doing what he alleges, and that there should be no announcement of a search warrant or a knock at the door.
There is a lot of sensitivity to the issue because of the debacle created when a rogue freelance cop named Tom Coleman perpetrated a huge fraud on the public at Tulia, Texas. It resulted in the incarceration of dozen of persons who were totally innocent of any violation of the law – all based on false allegations by a peace officer sworn to protect the people, to preserve their peace and dignity.
That won’t happen with the methods employed by Mr. Coy.
When rookie agents take the course on how to develop probable cause for what is known as a “72-hour search and arrest warant,” no knock narcotics raid, they often study his long career spent taking down dope houses where pushers sell everything from grass to crank, crystal, rock cocaine, powder coke, Nazi meth, Oxycodone, Vicodin, heroin – or anything that addicts users and creates violent social problems, or the kind of trifling, insidious, petty crime that makes life miserable for people who hit the ball and pay their dues.
Mr. Coy has a reputation and a track record for the kind of meticulous documentation it takes to turn an investigation of an incident such as a shooting into a major operation that eventually resulted in the arrests of almost a dozen people at 4 locations – one of whom floated between the dope houses where he stashed his product and purveyed his wares.
Ask any small town police chief why he and his officers can’t do much about the drug problems that flood the community, and he will recite a litany of well-worn, common sense difficulties that involve everything from a scant budget for man hours to a lack of prosecutorial alacrity for the kind of zealous prosecution of relatively minor serial drug cases it will take to make any kind of lasting impression on the problem. That’s just for starters. Then there is the issue of jail overcrowding – and we’re off to the races.
Meanwhile, the armed robberies, burglaries, murders, rapes, beatings, home invasions, prostitution and pure dee meanness that accompanies any drug scene persists – day in and day out, month to month and year to year. People begin to accept the chaos as the way it’s always been, something a community just has to get used to – and get over.
Wrong. It doesn’t have to be that way.
The case Jose L. Coy developed against the people who lived at 107 Johnson Street, and three other locations scattered all over this railroad town smack dab on the way to everywhere in north, south, east and west Texas, is a classic study of a prairie community circling the wagons, calling for a Ranger who arrives promptly, and in due course shows a beleaguered Sheriff, his deputies, and the local posse how to organize the community to fight back with full effect.
As hackneyed a B-movie plot as it seems to be, it’s how things are still done in the Lone Star State. The point is that it works as well today as it did during storied days of yesteryear, when off the reservation Comanches and Apaches menaced settlers, and cattle rustlers fought fence-cutting drovers in range wars with sodbusters.
While the McLennan County Sheriff’s Office over a period of years developed no such drug cases, its drug task force disbanded and the officers reassigned to other detective duties, not long ago 30-year veteran narcotics agent Jose L. Coy quietly and effectively put a large number of people out of the drug business using available resources and a highly organized methodology that includes surveillance, the use of confidential informants – even surreptitious trash pickup.
Start with the basics. There are two kinds of narcotics cases.
The first is the “hand-to-hand” method, whereby an undercover officer makes a purchase of some controlled substance, and thereby effects an arrest – on the spot.
“Any rookie narc can make that case,” says a veteran agent.
But the “seventy-two-hour method” of developing probable cause through intelligence gleaned from “credible and reliable” confidential informants busted with contraband they just bought at the dope house thus under surveillance makes for a very sophisticated combined search and arrest warrant. Agents can observe the resulting cash flow, the transportation patterns, the names and faces, discover the manufacturers and smugglers of the drugs – and seize them all once they connect the dots.
It works a lot better in the kind of small town atmosphere many drug sellers prefer for the very fact that everyone has a lifetime program with the players’ names and numbers, family trees, historic analyses – and everyone knows everyone else’s business.
In the narcotics business, an illicit racket with very large profit margins, large cash flow, and huge risks, it’s not what you know, but who you know – dialed up.
Consider the laconic prose of Mr. Coy’s probable cause affidavit in support of a search of 107 Johnson Street, the place where the shooting took place.
“…Based on my prior training and experience, I have observed that narcotics traffickers keep and use cellular telephones and the technology associated with this type of equipment as a primary means of communication in order to conduct their narcotics trafficking business. Additionally, narcotics traffickers commonly maintain telephone numbers and address books or papers which reflect names, addresses and/or telephone numbers for their associates…
“…Narcotics traffickers maintain books, records, receipts, notes, ledgers, bank records, money orders and other papers relating to the importation, manufacture, transportation, ordering, sale and distribution of illegal controlled substances…
“…Narcotics traffickers keep and utilize computers and other electronic devices for the purpose of maintaining records, receipts, notes, ledgers, bank records, money orders and other documents or records relating to the importation, manufacture, transportation, ordering, sale and distribution of illegal controlled substances…
“…Narcotics traffickers routinely conceal large quaitites of currency, financial instruments, precious metals, jewelry and other items of value, typically proceeds of illegal controlled substance transactions…
“…Narcotics traffickers often take photographs of themselves, their associates, their property and illegal contraband…
“…Narcotics traffickers maintain documents, letters and records relating to their illegal contraband…
“…Narcotics traffickers maintain documents, letters and records relating to their illegal activities for long periods of time. This documentary evidence is usually secreted in their place of residence, or residences of family members…
“…Narcotics traffickers often own, possess and/or use weapons…”
Boiler plate of these assertions is inserted in each of the affidavits used to obtain search and arrest warrants that netted seizures and arrests of Shawn Johnson, Oscar Lopez, and Florencio Mondragon at 107 Johnson Street. All this led to other searches and seizures at still other locations.
Renita Driver and David Alan Rivas were arrested, their drugs and other accoutrements of their trade confiscated at 604 W. 6th St.
Desiree Garrett and Melissa Nosey were charged for the evidence seized at 805 N. 2nd St.
Billy Byford, who had previous arrests for carrying a prohibited weapon and engaging in organized criminal activity, answered a no knock warrant at his residence located at 1009 S. Taylor St. The search yielded methamphetamine and packaging materials.
In each case, Mr. Coy inserted the admonishment, “Affiant is aware that individuals who are involved in the distribution of controlled substances fear arrest by law enforcement and these individual are likely to destroy evidence that would asist law enforcement in the prosecution of criminal acts by these same individuals. Affiant fears that announcing would be dangerous, futile and would inhibit the effective safety and investigation of the crime involved in the puposes of this sarch if law enforement officers are required to announce themselves before entering the said suspected premises. Considering ______’s past criminal history and past arrest record, Affiant requests that law enforement oficers serving this search warrant be allowed to enter the said suspected premises without knocking and announcing.”
Relatively small amounts of drugs were seized in each case, but the investigators mined the records and photos, phones and ledgers thus seized as high grade ore.
In one of his affidavits, Mr. Coy remarked in his typical tongue in cheek tone that one would think a prudent operator would destroy ledgers and journals recording long-ago transactions, deeming them to be of no real worth at the present. Every fact thus gleaned is worthy of scrutiny, it seems.
In all cases, the affidavits asserted that officers or a confidential informant had observed people coming and going at short intervals on various errands, and had seen illicit substances inside the residences within the previous 72 hours.
In the methamphetamine case developed against Billy Byford, an agent took the trash bags placed at the curb to the DPS office and discovered a number of sandwich baggies with the corners cut off – a clear sign to a knowledgeable observer that the people inside were packaging the dope in the bags thus cut down.
An eighth-ounce package – or “eight ball” – of crank may be considered dynamite in a very small package. Besides, it all pays the same.
In most cases, checking with the Texas Workforce Commission showed that no employer was paying taxes on the employment of the people targeted in the probable cause affidavit. We’re talking thorough, here.
Visual surveillance of known users of methamphetamine or other drugs yielded an arrest for possession. Two of these persons were “turned” as confidential informants, who were able to assert as “reliable and credible” witnesses that they had observed contraband material inside the residence within the past 72 hours. It’s a common sense rule, according to case law on the subject, that 72 hours is a prudent period in which to pinpoint the presence of dope in a dope house operating as a distribution point for storage and sales of dope.
Common sense seems to rule in 72-hour search and arrest warrant operations. In fact, there are few rules, only rights and responsibilities.
No doubt, the floggings will continue until morale improves.