By Tony Parra: PNT Staff Writer
There have been 55 drug-related arrests since early March in Roosevelt County after the formation of a drug task force between county deputies and city police officers.
Portales Police Capt. Lonnie Berry said the majority of the drug-related arrests have been for methamphetamines, but there have also been arrests for marijuana.
Berry said the major reason for the creation of the task force was because of increased assistance from citizens and business owners.
The task force was created around the same timeframe as the deaths of Odis and Doris Newman. The bodies of the Newmans were discovered in the trunk of a burned vehicle in the early morning hours of March 2. Two men, Jerry Fuller and Stanley Bedford, are in the Roosevelt County Detention Center on charges related to the deaths. Both face the death penalty.
Berry wouldn’t say if the two events were connected, but said that since that time citizens of the community have helped out with tips and resources. Some community members have even provided vehicles for undercover work.
The task force was formed between Roosevelt County Sheriff’s Department deputies and Portales Police Department officers to crack down on drug use in the county. Berry said the task force meets on Mondays with probation officers from the district and magistrate courts.
“In order to stop the drug use in our community we have to be aggressive in three phases,” Berry said. “We have to be aggressive in law enforcement, the judicial system and the rehabilitation and education process in order for us to be effective.”
Berry said during Monday briefings they gather police intelligence information with anonymous tips and information from Roosevelt County Crimestoppers. He said with this knowledge they are able to plan their drug raids and operations.
Ninth Judicial District Attorney Matt Chandler said convictions and plea agreements can take up to four to six months on the 55 arrests.
“They are solely arrests at this point,” Chandler said. “We anticipate handling many of these cases by the end of the year.”
Chandler went on to say there’s a cycle to the arrests. He said some people who are arrested and released later on are caught with a higher quantity methamphetamines or they help in the production of meth.
Chandler said possession of meth carries a maximum sentence of 18 months, trafficking meth a maximum sentence of three years. If caught, manufacturers can be sentenced to a maximum of nine years.
Chandler said drug busts often lead to additional arrests because those who are arrested give out additional information of others involved.
“There’s no loyalty in drug dealing,” Chandler said.
Roosevelt County Sheriff’s Department Sergeant Rick Short said the drug-related arrests have not happened in one specific area. Short said the arrests have been spread out throughout the city and some in the county.
Berry said the people who have been arrested come from different backgrounds, and there is not one specific ethnic group, social group or economic group behind drug-related crimes.
Berry said the sheriff’s department and Portales Police Department have worked with the Region V Task Force on funding. Berry said he meets with Phil Masters, director of the Region V Task Force, once a month for updates on drug operations in Roosevelt County.
Berry said the local task force requests money from the task force for drug operations and overtime spent on officers. The Region V Task Force is composed of law enforcement from Roosevelt, Curry, Quay, DeBaca and Guadalupe. There are eight regional task forces or councils in New Mexico.
“A real combined effort takes a lot of manpower,” Berry said. “We need five or six people for a drug raid. Our officers have put in a lot of overtime. Some of our officers put in 30 hours of overtime in one week.”
Berry and Short said the deputies and police officers will continue to work as a joint task force.
“That’s (stopping drug-related crimes) a never-ending job,” Short said. “There’s always work to do.”