Drug task force commander to testify Thursday in Pratt case

Drug task force commander to testify Thursday in Pratt case

Posted Tuesday, 15 March 2016

This article originally appeared on The Exponent Telegram. View the original post here.

CLARKSBURG — The commander of the Greater Harrison Drug and Violent Crimes Task Force has been subpoenaed by the defense for a hearing Thursday in the case of a teacher challenging her felony drug charge.

The commander also has been subpoenaed for the trial of former South Harrison High School teacher Kimberly Pratt. That’s in case defense attorney Bryan Edwards doesn’t prevail in his motion asking the court to dismiss the indictment or to suppress the drug evidence.

Edwards will elicit testimony from the commander in the hearing starting at 2:30 p.m. Thursday, with Harrison Circuit Judge James A. Matish presiding. Special Prosecutor Kurt Hall then will cross-examine the witness.

The commander is a lieutenant for Bridgeport police and also a task force officer with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

The defense recently filed an affidavit with the court about the lieutenant’s role overseeing the DEA’s National Drug Take Back Initiative in Harrison, Upshur and Lewis counties.

Edwards is trying to prove that Harrison County Street Crimes and Drug unit deputies unlawfully obtained hydrocodone pills from a Lost Creek pharmacist. That would be “outrageous conduct” that should result in the dismissal of the felony possession with intent to deliver hydrocodone charge pending against Pratt, Edwards contends.

Someone from the Harrison County Sheriff’s Department allegedly told the pharmacist the department was part of the National Drug Take Back Initiative. That reportedly led to the pharmacist agreeing to give the Street Crimes and Drug unit deputies a dead relative’s unused prescription pain pills.

The unused pills were transferred to the deputies in September 2014, as deputies worked to conduct a reverse sting on Pratt after they allegedly received a tip about her.

Harrison County law enforcement agencies participating in the National Drug Take Back Initiative in September 2014 were Bridgeport police, Clarksburg police, Shinnston police, the Greater Harrison Drug and Violent Crimes Task Force, and the Bridgeport detachment of State Police, the Bridgeport lieutenant alleged in his affidavit.

“I did not collect, nor do I have any knowledge the Harrison County Sheriff’s Department participated in the September 2014” National Drug Take Back Initiative, the Greater Harrison task force commander wrote. “Records indicate that the Harrison County Sheriff’s Department did not participate in any (National Drug Take Back Initiative) in 2014 to present.”

The commander also wrote about the procedure that’s to be followed during the National Drug Take Back Initiative events: Collection sites are established twice a year, in April and September; collection boxes are guarded by sworn officers, and individuals bring in prescription drugs for deposit at those sites; and once a pre-established cutoff time is met, the boxes are secured and labeled, with a DEA representative then collecting the drugs.

In Lewis, Upshur and Harrison counties, the lieutenant who commands the drug task force is the DEA’s collection agent. He documents the weights of the drugs, secures them in the Clarksburg DEA location, and then loads them for transfer to a facility to be destroyed by fire, according to his affidavit.

In testifying about his transfer of the hydrocodone to Harrison deputies, the pharmacist indicated he didn’t know the procedure for drug take back, and wanted to learn more about it. His testimony of what happened indicates that the steps followed by deputies may not have comported with the National Drug Take Back Initiative procedure outlined in the drug task force commander’s affidavit.

It’s unclear whether there will be testimony from the sheriff’s sergeant who led the Street Crimes and Drug unit, as he hasn’t been subpoenaed by Edwards.

Matish has indicated in previous hearings he wants to know more about what a representative or representatives of the sheriff’s department may have told the pharmacist about drug take back.

Special Prosecutor Hall contends it doesn’t matter. Though Hall didn’t say that’s what happened in this case, precedent supports law enforcement lying to advance an investigation, he has told the court.

Pratt was swarmed by Harrison County Street Crimes and Drug unit deputies after she purchased 45 hydrocodone pills for $160 from an informant Sept. 3, 2014 at a gas station off Saltwell Road, deputies have alleged.