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Early morning drug raid sends six people to jail

Police SWAT team enters house. Stock photo.
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Neighbors say they are relieved to discover that an early morning drug raid has shut down a popular drug house in Milton-Freewater, at least for now.  Law enforcement officials executed a search warrant on the home located at 109 NW 1st Avenue on Tuesday morning.  They tell us at least six people have been arrested so far, with at least two facing felony charges.

“I was taking my dog out around 5am and I heard two loud shots,” a neighbor two blocks away told us.  “I thought someone was shooting, so I grabbed the dog and went inside,” he added.  “Then I could hear police on a loud speaker telling people to drop their weapons and put their hands up.  I knew then what was going on,” he finished.

Pendleton Police Chief Stuart Roberts, the spokesman for the Blue Mountain Enforcement Narcotics Team (or BENT), confirmed via a written statement that BENT officials had executed a search warrant at the address.  “The warrant execution is the culmination of a four month BENT investigation,” Chief Roberts confirmed to us later.  “Oregon State Police SWAT served the warrant, and since I was not there I can only speculate… the “loud explosion(s)” would likely be the result of light and sound diversionary device (typically referred to as a “flashbangs”) being deployed. It is common for tactical teams executing dynamic entries to use such devices to stun occupants, so they can control or take them into custody without incident,” he said.

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“Kathy Thomas and Joseph Sumerlin were arrested for delivery of controlled substance – methamphetamine, and possession of controlled substance – methamphetamine,” Chief Roberts said. “I think there was approximately an ounce of product that was seized.”  In addition to the 50-year-old woman and the 37-year-old man, those taken into custody on misdemeanors are Timothy Lee Prock, 56; Jeffrey Carl Ellis, 49; Cristobal Jaimes Rogel, 31; and Shirley Mae Weems, 29. They all face misdemeanor charges of frequenting a place where drugs are present. Prock is also charged with contempt of court.

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“We have contacted police for over two years about the activity at this house,” a nearby resident identified as Janet told us.  “The traffic was constant through the alley. They would come on bicycles, approach his shed and then exchange money through a hole in the side.  Sometimes they would go into the shed and come out carrying just bicycle tires. [The neighbors] thought that was how they were transporting their drugs. You always know when they have stuff for sale because they put up that blue tarp to signal.  I wish the city would take the property and put an end to this for good,” Janet added.

We reached out to Milton-Freewater City Manager, Linda Hall, to inquire if the city would consider using city code to seize the property.  City Manager Hall responded back with the following statement:

“It would be premature at this time for the City to declare the property a nuisance or apply our chronic crime ordinance to it. It has not met the legal merits of that action yet or at this time. However, I assure you, and your readers that the city does indeed take these illegal activities extremely seriously. This is why we participate in the BENT task force, even though we are by far the smallest agency to do so, and it has a very serious financial impact on our patrol budget. We believe we must all work together to address these issues.”

According to Milton-Freewater Police Chief Doug Boedigheimer, “since January 2015, MFPD has received a total of 18 calls for service either at, or in the area of 109 NW 1st.”  Only one of those calls were related to narcotics, Chief Boedigheimer tells us.  That call was from a resident who called in a tip and asked to remain anonymous.

Milton-Freewater City Code allows the Chief of Police to declare property as a nuisance if it has been the place of “three (3) or more separate factual incidents occurring during any ninety (90) day period” involving a long list of specific crimes.  At the top of that list, “crimes involving controlled substances as defined in Oregon Revised Statutes chapter 475.”

If the City is considering all six arrests as the same incident, this would not give Chief Boedigheimer the ability to declare a property as a nuisance or initiate any seizure. Despite social media claims that assert many calls have been made concerning activity at the address, Milton-Freewater Police are rejecting those claims with data from their system. Some on social media have also suggested that one of the individuals arrested is the owner of the property.  According to tax records, the house is owned by Daniel Ledezma of Milton-Freewater.  Ledezma was not the subject of this investigation or arrested.

“Umatilla County was declared a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) in 2005,” Chief Roberts told us. “The HIDTA designation is made by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) in Washington DC. BENT is one of approximately 20 initiatives funded through the Oregon/Idaho HIDTA,” Chief Roberts added.

In a post-9/11 society, we often hear law enforcement repeatedly saying they encourage the public to speak up when they see or hear something out of the ordinary.  They often tell us that  sometimes, something that is insignificant to a member of the public, could be instrumental in helping them solve a crime.  Milton-Freewater Police Department recently added a “Confidential Police Report Form” to their website where the public can submit tips discreetly through a web form.  This information goes directly to police investigators.  The public can also report crimes at any time, by calling police dispatch at (541) 938-5511.

Since 2014, BENT actions have resulted in the arrests of over 340 individuals, the seizure of more than 75 firearms and the removal of nearly $6 million worth of drugs and assets off the streets. Blue Mountain Enforcement Narcotics Team is made up of officials from eight agencies, including Pendleton Police Department, Hermiston Police Department, Milton-Freewater Police Department, Umatilla Tribal Police Department, Boardman Police Department, Oregon State Police, Morrow County Sheriff’s Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigations.

This was the second BENT incident in Milton-Freewater this year.  We reported in June about two Milton-Freewater men who were arrested as part of a major drug trafficking investigation lead by BENT.

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