Inhabiting the night: Appeal reporter follows Carson drug cops on their mission
March 18, 2012
• Nevada Appeal police reporter Nick Coltrain spent Friday evening riding along with the Carson City Sheriff’s Office. Here’s some of what he saw:
The frustration in the police SUV felt like it could ignite the air at any second.
Friday was supposed to be the night when Carson City sheriff’s deputies Dan Gomes and Charles Stetler, as members of the narcotics-focused Special Enforcement Team, busted a suspected drug dealer they called Red Sonia. They had been working with a criminal informant – whom Gomes didn’t hide his distrust of – and been led on a goose chase of places where the informant was supposed to buy drugs with a tracked $20 bill.
But at that moment, as Gomes raced their black SUV down the rain-soaked streets in the 11 o’clock hour, they knew the deal was blown. They knew a truck that they passed, a beat-up late-’80s Ford pickup with a red stripe, was the one with Sonia. And they knew she had spotted them.
“They ducked down, man. They knew it was us,” Stetler said.
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Earlier that night, as Gomes and Stetler waited for the deal to go down, they sat in the parking lot across from a small casino and bar that’s the team’s “fishing hole” – a hotbed of illegal drug activity and hangout for area ne’er-do-wells, they said.
They parked on the far side of the parking lot and in the shadows. Their black SUV is unmarked and without even the tell-tale spotlights above the side view mirrors. Nonetheless, it’s been “burned,” as the police parlance goes, as has every unmarked SET car.
“Every druggie in town knows these cars,” Gomes said, as his windshield wipers swept away the torrent that looked ready to flood the parking lot.
They were stopped because of a car known to them also, another beat-up old pickup, in the casino’s parking lot. And they waited, waited for anything to happen or for word of activity to come from inside. At one point a suspicious van drove by, causing Gomes and Stetler to duck down themselves as the headlights swept through the SUV’s cab.
Gomes remarked on the frustration of trying to pick between the van and the casino as the more worthy target – for all they knew, the van, with its California plates, was delivering product to the suspected dealer inside. They opted to watch the casino.
When the tip finally came, they moved. Gomes and Stetler marched in and aimed at two men: One sitting at a video keno machine and known to them, and one who started walking hurriedly away from the gambler when the deputies arrived.
Stetler took the second man, middle aged, and an admitted alcoholic. No way he’d be trying to buy meth, he said – his drug of choice comes from a corner liquor store. He told Stetler that he was merely offering the man a job. Minutes later, he said he was just offering to go gamble with the suspected dealer at another casino. As he stammered through his answers, Elton John played over the sound system.
Stetler sat him down and joined Gomes and the suspected dealer, who looked to be in his early 20s with a shaggy goatee, across the room. Gomes was trying to get the man to consent to a search, but kept meeting refusal. As they closed in with their questions, they stopped to listen to their earbuds. Word came across the radio that the deal with Red Sonia was closing in.
Stetler turned to leave, but Gomes hesitated – a conundrum identical to the van-vs.-casino played across his face. Stetler turned back to him.
“This is more important.”
Gomes followed him out.
They said that they knew the younger man had drugs on him. The conversation played out like it were between two excited anglers who needed to put down the mackerel rod, with a fish on the line, so they could reach for the baited-and-waiting marlin rod as a dorsal fin cut through the waves.
Gomes and Stetler sat in their SUV across from the one housing their supervisor, Sgt. Brian Humphrey. Word had just come from Humphrey, whose confidence in the informant seemed to never waver, that the deal still was going down, this time in a gas station parking lot. The frustration in the air evaporated, replaced by pre-action tension. Gomes pulled his car as close to the parking lot turn-in as he could without it being visible.
It was the about the fifth location the SET team had raced to or prepared to race to in hopes of the deal going down. As the informant kept pressing to set up the deal, the suspected dealer even asked via text message if he was bringing the drug cops with him.
They had already given the informant a registered $20 bill, and he and the police had planned signals for a variety of drug sale scenarios. But at that moment, they waited.
The radio burst to life and they struck.
Gomes and Stetler charged their SUV through the parking lot of the gas station, past the informant and toward Curry Street. Another officer, who worked the operation with them, had the suspected dealer, full name Sonia Cremeans, on the ground, gun raised, as a SET deputy cuffed her. Gomes set about searching her purse.
“How did you get my money?” he asked, holding out the $20 bill.
The thrill of the successful hunt colored the deputies as they moved about. When Cremeans allegedly told them she sold fake drugs to the informant – a gross misdemeanor instead of a felony -the non-SET officer laughed.
“I’ve been making controlled buys off of you for weeks!” he said.
Gomes ran the supposed fake drugs through a field-testing kit -the color changed enough to give them confidence to add a charge of selling methamphetamine.
She was booked into the Carson City Jail on three felony charges and held on $20,000 bail.
Then, a little after midnight, the SET team left. One went to book Cremeans in the Carson City Jail.
Humphrey left to investigate a suspicious car that had driven past the scene.
And Gomes and Stetler got back into their car and prepared to chase the next lead.