Olympic Peninsula Narcotics Enforcement Team has seized $58,671 in drugs this year

PORT ANGELES — The Olympic Peninsula Narcotics Enforcement Team has seized 406 grams of heroin, 194 grams of methamphetamine, and 343 opioid pills and suboxone strips so far this year, OPNET Detective Tom Kuch said.

“All these drugs that we’ve seized have a street value of $58,671,” Kuch told the Port Angeles City Council on Tuesday.

Kuch, a Port Angeles police sergeant, and fellow OPNET Detective Mike Grall of the State Patrol highlighted for the council the accomplishments of the multi-agency task force that works to fight drug crimes on the North Olympic Peninsula.

The agency, which is composed of single detectives from the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office, Port Angeles and Sequim police departments, State Patrol, U.S. Border Patrol and U.S. Department of Homeland Security Investigations, targets mid- and upper-level drug trafficking offenses.

“Narcotics-related crime touches all other crime for the most part that occurs in some way, shape or form, either directly or indirectly,” Grall said.

OPNET detectives had made or assisted in 49 arrests in 2018, not all of which were drug possession or delivery cases.

“I want to point out and help you understand that we’re more than just a drug unit,” Kuch said.

OPNET has responded this year to assaults, vehicle prowls, thefts, burglaries, bomb threats and other crimes while investigating drug sales, Kuch said.

“At any time, our task force is fully deployed to assist all of the agencies on the peninsula at any time that they need us because of our special skill set,” Grall said.

“We are a force multiplier.”

In March, OPNET assisted in the Net Nanny sting in Jefferson County, which led to the arrest of 10 men accused of soliciting sex with minors.

“Net Nanny was a sting set up by the Washington State Patrol and Jefferson County [Sheriff’s Office] in which pedophiles would try and make arrangements to hook up with juveniles,” Kuch said.

“We helped with surveillance on that case and tailing them around until they went to the house where it was supposed to happen. In that case, we helped out with nine different arrests.”

The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office was a member of OPNET until February 2015.

Task force Commander Brian King, Clallam County Sheriff’s Office chief criminal deputy, said the OPNET policy board will endeavor to bring Jefferson County back into the fold in 2019.

“They’re an important partner moving into the future, and we certainly want them to be a part of our efforts,” King said in a Friday interview.

Drug trafficking

Notable cases for OPNET this year include the May 23 arrest of Nicolas “Nico” Orozco-Cruz, the alleged head of a local drug trafficking organization.

Orozco-Cruz is awaiting trial in federal court. OPNET worked with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to investigate Orozco-Cruz and his associates.

“He was a dealer for a long time, 20 years in our community dealing heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, most recently heroin,” Kuch said.

In September, OPNET partnered with the state Department of Corrections and other agencies to arrest Arturo A. Ramirez and Jose L. Orozco in their plot to smuggle 60 grams of methamphetamine into the Clallam Bay Correction Center in a prison worker’s lunch.

Ramirez and Orozco were arrested in a Sept. 12 sting operation on Ediz Hook that involved the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Air and Marine Operations.

“When the bust went down, I think we had 30 to 35 agents working it,” Kuch said.

Ramirez was sentenced to six years in prison on a drug delivery charge. Orozco was sentenced to drug treatment and community custody on a drug possession charge.

OPNET, which is headquartered at the Border Patrol station in east Port Angeles, works closely with the Coast Guard, National Park Service, U.S. Park Rangers, Lower Elwha Police, state Department of Corrections, DEA, FBI and detectives or agents from other drug task forces, Port Angeles Chief of Police Brian Smith said in a memo to the council.

“In the state of Washington, there are 20-some of these types of task forces,” Grall told the City Council.

OPNET has been funded by its member agencies, court fees, asset seizures and a U.S. Department of Justice grant.

The federal Byrne-JAG grant, which is administered by the state Department of Commerce, was not delivered to local drug task forces this year due to litigation over the federal government’s crackdown on “sanctuary cities” that shelter undocumented immigrants.

“There were objectionable requirements to the grant at the state level that tied up the grant being dispersed to the various task force agencies around the state,” King said.

The Clallam County Sheriff’s Office, OPNET’s host agency, has yet to receive the $125,000 Byrne-JAG grant it was awarded in 2017.

“There’s been a lot of changes to the structure of the budget in the last couple years,” King said in a telephone interview.

Smith told the City Council that funding for OPNET is “definitely a challenge.”

“We’ve been engaging with our congressional members, [U.S. Sen. Maria] Cantwell specifically, Sen. Cantwell and her staff,” Smith said. Cantwell is a Democrat from Mountlake Terrace.

“It’s a long story on how the federal funding is no longer available to us, but we have the Washington Association of Sheriff’s and [Police] Chiefs working with the governor and the legislature on restoring that funding.”

Cherie Kidd urged her fellow City Council members to sign a letter to state and federal lawmakers to restore the Byrne-JAG funding for OPNET.

“I’m so grateful for OPNET,” Kidd said.

“Without it, we’d be overrun with drug dealers.”

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected].

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