By JOSH NEWTON
TAHLEQUAH — firstname.lastname@example.org
Tahlequah canine officer Bo started his Thursday on a bit of an unusual note this week.
After working a short shift Wednesday evening, Bo and his handler, Officer Cory Keele, joined members of the District 27 Drug and Violent Crimes Task Force on drug interdiction Thursday morning in Tahlequah.
“I haven’t had to wear my sunglasses in a long time,” said Keele, who typically works the streets from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.
Undercover agents with the DTF – including officers with the Tahlequah Police Department, Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office and Cherokee Nation Marshal Service – gathered in and around Walmart’s pharmacy shortly after 9 a.m.
“We’re watching for people who come in to buy pseudoephedrine. A lot of times, they refer to this as ‘smurfing,’” said TPD Police Chief Nate King. “People will send someone in to buy pseudoephedrine to bring to them so they can cook meth. We’re looking for certain clues as far as their behaviors go. We fall in behind them once they leave Walmart, and if we gain probable cause, we make a traffic stop and have the dogs go around the vehicle.”
Keele and Bo waited a short distance away from Walmart, while Django, a Belgian Malinois canine officer who works for District Attorney Brian Kuester’s office, waited elsewhere with his handler, DTF Agent Chris Goforth.
During the first traffic stop, Keele and Bo responded, but Django made the sweep around the car. Bo, excited by the activity, paced to and fro in the back seat of Keele’s car, ready to work.
“Calm down, buddy. Django’s here, too, so we’ve got to share the action,” Keele told his dog.
Django gave a positive alert, and officers began searching the car. The only discovery was drug residue, but the driver admitted to being a meth user.
More stops, but only traces of drugs
Bo and Keele took several more traffic stops. At Keele’s instruction, Bo swept around the outside of the vehicles, each time giving a positive alert. By noon, officers had found only traces of narcotics and some pills.
“He is trained to detect residual odor, so when he sits, there’s something there, or there was something there, and it’s leaving an odor,” Keele said.
With each stop, someone in the vehicles admitted he or she uses drugs or buys supplies for someone else to make them.
“Every vehicle we’ve stopped so far, they’ve admitted to buying pseudoephedrine for someone to cook dope,” said Keele. “It’s unbelievable the problem we have with methamphetamine in this community.”
King said results of the morning activity were positive. One man was arrested for outstanding warrants.
“If nothing else, for those people we might not have found drugs in their car today, we put some fear in them, and they are least going to think twice,” said King.
As agents prepared to end their operation around noon, Keele and Bo were alerted about a Chevrolet truck leaving the pharmacy with two men and a woman driver.
Keele found probable cause to stop the truck on the State Highway 51 bypass, and other DTF agents fell in behind. The three were eventually pulled from the truck, and Bo went to work.
In a matter of seconds, Bo sat, signaling to Keele the possible presence of narcotics. After a few minutes of searching inside the truck, Keele discovered a bag containing about a quarter-pound of marijuana. Drug task force agents estimated the pot to be worth at least a couple hundred dollars.
Also inside the truck: pseudoephedrine, lithium batteries, and a small light bulb, which agents said are used to make or use meth.
According to authorities, a passenger in the vehicle, Max Strow, claimed ownership of the marijuana. A second passenger, Adam Seagle, allegedly purchased the pseudoephedrine at the pharmacy.
Strow and Seagle were both arrested, along with the driver, Janet Moore, who claimed she was only giving the two a ride. Authorities said the three, combined, have made nearly 40 pseudoephedrine purchases this year alone. Information gathered during the arrest process led Keele to seek a search warrant on their Hulbert residence.
A few hours later, with a judge’s OK, an entourage of agents traveled to the home west of Hulbert. The house was littered with garbage inside and out, and the smell inside kept officers running outside for air.
“This is just disgusting,” Keele said.
Agents discovered remnants of a meth lab in a burn pile outside the home and scattered throughout the rest of the property. Inside, agents found a firearm reported stolen in Tahlequah several years ago.
“They have a camera system,” Keele said, pointing to several cameras attached to the roof of the house.
Agents dismantled the camera system and logged it in with the firearm and leftover meth lab ingredients.
“We do stuff like this to deter people from attempting to manufacture methamphetamine,” said King. “Today was a pretty slow day as far as enforcement goes; however, by the end of the day’s event, we’d taken some drugs off the street, we’re possibly going to be seizing a vehicle, and we’ve at least stopped these people from making some methamphetamine today.”
For Bo, his first journey as a member of the DTF ended as it typically does while on patrol with Keele – a big hug for the job he’d done, and a bite of his trademark squeaky toy.
“Good job, Bubba!”
Log on to www.tahlequahTDP.com for an exclusive slideshow of Thursday’s drug interdiction in Tahlequah.