Investigators in Bartholomew County crossing state lines to find drug dealers

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BARTHOLOMEW COUNTY, Ind. -- Bartholomew County Sheriff Matt Myers says the war on illegal drugs is no longer just a local fight.

“What’s important is going to the source, getting the big fish,” Myers said, “and that’s what we’re focused on.”

For the last several years, the sheriff’s department has been part of Bartholomew County’s Joint Narcotics Enforcement Team, also referred to as JNET. The task force includes the sheriff’s department, Columbus police, prosecutor and coroner’s office. It also involves federal agencies like the DEA, FBI, ATF, U.S. Marshals and U.S. Postal Inspector.

Members of the task force regularly go outside Bartholomew County in order to find the sources of illegal drugs being brought into the Columbus area. In a recent case, task force members were able to capture people suspected of transporting fentanyl in from Cincinnati.

“Our officers were able to catch these two people that were in the process of bringing fentanyl back to Columbus, and by doing so, prevented a large number of overdoses,” said Columbus Police Lt. Matt Harris.

JNET can now reach even farther to go after drug dealers, since a Bartholomew County deputy joined the DEA task force based in Indianapolis. The deputy is still a member of the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department but is also a credentialed agent with the DEA.

“Which basically means that we can go anywhere in the United States to stop these drugs from not only coming into Columbus Indiana, but central Indiana,” Myers said.

The sheriff’s annual report shows JNET investigated 215 drug cases in 2018. Interagency cooperation allowed members of the task force to travel to nearby Ohio and Kentucky to investigate cases, as well as California and Texas.

“They’ve been able to stop a lot of criminal activity, not just coming into Columbus Indiana, but central Indiana as a whole,” Myers said.

Columbus’ close proximity to I-65 means the area sees a heavy amount of interstate travel. Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop says being the crossroads of America is great for business and economic development, but it also has a downside.

“We are about 11 hours from 68% of the U.S. population,” Lienhoop said. “Bad guys don’t respect the political boundaries you draw on a map, so we have to be able to go where they are, and JNET allows us to do that.”

While Myers says local law enforcement will never stop going after street-level drug dealers and users, he believes the only way to fight today’s illegal drug trade is by working with agencies and crossing state lines to find the source.

“Put the egos aside, put the jurisdictions aside, share intelligence and work as one,” Myers said.  

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