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Wednesday, 19 March 2014 00:00

No repercussions for officers involved in dismissed drug case

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Three months after lies on a search warrant and a fabricated drug dog alert prompted a federal judge to throw out a Cherokee drug trafficking case, it appears that the officers involved are still at their jobs, with no change in status or salary. The case involved officers and detectives from Swain, Jackson and Graham counties, as well as from the Cherokee Indian Police Department.  

 

“There will be a full review of the suppression hearing to determine what steps, if any, need to be taken,” Cherokee Police Chief Ben Reed said in a statement, adding that he will be working with the State District Attorney, the Tribal Prosecutors and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Reed did not definitively state whether any of the Cherokee officers have been disciplined in any way in connection with the case, but his statement indicated that they have not. 

“There have been public statements made that are only clouding the real issues,” Reed continued. “I want to assure the community and our officers that we will handle this situation prudently, while taking measures to be transparent to ensure our public that we will continue to provide them the best police service possible.”

Reed did not return requests for comment to clarify what those “real issues” are.

The officer from Swain County was no longer employed on the force at the time the case was heard, and neither of the Graham or Jackson county detectives involved have experienced any change in employment status. 

It is a case with origins nearly two years old, beginning when Cherokee police launched an investigation into oxycodone trafficking that, by September 2012, led them to Florida resident Eudine Wilson. Wilson was staying in an apartment in Cherokee, and police soon identified her vehicle. 

Shortly thereafter, Detective Jeff Smith saw Wilson enter the vehicle as he was conducting surveillance on the home and contacted his colleague, Officer David Velez, to “try and find reasonable suspicion to pull the black Mazda over and identify the driver,” according to court documents. Velez pulled Wilson over for not wearing a seatbelt — he later testified she had, in fact, been wearing it — in order to learn her name, according to court documents. 

In October, Cherokee police located Wilson’s car again, and Smith called in a total of six law enforcement officials from three different agencies to help in case he was able to pull the car over, according to court documents. Trailing Wilson and her passenger Marie Raymond from the apartment, Swain County Detective William Reed, Smith and Velez followed in their respective vehicles for about 2 miles before Reed pulled them over, supposedly for weaving left of the yellow center lines on the highway three times. 

The case was dismissed largely because of what came next. Within two minutes, Graham County Detective Matthew Cox had released Beck, a drug dog, to sniff around the car. When Cox told Smith that the dog had alerted to the presence of drugs, Smith asked Wilson and Raymond to exit the car, according to court documents. 

The only problem was that the dog did not, according to video taken from a camera on one of the patrol cars, alert. In fact, he was not even trained to recognize prescription drugs, so there is no way oxycodone could have elicited an alert. 

“It is undisputed that Beck never gave his trained indication,” the court opinion reads. 

However, Detective Cox continues to hold his job with Graham County, and Sheriff Mickey Anderson said he has no plans to make any change to that arrangement. 

“I don’t know about that,” he said of the judge’s opinion. “I wasn’t there at the case. I think he [Cox] got misconstrued somehow.”

A strip search of the two women revealed that they were carrying prescription drugs, so, on the basis of the dog alert that never happened and what the defense called “more layers of hearsay than one would see in most wedding cakes,” Cherokee officers had Jackson County Detective Patrick McCoy write up a search warrant to get in the women’s apartment. 

“If they’d just of followed the proper procedure like any other law enforcement agency would have, there would have been no problem,” said Rich Cassady, who represented Raymond. “But they decided to cut corners.”

“These girls were found with 11,000 pills in their apartment,” he said. “What’s my defense going to be to that?”

Cassady does not foresee the case turning into a civil suit, but he believes its outcome is just a symptom of a larger problem in the Cherokee justice system. 

“I quit going over there about two years ago because I couldn’t stomach what was going on over there,” he said. “It’s just a kangaroo court.”

Cherokee police did not return repeated requests for comment beyond their prepared statement. 

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