Sheriff sorry for meth loss
Teton County Sheriff Jim Whalen said Friday he’s “incensed” a deputy lost nearly an ounce of methamphetamine used for training police dogs and has opened an internal investigation into the matter.
One of Whalen’s two canine deputies lost a black box containing the drugs after a training exercise Oct. 27 alongside Highway 22, officials said, and news of the loss made national headlines this week. The deputy apparently left the box, which bears white letters that say “METH,” on his bumper and drove away, officials said.
“This should never have happened, and I’m in incensed that it did,” Whalen said. “I apologize to the community, because we’re supposed to help ensure the safety of this community and we did the opposite.”
Whalen took a tougher stance on disciplining the deputy Friday than he did earlier in the week, saying he’d been under the impression the deputy had reported the loss immediately after he realized the drugs were missing. In fact, the deputy realized Monday night that he’d lost the meth but didn’t report it to his superior officer, Sgt. Lloyd Funk, until Tuesday, Whalen said.
Funk notified Whalen of the loss Wednesday.
“There will be consequences,” Whalen said. “What those consequences are, I don’t know, but there will be consequences.”
Whalen said he hadn’t asked Funk why Funk didn’t immediately notify him of the situation.
“He was probably thinking, ‘I’m supervisor, I’ll handle it,’ ” Whalen said.
The sheriff was more concerned about the canine deputy’s failure to report the loss, he said.
“[The deputy] should have said something Monday night,” Whalen said.
Whalen declined to name the deputy because the matter is a personnel issue.
As soon as Whalen found out the meth was missing, he ordered a sweep of the area where the deputy last saw the box. The meth wasn’t found but the search stirred interest among passing motorists, who slowed to see what nearly a dozen officers were looking for on both sides of Highway 22 between Spring Gulch Road and Skyline Ranch.
The meth is used to train drug dogs and was given to the Teton County Sheriff’s Office by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. DEA officials learned of the situation from media reports this week and advised the sheriff’s office it would have to report the loss, Whalen said.
The internal investigation could take several weeks because the canine deputy who lost the meth left the valley on a planned vacation and cannot be interviewed until he returns, Whalen said.
In the meantime, Whalen has suspended all training with drugs until new policies are in place to prevent the situation from happening again. Deputies will now have to check out drugs used for training with their sergeants, he said.
Whalen said Wednesday that a person caught with the amount of meth lost — about 28 grams — could face a felony charge, but he wasn’t sure why so much was being used to train a dog.
He said Friday that canine deputies change the amount of drugs they use during training so the dog doesn’t get used to one odor level. Sometimes deputies only use a gram of a particular substance, while other times they use much more.
“It’s too bad that on this night it was the ounce and not the gram,” he said.
By Sarah A. Reese, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
November 6, 2010