Monday, February 21, 2005

Methamphetamine Raid in New Mexico

The Alamogordo News in New Mexico has a good story about a local raid and how the small labs manufacture methamphetamine:

Two arrested in Boles Acres methamphetamine lab raid
By Ellis Neel, Staff Photographer/Writer
Feb 18, 2005, 12:22 pm

BOLES ACRES — Some might call the planning overkill.

Those in the business of trying to keep Alamogordo and Otero County streets clean of drugs take nothing for granted, and they’re not in too much of a hurry. They say you can’t be too careful.
Another meth lab busted – Members of the New Mexico State Police Tactical Team out of Las Cruces search and secure the area around a residence at 13 Sage Ave. in Boles Acres following initial contact with two suspects. Ellis Neel/Daily News

On Thursday, undercover officers with the New Mexico State Police/Alamogordo and the Las Cruces NMSP Tactical Team, together with officers with the NMSP, the Otero County Sheriff’s Department and the Alamogordo Department of Public Safety executed a search warrant on a residence at 13 Sage Ave. in Boles Acres.

Jason Hines, 32, and Amanda Graham, 27, both of that address, were arrested and each was charged with single counts of trafficking by manufacture of methamphetamine; conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine; possession of drug paraphernalia; and child abuse and neglect.

More than a dozen undercover officers took part in the planning and execution of the raid and it didn’t just happen on a whim.

Two surveillance trips were made on the couple in previous weeks, and undercover agents decided there were enough indications of a meth lab in action to warrant an official visit.

In the morning briefing, before the raid, team leaders crafted a bust plan and explained everything to all members of the team. Each piece of the plan was made clear and every member had his own task. Little was left to question. Contingency plans were made and special signals were put in place.

“We’re not in a hurry,” said a NMSP Tactical Team leader, “we’re not breaking down any doors.
Riding the rails – Members of the New Mexico State Police Tactical Team out of Las Cruces ride specially built running boards into a drug-bust scene Thursday in Boles Acres. Ellis Neel/Daily News

“Any questions or concerns?” he asked. “There’s not supposed to be any elderly or any children in there.”
Before the agents grabbed their gear and suited up, the undercover officer in charge read the New Mexico State Police policy regarding the use of deadly force, bringing home the gravity of the situation soon to be at hand: “Commissioned personnel may use deadly force in defense of their lives, the lives of others or to arrest dangerous fleeing felons who present an immediate threat to others and whose capture is not imminent. Dangerous fleeing felons are persons who pose a threat of death or seriously bodily injury to the officer or to other citizens.”

“The tweakers, they’re doing a red P cook,” said a local NMSP undercover agent in advance of the raid.
“Tweaker” is slang for meth user. “Red P” is slang for red phosphorous, one of the precursors of a homemade brand of methamphetamine, which continues to grow in popularity despite concerted efforts from law enforcement on federal, regional, state, county and city levels to stifle its manufacture and use.

In police jargon, a precursor is one of a number of chemicals or substances used in conjunction with others to form another substance, i.e. usually methamphetamine (speed). Some of the precursor chemicals for the manufacture of methamphetamine include lye (usually in the form of Red Devil lye), iodine, acetone, alcohol, camp fuel (Coleman white gas), pseudofed (the cold medication that actually gets converted into methamphetamine), and car starting fluid (used for the ether it contains).
A “Red P” cook – An undercover agent in Tyvek suit and breathing apparatus brings out some evidence Thursday from a suspected meth lab at 13 Sage Ave. in Boles Acres. Ellis Neel/Daily News

Tweakers also need red phosphorous for the manufacturing process and they get what they need from the striker panels on matchbooks. Lots of matchbooks.

It was decided the entry team would all be wearing oxygen masks and tanks, in addition to their body armor and weapons.

“First, we are dealing with meth users,” said the agent in charge, “who are inherently dangerous because the meth makes them paranoid. Next,” he added, “the lab itself has a lot of explosive hazards and chemical hazards. There’s lots of solvents that make the air explosive.”

A phalanx of police vehicles traveled to Boles Acres and stopped just outside the neighborhood. The entry team, suited up in gas masks, body armor and automatic weapons, rode the rest of the way on tracks attached to the sides of a large Ford SUV.

Two undercover agents in blue jeans and T-shirts, comprising the contact team, knocked on the door at 13 Sage Ave. The air was taut with the agents’ first approach, but the situation turned quickly into a clean, safe raid as the first subject, Hines, answered the door and without ado came outside and was placed into custody. Two other subjects quickly followed, Graham and an unidentified 16-year-old girl.

“They may have a shotgun or a thirty-ought-six inside the door,” the undercover agent said, “and you just never know what’s going to happen when you’re dealing with meth users. Some of these people are up (awake) for days at a time and their judgment is impaired from lack of sleep and the drugs themselves.”
Through a quick interview with Hines, officers determined there were no bombs or booby traps or anything crazy waiting for law enforcement personnel to stumble upon as sometimes happens with meth manufacturers.

After initial contact with the suspects was made and all persons were cleared from the residence, an air assessment team of two officers gears up in gas masks and Tyvek suits. Two additional agents suit up as well in case a rescue is needed.

The first two agents enter the residence with test equipment and check for a number of things, including oxygen and phosphine gas levels, airborne hydrochloric acid and ammonia gas levels. The second pair of agents waits near the front door. No one is allowed in the residence by themselves. Everyone is on the buddy system.

Once the assessment has been made and deemed reasonably safe, all four agents enter the home and begin dismantling and packing up the evidence to be placed outside the home on large tarpaulins spread on the ground for that purpose.

At this point fire fighters with Boles Acres Search and Rescue took a deep breath and began to relax. They were on hand standing by in case agents or tweakers caused a spark, fire or explosion.

“The air was fine in there,” said the agent in charge. “There were no indicators there were any gases or anything.”

The states continue enforcement on a case by case basis.

What about Congressional action to limit the importation and transportation of the precursor chemicals?

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