Sheriff’s office deploys newest drug dog

CNJ staff photo: Sharna Johnson Sheriff Matt Murray (left) and Undersheriff Wesley Waller (right) watch as Aaron and Erica Romero search a cell at the jail Tuesday. They said Aaron will be searching the facility regularly for narcotics from now on.

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

As sheriff’s deputy Erica Romero pointed out vents, drains and bedding, Aaron excitedly cruised through the pod, his audible sniffing punctuating the scrambling of his claws on the concrete floor.

Detention officers and members of the sheriff’s department stood back watching as he went from cell to cell, sniffing everything in sight.

Aaron, the new drug dog at the Curry County Sheriff’s Office, was brought into the jail Tuesday afternoon for a search in the women’s pod.

It was the first time Aaron has been deployed since his certification was finalized last week, Romero said.

“He’s an outstanding narcotics search dog,” she said of the K9 she has been handling for the last three months.

Romero explained the dog didn’t do a full alert in the pod but smelled something in a cell, perhaps an odor of narcotics lingering on the belongings of someone newly arrived.

“I’m convinced there’s nothing in here, if there was he would have smelled it,” she said.

After Aaron cleared an area, detention officers wearing blue surgical gloves entered, turning over mattresses, sifting through clothing and thumbing through the papers of the women who occupy Pod 7.

“We’re going to do this on a regular basis,” Undersheriff Wesley Waller said, explaining Aaron will make frequent, surprise visits to the facility, checking pods, bathrooms, the lobby area and any other possible hiding places for narcotics.

Tuesday’s search didn’t turn up much as officers found a razor blade, a lighter, a permanent marker and a few other items.

“Nothing to cause huge concern but enough to cause disciplinary action to happen,” Assistant jail administrator Keith Bessette said.

As deputies exited the jail, a detention officer presented them with a baggy of marijuana turned over by a male inmate in a holding cell.

The searches are part of sweeping changes made since the Aug. 24 escape of eight inmates — two of whom remain at large.

Earlier in the day, county commissioners toured the facility following their regular meeting and saw first-hand the overhaul the facility has undergone since the escape.

Staffing has been increased with the addition of about eight new officers and training has been stepped up, Interim Administrator Audrey Barriga said.

Inside the facility, all but one pod has been painted and thorough maintenance has been performed throughout.

Officer stations designed to allow 360 degree visibility of the pods are fully staffed at all times and windows have been covered with one-way tint so they can’t see out.

Inside the pods, inmates sat quietly playing cards, talking or watching TV, seemingly oblivious to the fact they are being constantly watched.

Barriga said the 200-bed facility is running smoother.

“It’s (much) better,” she said.

County officials are still considering a contract with an architect to review the structural design of the building and a camera security system is expected to be installed in the near future.

Earlier this month, the county had received 13 applications for the position of administrator, which County Manager Lance Pyle said are being reviewed.