Stuck between a rock and a hard place, detective says it's hard locking up drug dealers

Posted at 9:51 AM, Oct 05, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-06 12:26:59-04

Parents and lawmakers are holding enforcement agencies responsible for the wildfire that is the opioid epidemic, that's raging out of control.

"It's constant, constant heroin and having to stay up on it and the pressure's on us to get a hold of it," Detective Sergeant Bob Royster, leader of the Harford County Sheriff's Narcotics unit, said.

Heat to lock up heroin dealers and get ever more potent drugs off the streets. The effort so desperate, that the Harford County Sheriff created the Narcotics Unit three years ago.

Now they're out on the streets constantly investigating.

"He was responsible for several non fatal overdoses and one fatal overdose that occurred in Havre de Grace last year," Sgt. Royster said.

We rode along with the unit for two days and the first night they were tracking a suspected drug dealer for several hours. He was driving with a suspended license, so they pulled him over, hopeful to catch him with drugs he's planning on selling, but it wasn't the first time.

"The first time was a definite rip, by us, and we got that case together, presented it to the United States Attorney's Office and they chose not to proceed with it," Sgt. Royster said last year their case wasn't strong enough.

"You need to prove that the dealer actually distributed a controlled dangerous substance that resulted in the death of another person," Sgt. Royster said they linked him to a case from May, 2016. A man overdosed, and died in a McDonald's parking lot in the middle of the night.

According to the Maryland sentencing guidlines, if convicted, the dealer could face 6 months as a first time offender, and up to 20 years behind bars, if he has a history.

"In Harford County the sentences seem to be much stronger. The judges seem to give harsher sentences than they do in Baltimore City," Sgt. Royster said.

Royster told us 98% of the dealers they encountered over the last three years are from the city. He is federally deputized by the Drug Enforcement Administration, giving him the power to take worthy cases to federal prosecutors. Even then, it's tough.

"Because they have no criminal history, the federal prosecutors won't take those cases so they got kicked down to the state level, and still waiting to see what's going to happen. Well one got probation before judgment so he's back out and we're still waiting on the other one," he said.

Fizzling cases that are burning out detectives.

"The numbers are not going down, and it's it's like pushing against a rock that won't budge, you just can't get anywhere with it,"Sgt. Royster said.

That night, when detectives searched a suspected drug dealer's car who had a suspended license, they didn't find what they were looking for, to build another case against him, letting him walk free, again.

"You put a lot of time and effort and work into these investigations, these files are that thick and you get a pbj by the end, sorry probation before judgment. It just doesn't seem to be worth it," Sgt. Royster said feeling burned that he can't help families find a small sense of closure.

He hopes either judges or lawmakers create change so he can knock down the fire.

The Harford County Sheriff's Office just started a new work flow. Their routine officers do narcotics paperwork at overdose scenes, freeing up detectives in the Narcotics Unit to look for leads on dealers.

Last year, the U.S. Attorney's Office for Maryland said it's Organized Crime Unit indicted more than 50 drug traffickers from it's inception in 2015 to September of 2016. Those dealers were accused of distributing lethal doses of heroin.

Since it's inception, the Organized Crime Unit indicted 80 individuals for heroin distribution or conspiracy to to distribute heroin, according to Spokeswoman Christine Tobar.

Of the 80 indictments, 4 were from Harford County, 8 in Baltimore County and the rest from Baltimore City.

She added, every heroin overdose is investigated as a homicide, in an effort to identify the dealer.