My First Drug Raid in Chimayo
I woke up at 3:00 a.m. in the morning to go to work and get the gear and dogs ready for my first drug raid on a house in Chimayo New Mexico where the intelligence reported indicated a huge fresh supply of heroin delivered and ready to be distributed by the drug dealer targeted. The task force was a three county police force that included the K9 unit of the Corrections Department and their drug sniffing dogs.
Taking the K9 truck home the day before the ride in was easy going as Interstate 25 north was empty and void of any commuters this time of the morning. Arriving at the kennels I was greeted by two other handlers and their noise making loud barking hounds as I pulled up to the parking space between the minimum unit and the maximum security unit in Santa Fe. The coffee was on in the breakroom and we discussed our role in the drug raid so we knew who would do what and where we would stage. We checked out our firearms from the lock boxes and headed for Chimayo.
The actual tactics and plans would be discussed by the task force coordinator Vigil in the police building at 6:00 a.m. as that was the staging area. Most of the cops participating were from Santa Fe County, Rio Arriba County and state police. We were there as the logistical element for the drug search when the doors were opened and the suspects were restrained. Not our first drug search, it was our first in Chimayo per their request to attend.
The drug culture in Chimayo had been growing leaps and bounds. The trade was so active it sent an alert to the world that if you wanted heroin, it was here being sold in the backyards of dealers willing to risk it all. Chimayo is a small town. It is an upland desert mountainous town in northern New Mexico. Other than the annual trek to the sanctuary [El Santuario] the town was mostly filled with Hispanic villagers who take pride in their low riders and other cultural demonstrations. It appears to be a spiritual center of the Rio Grande but it also has some early pagan history in the village.
Rio Arriba was fast becoming notorious for its heroin death caused by overdoses even in the early 1990’s. There were also the side effects of such dealing that caused the violence spill out in the streets and give it a bad name as a drug town. For the longest time, the law didn’t do anything about the drug culture in Chimayo thus it grew exponentially and became a plague to the villagers who did not engage in the drug trade.
The task force had an army of 150 officers or more. They were composed of local, state, DEA, FBI and other groups that raided homes of the drug dealers embedded in this mountainous mix of people who were Spanish, Mexican, Pueblo Indian as well as Lebanese, French, Greek and Anglo-Americans and held jobs as ranch hands, chili farmers, government workers and contract employees at the Los Alamos nuclear complex nearby.
Reading the news we heard about this drug world, the trafficking, the shootings, the finding of syringes on the riverbanks and the drug related crimes of house burglaries, throat cutting murders and the lack of a heavy police presence when you needed them the most.
Mixed among all these vile and violent was the prison culture as they were engaged in selling and introducing this “chiva” through means of smuggling it into the prisons. I remember staking (assigned to the state pen investigations unit) out a ceramic vendor on main street who was stuffing heroin inside ceramic made figurines sold to the prison in Santa Fe. We recovered large quantities of heroin from them and worked hard with the state police to shut them down.
Our arrival at the police station was unnoticed. The dogs were hyped up as they were making their usual pre-war howls from the mobile kennels. We parked in the shade as the vehicle had no air conditions but was well vented with several electrical fans. We entered the briefing room 15 minutes early and took our seats.
We glanced at the board as it had pictures of the house, the layout, the type of weapons anticipated to be engaged with if they resist, the location of their pit bulls in the compound and the likely areas where the drugs were kept. We were told the surveillance photos taken from the air by a police helicopter were up to day and identified the vehicles owned by the suspect and where they usually parked.
Intelligence gathered said there was a deal going down this morning and we are to break it up before the heroin was exchanged. The wisdom inside that room was overwhelming especially when it comes to dealing with the heroin trade and its impact on the communities that now opt to sell opium and the rural and urban communities and individuals who are affected by its consumption and abuse.
We were in awe of the 30 some officers dressed in their assault gear and weapons. Compared to us, they looked like military rather than cops. Our plain brown BDU outfits were bland compared to their black colored GI Joe outfits. Carrying revolvers instead of semi auto 9mm pistols also set up apart from them. Slung with black semi auto rifles and high capacity magazines they were armed for war.
The approach to the hacienda would be a 3 way assault – front back and side simultaneously and rapidly. The photos showed where we would position the vehicles blocking in those already parked there to avoid an escape by vehicle and we were placed in the back blocking the entry driveway. The parking lot was a dead giveaway of a bad day coming.
Anyone driving by the station would have seen a drug raid was about to happen but fortunately, they didn’t know which house we were going to hit. After the thorough briefing, the lieutenant in charge turned it over to the sergeant who gave the final assignments.
Each team had a role of containment, assault, searches and detainment. It was all well put together as the adrenalin rush was coming. The team was split and a secondary rendezvous areas were set up nearby the target. One was near a public park was set up and the other was near an elementary school.
Via the radio each unit responded for a check but then the radio went silent. No traffic allowed prior to the raid. Preset to raid at the top of the hours we all went in fast and furious with no warning to the occupants of the hacienda. Everything was done by hand signals and predetermined timing in the plan.
The first impression not covered in the briefing room was the grade of the property and view it gave of the area below the hacienda. It was set up like a lookout post would with an elevated view of the area surrounding it. Driving up the slope, we noticed there were only two vehicles parked there and neither belonged to the suspect we were looking for. It smelled bad from the beginning.
The house was elevated on a sandy slope that had two driveways entering and leaving the premises. The state police to the one to the north and the rest went into the property from the south. Once on the property they would flank the house and divide into three groups; front, back and side for support and cover. We were with the flanked group for cover as they rammed the door open with a custom made steel ramming bar that took the large oak door out like it was plywood. The entry was quick and hostile.
The entry made, we heard the screams, the yelling and the sounds of things breaking inside indicated struggles but no gunshots were heard. Less than a minute into the entry, we were told it was “all clear” and to bring the dogs in. One at a time, we entered the house and went to those designated areas to search. While the dogs were sniffing the general areas of the room and house, the officers were going through smaller hiding places and looking for the dope. It was chaos as time was of the essence and the need to find was urgent.
About a half an hour into the search, they came up with maybe a dozen bags of marijuana and other things like prescription drugs but no “chiva”. Something was wrong. Either they were tipped off or the intelligence gathering was flawed. The sergeant in charge was furious as he barked out orders to remove the carpet in the bedrooms. He was looking for a hidden compartment somewhere on this property and so far we were empty handed.
The dogs seemed uninterested but did alert on some places where the marijuana was found. So far, no heroin and the mood was somber. Dressers, tables, fixtures and even the refrigerator was turned upside down. It was becoming depressive and morale is nasty when the adrenalin rush is misused or abused with a no find situation.
Finally with a sigh of defeat the sergeant called off the raid and we left leaving those behind bagging and tagging evidence. There were three subjects sitting there on the floor handcuffed but none of them matched the photographs of those shown on the board inside the briefing room.
Looking for the white powdery substance was getting to be a bust. I could sense the raid was also a bust but the matter of record showed a confiscation of some automatic weapons, the green leafy substance and pills. Not much to show for a 35 man raid on a drug dealer’s house but that is how it went down that day in Chimayo. If this story of the community response to the drug epidemic in Chimayo is controversial, this is because of the entrenchment of drug epidemics in society making it a major concern for all cities and county police today.