March 17, 2012

A Glimpse into Everyday Drug Problems

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From the 21-year-old woman hooked on pain pills to the 72-year-old man arrested for selling them, the stories of drug and alcohol addiction are woven throughout the court filings in Oklahoma’s two largest counties.

Of all felonies filed in Tulsa and Oklahoma counties on a single day chosen at random, six out of 10 were linked to drugs or alcohol, a review by the Tulsa World and The Oklahoman shows.

The World and Oklahoman reviewed records of all felonies filed on Jan. 24, 2011, in both counties to determine which cases had some relationship to drug or alcohol abuse.

Out of 62 felony cases filed in the two counties on that day, 38 people were either charged with crimes directly involving drugs or alcohol, used substances while on probation or deferred sentences or committed crimes while under the influence.

Nearly all of the 38 people had been convicted of prior crimes. Several had been kicked out of drug court or sober living programs while others committed new crimes after they had been granted deferred sentences.

A Tulsa County case involved a man charged with drug possession who tested positive for amphetamines, cocaine, marijuana, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, PCP and ecstasy. An Oklahoma County woman charged with selling pain pills sat in a lawn chair holding a child while doing business over the phone, court records state.

Defendants spanned all races and classes, though the majority were white and men.

Doug Drummond, first assistant district attorney for Tulsa County, said the figure is actually lower than what his office experiences.

“I would estimate 80 to 90 percent of our cases, including homicides and robberies, involve some link to illegal drugs or alcohol,” Drummond said. “Most of the murders and robberies in Tulsa County have some kind of nexus to drug use or trying to obtain or sell illegal drugs. They may be taking drugs or alcohol when the crime is committed. Victims are robbed and burglarized because someone is trying to support his or her drug habit.”

Drummond said victims often get lost in the discussion about the relationship between substance abuse and crime.

“They are the ones who are hurt, either physically, emotionally or financially, by all of this and no one seems to care,” he said.

Scott Rowland, first assistant district attorney for Oklahoma County, said prosecutors try to determine motivations for crime when deciding how to handle cases.

“We try to see if it is an economic motivated crime or an addiction motivated crime,” he said.

Rowland said people who possess drugs for personal use are not likely to wind up in prison, especially on first offenses.

“Contrary to popular belief, you have to work pretty hard to go to prison for possession of drugs in Oklahoma,” Rowland said. “There are some who believe our prisons are full of simple drug possession cases … They’re more likely to go to prison for (possession of drugs with) intent to distribute.”

Drummond said drug court is an option prosecutors consider in cases where defendants are good candidates for treatment. All but four Oklahoma counties now operate drug courts, programs in which defendants undergo drug testing, treatment and abide by other requirements in order to avoid prison.

Drummond said prosecutors consider prior offenses, whether violence was involved and input from victims when making recommendations about drug court.

Here are selected details from cases reviewed by the World and Oklahoman with links to drugs or alcohol filed on Jan. 24, 2011. All information is taken from court and law enforcement records and ages are at the time charges were filed:

Tulsa County

Spencer Harrell, 35, had two prior convictions and was on probation when he kicked in the door of a Tulsa home Jan. 18, 2011, stealing a computer. In a probation report filed the same day, the Department of Corrections states Harrell admitted to using Lortab and failed to enter into substance abuse counseling, part of his probation agreement.

Harrell admitted to police he was “tweaking’’ and traded the computer for drugs. He was charged with second-degree burglary Jan. 24, 2011 and sentenced to four years in prison.

Robert Scott, 52, was charged with second-offense DUI and had five prior convictions for alcohol-related offenses. He had completed DUI Court prior to being charged with this offense. While out on bond in March, Scott was again charged with DUI and reports state his blood-alcohol content was .20.

Later that month, he was charged with actual physical control of vehicle while intoxicated and indecent exposure. Scott was sentenced to five years in prison.

Michael Canady, 39, was charged with drug possession after police found a methamphetamine-like substance in his car during a traffic stop.

“It’s Ice, a higher grade than powder meth,” Canady told the officer. “It’s more expensive. Powder just keeps me awake. This stuff gives me the rush. … I just don’t want to lose my new job. I’m a truck driver. Oh what have I done, what have I done?”

During a review to determine eligibility for community sentencing, Canady tested positive for amphetamines, cocaine, marijuana, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, PCP and ecstasy. He was given a four-year deferred sentence.

Talisha Thacker, 30, was among several people arrested for a drug crime while serving a deferred sentence in a previous case. Thacker was charged with unauthorized use of a motor vehicle on Jan. 24, 2011, and while the charges were pending, she was charged with possession of a controlled drug, methamphetamine.

Thacker received a five-year deferred sentence on July 8. On Jan. 18, 2012, she was again charged with drug possession, Xanax. Records state she received drug treatment and was given a five-year suspended sentence.

Two Tulsa County charges filed on Jan. 24, 2011 involved defendants who were making methamphetamine.

Joshua Lee Lewis, 28, was charged with manufacturing methamphetamine after police found a meth lab in his backpack. He had three prior felony convictions for assault and battery on a police officer and had been convicted of domestic assault and battery. Lewis was sentenced to 18 years in prison.

Steven James Dillard, 32, was charged with manufacturing methamphetamine and had two prior felony convictions at the time he was charged. Police reported a one-pot lab in his car that was parked in a neighborhood. He was sentenced to 14 years in prison.

Oklahoma County

A bad headlight helped seal the fate of Vonik Tonianse, 26, who was pulled over by Edmond police on Jan. 8, 2011. A search of the car revealed a half pound of marijuana, Xanax bars, ecstasy tablets and related drug paraphernalia. Police also found a sawed-off shotgun with no serial number.

In August, Tonianse pleaded guilty in Oklahoma County to seven felonies, including possession of marijuana and ecstasy with intent to distribute and possession of a firearm and was sentenced to 12 years in prison. He was sentenced in conjunction with two other drug-related cases, court records show.

“It does not appear there were any significant factors, other than the defendant’s own substance abuse, that influenced his current criminal behavior,” according to a pre-sentence report.

Gary Pannell, 53, was charged with armed robbery. He confessed to robbing a grocery store after he was caught on surveillance video pointing a semi-automatic pistol at a clerk.

Pannell pleaded guilty in November and was sentenced to seven years in prison. In a letter to the judge, Pannell said his drug habit had overtaken his life and requested treatment for his habit instead of prison time.

Diane Campbell, 59, was charged with two counts of distribution of a controlled dangerous substance (Oxycontin, Lortab) and one count of conspiracy to distribute. Police observed Campbell, 59, selling pills to an informant.

On one occasion she was sitting in a lawn chair holding a child while doing business over the phone, a probable cause affidavit shows. Campbell pleaded guilty as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors and received 8-year deferred sentences on each count, according to court records.

Jerlean Brown, 51, was charged with possession of a controlled dangerous substance with intent to distribute after police recovered 460.7 grams of marijuana from a house she attempted to run from. Brown pleaded guilty and received a 10-year deferred sentence, despite a ’09 conviction for drug possession.

Deyonco Frederick, 35, is no stranger to law enforcement in Oklahoma County, where he has a prior felony conviction and three other felony cases pending, court records show.

All four cases are drug-related, including a cocaine trafficking charge filed Jan. 24, 2011. Frederick and two co-defendants were charged in connection with a drug buy by a confidential informant, police reported.

Frederick also was charged with possession with intent to distribute, possession of a firearm, possession of proceeds from the sale of drugs and possession of paraphernalia. He is awaiting trial.