The Wright County Sheriff’s Office is tasked as the lead law enforcement agency in all of the county with three exceptions – the cities of Annandale, Buffalo and Howard Lake, all of whom have city police forces.
But, it was the collaboration of all four jurisdictions that helped to make 11 drug arrests in a three-day span (Feb. 11-13), get a child out of a situation where methamphetamine was being used and sold and taking multiple drugs and a firearm off the streets.
The Special Investigations Unit (SIU) of the sheriff’s office was at the forefront of the investigation that included six search warrants being executed in four different jurisdictions – half of them coming in Annandale. Wright County Sheriff Sean Deringer said that working cooperatively with the city police departments has mutual benefits because drug crimes aren’t confined to any city limits, they’re everywhere and they’re often on the move from one jurisdiction to another.
“You need to be on top of the lines of communication – gathering information and how you’re giving out information,” Deringer said. “It adds additional layers to the planning and strategy that goes into a case like this. But, you can see the payoff is huge. Annandale might have information on a particular person in Annandale, but there isn’t a wall around Annandale. There’s no wall around Buffalo or Howard Lake. Suspects travel the county. They go into other counties. This was one of those reminding factors that we can be successful when we work together.”
The main target of the investigation was a female from South Haven who had been on the SIU’s radar for almost a year and the unit took its time to identify sources, both on the supply and delivery side. In mid-January an agent with the SIU got a tip from an informant that a person was dealing methamphetamine and started surveillance to determine her typical patterns and movements over time.
The surveillance was needed to get a warrant for probable cause – not just for the suspect’s residence, but for the residences she frequented. The SIU was willing to play the long game in order to get a better understanding of how deeply the movement of drugs went and, if possible, to find the person above the primary suspect in the food chain of meth trafficking. There wasn’t a single moment that ramped up the investigation, but, as more information came in and the same names kept coming up, as one SIU agent said, “We started putting things together and then the floodgates started to open and it picked up speed from there.”
Convinced they had their investigation ready for its final stage, when Feb. 11 arrived, law enforcement from the county and all three cities were ready to take action. Over the next 48 hours, they executed six search warrants – three in Annandale and one each in Southside Township, Rockford Township and Monticello. This is how it all went down.
ANATOMY OF A TAKEDOWN
The warrants started being executed Tuesday, Feb. 11 – the first being the primary suspect that had been surveilled for months. She was apprehended while driving her car in Annandale. Next came a warrant for a house in Rockford Township along Hwy 55. Immediately after that, a warrant on two individuals in an apartment in Annandale was executed. The same scenario played out on Wednesday, Feb. 12. The first was the simultaneous execution of two warrants – one in a trailer park in Southside Township and another at a residence on Dale Avenue in Annandale. After receiving information that three suspects were together, the sixth and final warrant served was at the Super 8 hotel in Monticello – where all three were taken into custody.
The final arrest in this round of apprehensions – there are still multiple active warrants that have yet to be executed – was the person suspected to be the primary supplier. SIU was aware that suspect was going to be in Wright County on Feb. 13 and, as luck would have it, when one of the SIU officers was driving from Buffalo to Monticello on Hwy. 25, he looked in his rearview mirror, saw the suspect in the car behind him and he was taken into custody quickly without incident.
In all, 11 arrests were made and they were charged with three first-degree controlled substance possession felonies, three first degree intent-to-sell felonies, eight fifth-degree controlled substance possession felonies and one third-degree controlled substance possession felony. In the process, 74 grams of methamphetamine, two grams of psilocybin mushrooms, four controlled substance medication pills, 19 grams of marijuana, one firearm and approximately $1,000 in cash were seized.
COLLABORATION WAS KEY TO SUCCESS
The most difficult part of the operation was the simultaneous execution of search warrants on Feb. 12. Hitting two locations and not knowing if the suspects would be armed required a lot of manpower. For a typical split entry house, law enforcement wants a minimum of four officers going upstairs, four going downstairs, one in the doorway and two or more outside on the perimeter. It was this aspect of the flurry of arrests that required help from the three city police departments.
The sheriff’s office and the city police forces have worked together many times, but rarely to the level of officers required for the two-pronged warrant execution.
Buffalo Police Chief Pat Budke said that, while this case was primarily a Annandale-based case, he offered up some of his officers to help in the execution of the warrants. That isn’t a rare occurrence, but not to the magnitude of the Feb. 12 show of collective force.
“It happens occasionally, but this was a little bit larger scale than what we usually see,” Budke said. “Many times in drug investigations you’re dealing with common threads. Some of those threads lead back to our city. We’re always looking to collaborate and cooperate. It benefits us indirectly because of those common threads. SIU is central to keeping the information flowing. We couldn’t do it without them.”
Annandale Police Chief Jeff Herr is no stranger to dealing with drug crimes. He worked closely with Sergeant Lenny Walker on the Wright County Drug Task Force at the turn of the century – a precursor to the SIU. He said the bonds formed back in those days with collaboration have been a boon for all departments involved.
“We have a great working relationship with the sheriff’s department,” Herr said. “With the new computer system and the way we all communicate, at the end of the day, we all have the same mission. If you want to do dope in Wright County or push drugs in Annandale or the northwest region (of the county), you better watch out. You can’t just come to Annandale and think we’re not going to call in the cavalry and get our partners to help. With drugs, there are no boundaries. We all work together. When you get investigators that work together, the cases are endless that we can work.”
The “new computer system” Herr spoke of is Zuercher Technologies (now CentralSquare Technologies). Zuercher is a law enforcement data sharing program that allows different law enforcement agencies to learn if another police department or sheriff’s office has filed reports on a case they’re working that connects to a separate case with similar suspects. Howard Lake Police Chief Dave Thompson said the ability to share information has been critical to the type of success the drug busts earlier this month showed.
“We’re still in the infancy stage with Zuercher – we got on board a couple of years ago – but we’re all on the same report management together,” Thompson said. “It’s a lot easier for us to share information. Getting us all on the same sheet of music as far as our computer system and working closer together is a huge benefit.”
In the span of 48 hours, all 11 suspects that were the focus of the investigation were taken into custody, requiring fast movement of the SIU and the other law enforcement officers involved. As one agent put it, once the immediate suspect or suspects were in custody, they had to “turn and burn” to get paperwork started before heading off to execute the next warrant.
When Deringer was running for sheriff in 2018, one of the goals he had was to increase the amount of collaboration and cooperation between departments. With the success of the recent raids to end the investigation, he was proud of the work done by SIU, the sheriff’s office and the three city police departments – a sign that such collaboration should continue and yield similar results.
“We’ve always had a wonderful working relationship with our city police departments and to continue to foster information and share information, that’s when beautiful things happen,” Deringer said.