WKYT Investigates | Targeting drug traffickers

A recent round-up of suspects in two central Kentucky counties netted nearly two dozen arrests.
Stopping the flow of drugs in Central Kentucky
Updated: Oct. 20, 2022 at 4:00 PM EDT
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CYNTHIANA, Ky. (WKYT) - Investigators with the Bluegrass Narcotics Task Force say targeting drug traffickers is their main goal right now - a mission with heightened urgency due to the power and potency of drugs that are available.

“We know for a fact that the narcotics we’re dealing with and taking off the streets are taking lives daily,” Harrison County Sheriff Shain Stephens told WKYT’s Garrett Wymer from the front seat of his cruiser, parked in front of a house being searched by officers, deputies, troopers and plain-clothes detectives.

It was Thursday, September 29 and the Bluegrass Narcotics Task Force - made up of members from the Harrison County and Bourbon County sheriff’s offices and Cynthiana and Paris police departments - was conducting a multi-county arrest detail.

By the end of the day, 21 people would be arrested. But getting to that point took investigators a lot of legwork, they said - including multiple undercover drug buys or confiscations - to try to slow the flow of drugs in their area.

“It usually takes months to get to the point where we can actually develop enough case and probable cause to start arresting people,” said Mark Burden, Director of the Bluegrass Narcotics Task Force.

The round-up day started early, as members of the different agencies participating in the detail - which also included Kentucky State Police Post 6, KSP East Drug Enforcement and Carlisle Police - met to go over the day’s operational plan. Then they broke up into teams and hit the road.

One group’s first stop was in Sunrise, a rural Harrison County community north of Cynthiana. There, investigators found the man they were looking for, as well as some evidence including cash, inside a camping trailer parked behind a home surrounded by security cameras.

The task force’s focus is on traffickers of heroin, fentanyl and methamphetamine. Fentanyl, Burden said, is among the most dangerous and addictive drugs ever seen - and it is frequently mixed with other drugs to make them cheaper.

[WKYT Investigates | Rural agencies, orgs adjust to keep up with power, potency of fentanyl]

“When you’re talking about trafficking fentanyl and carfentanil, and now that stuff’s being integrated and mixed with methamphetamine and even marijuana and stuff like that,” Sheriff Stephens said, “it takes so little to kill a person that it makes these investigations pretty intense and really, really important for sure.”

Not all of the houses that investigators stopped at ended in arrests. Some of the suspects for whom they had warrants ended up being out of town.

But almost all of the arrests - 20 of 21 - were on charges of selling methamphetamine or fentanyl. (Methamphetamine is on the rise, Burden said, not just in their area but across the state.)

“I don’t think you can arrest your way out of the problem, but I also know that you have to arrest your way out of the problem as well,” Burden said. “What I mean by that is, possession offenses are a little bit different to us. That’s an opportunity for a person to get some help, and we try to facilitate that.”

Burden said the task force works closely with local treatment centers, religious organizations and state programs to try to direct people with those lower-level possession offenses to get the help they need.

But: “If you’re trafficking fentanyl that’s killing people, obviously you need to go through the court system and face the consequences from that,” he said.

The cases certainly do not end with these arrests. Prosecutions will follow as the cases go through the court system. Investigators say their work does not end here, either, as they continue to try to stop those supplying dangerous and deadly drugs in the area.

“At the end of the day our goal is to slow the trafficking of illegal narcotics,” Sheriff Stephens said, “and to help save people’s lives, we hope.”


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