officers casually lumber through the door of the Dare County Sheriff's
Department satellite office in Buxton, make their way singularly or in
twos to their vehicles and head off toward their assigned roles.
the Narcotics Task Force had assembled in Buxton to discuss the day's
operation. There's Capt. Kevin Duprey, Sgt. Buddy Ruth and Detective
Eddie Harper, all Task Force members. The group also includes Sgt. Dave
Oberbeck, of the Sheriff Department's Criminal Investigations Unit;
Jason Godfrey, the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) officer assigned
to Dare County, Paul Munson, another SBI agent; and Jack Scarborough of
the sheriff's office Patrol Unit.
reason for their gathering began several weeks prior with a call to the
sheriff's office from a narcotics officer in Ohio. He passed on
information about an Ohio couple who were reported to be in Dare
County, possibly Hatteras Island. And based on their past deeds, there
In fact, the couple had been under surveillance in Ohio for operating a "shake-and-bake" meth lab.
new method for "cooking" methamphetamine was invented to do away with
the clutter of typical meth labs. It can turn the back seat of a car or
a bathroom stall into a makeshift drug factory. Some addicts have even
made the drug while driving.
meth cook extracts ingredients from pseudoephedrine pills and, to
increase its strength, combines the substance with chemicals from such
sources as battery acid, drain cleaner, lantern fuel and antifreeze.
chemicals from the various ingredients are combined in the cooking
container, typically, a 32-ounce plastic Gatorade bottle, and shaken
vigorously for up to 20 minutes.
chemical reaction going on inside the cooking bottle causes an
extremely high amount of pressure to build up within the container.
Unless the bottle is carefully and periodically "burped," this method
can result in a flash fire and explosion. That's exactly what happened
to the couple from Ohio, destroying the trailer they were living in
several months before they showed up in Hatteras.
next step, the pseudoephedrine pills are crushed and dumped into a
coffee filter. The contents of the cooking bottle are slowly drained
through the coffee filter containing the crushed pills. What comes out
when it's dried is a crystal-like powder, methamphetamine. It can be
snorted like cocaine, smoked or taken intravenously.
residue found in the bottom of the bottle after a cook is a toxic brown
sludge. Often cooks toss the bottle out of a car or dump it into trash
or garbage. Across the country, dozens of police and media reports
describe bottles with this toxic sludge strewn along highways and rural
roads in states with some of the worst meth problems.
"This becomes both a criminal, as well as an environmental concern," explains Sgt. Ruth, who is leading the day's operation.
County has been fortunate. In 2013, for example. the county had two
meth lab busts, compared to 50 in Wilkes County in northwestern North
Carolina, and 46 is Onslow County in southeastern North Carolina,
according to a North Carolina Department of Justice report.
up on the information from Ohio police, the Dare County Drug Task Force
set up surveillance on the couple, as they drove a red pickup truck to
local pharmacies, buying pseudoephedrine, and back to their Dutchmen
Aspin Trail camper parked in a Hatteras campground.
did this for several weeks," Ruth says. "Based on their repeated
purchases of pseudoephedrine, we knew they were somehow involved in
making meth, either cooking it or selling the pseudoephedrine to
someone who was, an activity called ‘smurfing.’"
several weeks of surveillance, the task force decided to do a "knock
and talk," in which "we knock on their door, ask them questions and see
if we can determine exactly what they were up to," Ruth explains.
sitting around the conference table engaging in small talk, the group
begins focusing its attention on the coming operation. They assign
officers for surveillance, determine who is going to approach the
suspects or knock on the trailer, and who is performing back up.
discuss how they will interrogate the suspects, how to get them to
consent to searching the camping trailer. And if this fails, with no
Superior Court judge sitting in Dare County this day, they talk about
whether to sit on the premises and dispatch someone to the nearest town
where a judge is sitting to get a search warrant.
talk about approaching the camping trailer carefully, seeing if they
detect the telltale sign of an ongoing cook, and what their tactics
will be if it is. Ruth explains that, if a cook is in progress, the
team will have to back off, evacuate everyone within a half-mile radius
and send for a hazmat team from the SBI lab in Raleigh to secure the
trailer and any evidence.
discussion is thorough; the plan detailed down to the last step. When
Ruth feels that everything is in order, the task force members break up
and head off to their assigned positions.
a busy day for the task force. In addition to the knock and talk in
Hatteras, there is a controlled drug buy scheduled on the beach, one in
Currituck County, and an interdiction set up at the Dare County airport
Ruth parks his pickup truck southeast of the target area in front of a
green rental house set high off the ground on pilings. From his vantage
point, Ruth can see the trailer, parked about 20 feet back from a canal
that dissects the campground, and the red Dodge pickup truck. Capt.
Duprey and SBI Agent Munson park northwest across a canal from the
target. SBI Agent Godfrey and Deputy Harper are set to move in on the
trailer at any sign of movement.
The time is 10:10 a.m.
radio crackles with the news that the male suspect is mowing grass
between the campground office and Rte. 12. Ruth turns his truck around
and drives it to the main entrance of the campground. The suspect is on
a riding mower dressed in an orange tank top, shorts and a baseball
cap. Ruth stops his truck, jumps out and walks briskly toward the
suspect. He waves to the man, points to his sheriff's badge hanging
from a lanyard on his neck, and motions the man off the riding mower.
"Come with me. We gotta talk," he says.
man willingly walks with Ruth to the back of the sergeant's truck,
where they're joined by Harper. Arms folded across his chest, Harper
does most of the talking. The suspect, his right arm draped across the
truck's tailgate, visibly shakes as he answers the questions in short,
fast bursts betraying his nervousness.
man says he isn't cooking, that he was buying pseudoephedrine at local
pharmacies on the island and selling the boxes to a guy named Mike.
Harper persuades the man to give consent for a search. They walk him
over to the trailer and sit him down on a nearby picnic table.
Agent Godfrey and Harper open the door and begin their search. Godfrey
heads the examination because he's specially trained to handle the
dangers of a toxic meth lab. They soon carry out a 32-ounce
Gatorade bottle, a can of Coleman camp stove fuel, a bottle of drain
cleaner, bottle of lye, coffee filters and empty packs of Lithium
batteries and pseudoephedrine medication – allegedly precursors to a
shake-and-bake meth cook.
They also find a small amount of marijuana and pipes for smoking. Ruth uses his cell phone to photograph the evidence.
and Godfrey continue questioning the man. At one point, Godfrey waves
his hands, "I'm tired of you lyin'." The man again protests his
innocence. "Don't b------t me, man, this is what we got here. It's time
you start tellin' the truth."
the questioning goes on, Agent Munson and Capt. Duprey return with the
man's wife, who they found in the campground office. She's wearing a
blue shirt hanging loose around her waist, short beige shorts and flip
flops. Duprey brings her to the back of the red Dodge pickup, pulls out
a camp chair, unfolds it and places it on the ground. He invites the
woman to sit down.
questioning both suspects, police learn the husband and wife are both
ex-military, serving in the Navy, she for almost 14 years.
says the Gatorade bottle has suspected residue in it and that they're
calling for a mobile SBI lab unit— called the Clandestine Unit because
its technicians and analysts are used to analyze clandestine meth labs
— from Greenville to analyze the residue and secure the bottle, lye,
drain clearer and Coleman stove fuel.
collects the evidence taken from the trailer and a nearby trash can and
puts it into paper evidence bags. The two suspects, Joshua Eugene
Moreland, 33, of Summerville, S.C., and Messina Denise Moreland, 35, of
Fredericktown, Ohio, are handcuffed and put into a dark undercover
pickup truck. Harper readies to transport them to the Dare County
to Ruth, at this point the two are being charged with misdemeanors for
possession of methamphetamine precursors and illegally obtaining
the residue in the Gatorade bottle tests positive for methamphetamine,
we'll also charge them each with a felony count of manufacturing
methamphetamine," Ruth says.
in the afternoon, the team arrives back at the parking lot behind the
county Justice Center in Manteo. The mobile lab unit has arrived and a
technician is ready to test the Gatorade bottle. She shoves a
computerized instrument into the bottle, while Deputy Harper
photographs the procedure. The glass cylinder immediately turns purple.
It's positive. Members of the team high five.
says the couple will be charged with the felony. He'll write a court
order to seize the camping trailer, but, if the sheriff agrees, leave
them the red pickup truck.
way, when they're out on bail, they'll have the truck to get out of
Dare County," he says, "That's what we wanted from this whole
operation. Make a good case, and get these people out of here."
Both suspects were eventually released on bail. Sheriff’s deputies used
a court order to seize their camping trailer and, as far as deputies
are aware, both are gone from Dare County, according to Capt. Duprey.
No court date yet has been set for their trial.
is part of a series of articles being published by the Outer Banks
Sentinel that examine drug abuse and narcotics trafficking in Dare
County, the people committed to fighting and treating it, and those who
become its victims. The first part was published on Aug. 3, and the
series will run until Aug. 31.To read more in the series, go to http://www.obsentinel.com/drug_war/)