Officers with the Keizer Police Department found numerous signs of drug use at the home of Jarrod and Erin Wells last week, including burned carpets and drug paraphernalia. For more information on that arrest, please see http://www.keizertimes.com/2014/11/20/three-arrested-in-drug-bust/ (Image Courtesy Keizer Police Department)

Officers with the Keizer Police Department found numerous signs of drug use at the home of Jarrod and Erin Wells last week, including burned carpets and drug paraphernalia. (Image Courtesy Keizer Police Department)

By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes

Twice in recent weeks, high-profile arrests in Keizer have involved drugs.

Early on Oct. 25, Keizer Police Department detectives arrested 23-year-old Niya Breann Sosa-Martinez on charges of second degree manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, endangering the welfare of a minor and second degree child neglect after her 4-year-old son died in an apartment fire the previous day.

It was revealed in court Sosa-Martinez had been doing drugs the day of the fire.

Last week, police arrested Erin Marie Wells at her Saundra Lee Way residence on several drug charges. Her husband, Jarrod Thomas Wells, also 37, was arrested on more charges a short time later as well as former beauty pageant winner Jamie Lynn France, 23 (see related story, pg. 12). Two young boys, ages 4 and 7, were at home at the time of their mom’s arrest (See previous article for more information).

“Heroin and methamphetamine were strewn throughout the home and were within easy reach of the two children,” Sgt. Bob Trump with the KPD said.

Jeff Kuhns, deputy chief with the KPD, acknowledged the incidents are alarming – and also just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to drugs.

“The sad thing is we know there are several more cases just like them,” Kuhns said. “We can’t always get into all of the homes. It’s a sad reflection on what’s occurring in society these days. It’s an epidemic problem.”

According to a State Medical Examiner’s drug-related deaths report, more than 200 people a year in Oregon are being killed by drugs. In six of the last seven years, more than 100 people a year in Oregon have died due to heroin, topped by 147 deaths in 2012 and 143 the year before. There were 111 heroin-related deaths in 2013, the lowest since 90 in 2010. Cocaine-related deaths totaled 12 in 2013, the lowest amount according to the report, which shows data going back to 2003.

However, methamphetamine-related deaths reached a new high in 2013 with 123, a 32 percent increase from the 93 recorded in 2012. There were 107 methamphetamine-related deaths in 2011 and 106 each in 2008 and 2010.

Overall, there have been 200 or more drug-related deaths in Oregon each year since 2006, plus 198 in 2004 and 197 in 2005.

Kuhns noted the trend in drug-related deaths. Keizer’s easy access to Interstate 5, while seen as an advantage to attracting businesses, has also long been pointed to as making the city a convenient place for drug dealers to do business.

“We’re truly one spoke in the wheel,” Kuhns said Nov. 21. “It’s a systemic problem. There’s not a meth rehab space for people. It all boils down to beds and treatment. In this particular case, one person (France) has already been released from jail. It’s hard to get treatment if you’re released after one day. When you go to the medical examiner’s report, you see that heroin is killing people. Heroin use has gone through the roof.”

During his 25-plus years with the Keizer Police Department, Kuhns has seen a drastic change in the typical heroin user.

“When I began my law enforcement career, heroin was a last resort drug,” Kuhns said. “It was people in their late 40s or early 50s, truly the last resort. Now times have changed. We’re seeing it as a drug of choice for teens and adults in their early 20s, as was the case here (with France).

“It’s an alarming problem,” he added. “Part of that is an availability issue. We haven’t shut off the pipeline to where drugs are coming from, primarily Mexico and South America. The cheap costs make it so easy for people to use it.”

Last week’s arrests came after months of observation by the KPD’s Community Response Unit (CRU) team, led by Trump.

A key part of investigations involve controlled buys, in which police have someone go into a suspected drug house and purchase drugs, then search the person and vehicle to see the amount of drugs. That evidence is eventually turned into a judge in asking for a search warrant for arrest.

“We can only work with people that are willing to work with us,” Kuhns said. “We work with our informants and get probable cause. You have to have X amount of a controlled buy. It’s an awful lot of work. You have to keep your eyes on these people. A lot of work goes into making the buys from dealers. We present an affidavit to the judge, telling why we believe more drugs would be found inside. That’s what happened in this case. The judge found probable cause we would find more drugs in the house, which we did.”

Such success, however, isn’t easy to come by.

“I would say we’re holding our own,” Kuhns said when asked if the KPD is making progress or falling behind in terms of finding drug dealers. “Chief (John) Teague has done a good thing by reinstituting the CRU team. That’s a step in the right direction. These guys have an endless supply of work. When you arrest one to three persons, you still have several others engaged in unlawful activity. We’ll keep working on it. The higher priority is when kids are in these residences, like we had here. It’s a tough task. Right now we have nobody working traffic on a motorcycle in Keizer. We have shifted those resources to battle this.”

Such concerns prompted Trump to include before-and-after photos of the three people arrested last week. The differences between France prior to drugs and her arrest photo attracted national interest.

“The Keizer Police Department would like to take this opportunity to caution against the use of illegal controlled substances because of the terrible long-term affects to the user, their families and our communities,” Trump said.

Against that backdrop Kuhns said the recently approved ballot Measure 91, which will legalize the use of recreational marijuana within certain limits next summer, was met with concern from the start.

“All of law enforcement is concerned,” Kuhns said. “With the ballot measure, not one chief of police in Oregon supported that ballot measure. In this case (last week), drugs were within reach of these children. We’re watching our law enforcement partners closely in Colorado and Washington and other states. We see what’s going on there and it’s concerning.”