It’s 6:30 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 14, and some of the city’s residents are about to have a bad day. A convoy of unmarked cop cars and the Emergency Service Unit’s “heavy truck” is heading up Broadway from Kingston Police Department headquarters on Garraghan Drive en route to locations around the city. Twenty-one people who allegedly sold crack, cocaine, Ecstasy, prescription narcotics and other drugs to undercover cops in recent months are about to learn that they’ve been indicted on multiple felony drug charges.
The morning raids were the culmination of “Operation Mop Up” — the latest in a series of large scale drug sweeps which began on March 31, 2012 with “Operation Clean Sweep” which netted 80 alleged drug dealers and gang members. In between, “Operation Dustpan” grabbed another 21 suspects. All three sweeps followed the same pattern: months of intensive street work by the KPD’s Special Investigations Unit followed by a marathon grand jury session, the issuing of sealed indictments and, finally, an early morning roundup of suspects. Mop Up began in June when SIU cops working with undercover officers and confidential informants — typically addicts looking for a break on criminal charges and a few bucks to put in their pockets — began buying drugs from targeted dealers in covertly monitored exchanges around the city. The evidence is then filed away to await presentation to a grand jury prior to the final sweep. Along with the 21 arrested in last week’s raid, another 19 “Mop Up” defendants were presented with their indictments at the county jail after having been picked up by SIU officers on drug possession or other charges in the weeks and months before the final act.
Who’ll clear their list first?
The sweep is carried out by five raid teams armed with a list of targets and their presumed locations. The teams consist of an SIU detective as team leader, a member of the Department’s Emergency Services Unit and three uniformed cops. Another team of Emergency Services cops — specially trained and equipped for standoffs, door breaching and other high risk situations — is on standby in the event the raid teams run into trouble. In an unmarked SUV packed with a suspension-straining load of weapons, ammo, armor and advanced tactical gear, SIU boss Detective Sgt. Brian Robertson and ESU commander Mike Bonse are acting as field supervisors, bouncing from point to point and keeping track of the team’s progress. There’s a bit of rivalry going to see which team will be first to clear its list.
The command vehicle has barely passed Burger King on East Chester Street when the radio buzzes at 6:35 a.m. the first suspect is in custody. The radio calls refer to the targets by numbers, arranged in no particular order, according to Robinson. Over the next hour, the calls begin coming in faster: “14 in custody”; “We got 17” accompanied by occasional commentary from the cops in the SUV — “That guy’s an asshole, he’ll fight, he’ll run.”
Over on Cedar Street, the SUV rolls past rocker Chris Cornell’s tour bus parked outside of UPAC and past the spot a few blocks down where C.J. King was gunned down back in 2010. King’s death at the hands of members of the Sex Money Murder set of the Bloods street gang ushered in a new era of operations aimed at the street-level drug trade concentrated in Midtown. The execution-style murder was intended to prevent King from testifying at the assault trial of jailed gang member. Instead, it led to long prison terms for the core of Kingston’s Bloods on murder and conspiracy charges. A few months later, when District Attorney Holley Carnright learned of chatter on a jailhouse telephone about out-of-town dealers coming to Kingston to fill the void left by the SMM crew, he conceived Operation Clean Sweep. The idea was to target gang members in an undercover drug sting, thus avoiding the need for civilian witnesses who might be afraid to testify in a robbery or assault case.
Robertson thinks the strategy is working. In Clean Sweep, 44 of 80 indicted defendants were categorized as gang members — mostly Bloods. Eighteen months later, just seven of 40 “Mop Up” targets claim membership in a gang.
“I’m not saying that stuff is ever going to go away,” said Robertson. “But we’re definitely seeing less of it [since Clean Sweep].”
Cuffs at the Broadmor
By 6:45, the weapons-laden SUV is positioned across from 59 Henry St., a red brick house that has had its doors shattered by police battering rams enough times in the past decade to keep a small lumber yard in business. Inside, an ESU cop armed with a carbine covers a stairwell while two uniformed officers shine flashlights around the entryway. Two more uniforms cover the side and rear of the house. If anyone’s inside, they’re not coming out.