An undercover drug bust doesn’t happen overnight: , the massive drug arrest and warrant sweep conducted by Napa County Sheriff’s drug agents on May 4, was five months in the making.
That Friday morning, Napa Special Investigation Bureau agents, along with Napa County Sheriff’s deputies, Napa police officers and the SWAT team, made an early-morning warrant sweep and arrested 17 people accused of being active street-level drug dealers, who were carted off to the county jail.
Two others who had been targeted in the investigation were already in custody, leading investigators to claim a total of 19 arrests for Operation Clean Sweep.
In this sweep, NSIB agents were not going after the bigger drug sources: It was their goal to arrest Napa's street level-dealers, many of whom are drug users selling dope to support their own habits.
Many of those arrested have felony criminal records for drug offenses, burglary, domestic violence, robbery and grand theft.
Undercover agent was wired
With the aid of an informant working undercover, drug agents were able to videotape and record drug transactions between the informant and the dealers.
Rather than make an arrest each time a buy went down, NSIB agents opted for the May 4 sweep.
NSIB Sgt. Oscar Ortiz, who headed Operation Clean Sweep, said even though the amount of drugs involved are not that much — about a gram of meth each sale — the street-level dealers pose a threat to the quality of life for Napa residents.
“These drug deals go down in broad daylight, in residential neighborhoods where kids are playing in their front yards, even in front of the jail and in stores where people are shopping with their kids,” Ortiz said.
“The dealers are very blatant when they sell their drugs. It could happen at your next door neighbor’s house or while you are shopping in a store,” he said.
“Operation Clean Sweep won’t totally eradicate the Napa drug problem, but it is a step in the right direction.”
Grand jury process yielded indictments
Napa County Deputy District Attorney Scott Young, the lead prosecutor in Operation Clean Sweep, said secret grand jury proceedings led to indictments against the drug dealers targeted in the investigation.
“We started the (undercover) operation in late November. It took time to get all the grand jury indictments in order,” Young said.
“The grand jury indictments take the place of a preliminary hearing, which is to decide is there is probable cause to file charges agains the suspects. It was more efficient for us to take the grand jury route because of the number of indictments,” he added.
“We were able to get many of the street-level drug dealers off the streets at one time,” he said.
Grand jury proceedings are secret, meaning the public and media are not allowed.
The 19 grand jury members hear testimony from the district attorney and make the decision whether to go forward with arrest indictments. Once they have made their decision, they are dismissed.
“A criminal grand jury is different than the more known county grand jury who investigate county government,” Young said.
DA's office will seek prison time
Despite the new realignment in the state prison system, which allows lower-level criminals with non-violent crimes to do their sentences in county jail instead of state prison, Young said, “We will be fighting for the appropriate punishment to fit the crime.
"Many of these suspects have prior criminal records and even have strikes against them," Young continued. "We want to get them off the streets and make Napa a safer place.”
The next step in the criminal process for the defendants to agree to either a jury trial or a plea bargain.