La Plata County Sheriff’s Office has confirmed that a suspect has been identified for smuggling drugs into the La Plata County Jail, an incident that could implicate more than 10 inmates.
La Plata County Sheriff Sean Smith told The Durango Herald last weekend that his office had launched an investigation into the presence of drugs in the facility, saying, “We’re trying to determine how it was done and how far it goes.”
On Friday, Smith said the Sheriff’s Office has determined a suspect and charges may be pending.
Smith said the suspect, who he declined to identify, was booked into the county jail Nov. 4. A medical incident Nov. 5 alerted authorities to the presence of drugs in the facility.
“We had two inmates that said they were feeling sick, and they indicated they used drugs,” he said. “That made us look into the fact something was going on, and as we got into it, it became bigger.”
The incident involves more than 10 inmates, Smith said, although only one inmate is suspected of bringing drugs into the jail. He declined to identify what drugs were brought in.
Each inmate implicated in the incident was put on a disciplinary process, which can include urine analysis and revocation of earned time, among other measures, Smith said.
He declined to discuss further details of the incident because of the ongoing investigation.
Many speculated that the death of inmate Vicente Lucero earlier this month, as well as several other reports of inmates requiring hospitalization, were tied to illegal drugs being brought into the jail.
But Smith said there is no connection between Lucero’s death and drugs being brought into the jail.
Some inmates who complained of illness tied to the contraband drugs were treated in house, but not elsewhere, he said.
“No one wound up in the hospital because of those drugs,” Smith said.
He said it’s a “constant battle” to make sure inmates do not take illegal substances into the jail. It is an issue that every prison and jail across the country deals with, he said.
The county jail is on pace to have booked more than 6,000 people over the past two years, Smith said. During that time, there have been eight cases of the introduction of contraband into the jail, he said.
“I know that sounds like a lot, but this stuff happens in jails and prisons, everywhere and every day,” Smith said. “It’s a constant battle.”
As standard practice, Smith said jail staff regularly conducts “shakedowns,” where inmates from an entire cellblock are told to wait in the brickyard while staff searches cells.
Smith said wardens usually find benign contraband, such as food they aren’t supposed to have in their cell. However, once in a while, “hooch” or other drugs are found in hiding places.
The La Plata County Jail houses about 100 inmates. Smith said the jail has been understaffed this year. There is an average of six people on shift at the jail, and Smith said that needs to be at eight.
“We’ve had some staffing challenges this year with turnover,” he said.
Smith said four people are currently in training to work at the jail, which is a 14-month process. That still leaves five vacant positions, he said.
The Sheriff’s Office would also like to solicit the services of more canine units, Smith said. As of now, the Sheriff’s Office has only one canine that visits “not as often as we’d like.”
Prohibiting people from bringing in banned substances also falls into a fiscal challenge. Smith said there is a scanner that is highly efficient in detecting drugs, but it costs $250,000 – money the Sheriff’s Office and county government doesn’t have.
“Nothing is a perfect solution,” Smith said. “And it will not be the last time this happens to us. But I want to stress: It’s something my people do a very good job trying to manage, but again, it’s a constant battle.”