Detectives say without field tests for synthetic drugs, cases take time

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by NATALIE SWABY / KING 5 News

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KING5.com

Posted on July 27, 2012 at 11:51 PM

MAPLE VALLEY, Wash. -- King County Sheriff's detectives in Maple Valley confiscated synthetic drugs in a recent raid of a tobacco store.  However, in order to make an arrest, they dealt with an extra hurdle.

Detectives said they seized synthetic drugs and illegal weapons.  The investigation took awhile, partly because detectives do not have field tests to verify synthetic drugs.  They had to rely on the state crime lab for results.
 
Detective Tony Mullinax said community tips, including from a local high school, led them to a tobacco store in Maple Valley.  Earlier this month, they seized a pound and a half of Spice, a synthetic marijuana. They also took a small amount of bath salts, and illegal weapons, like nun-chucks, electrified metal knuckles, and butterfly knives, according to the detective.
 
Detective Mullinax is used to working undercover stings with drug dealers.
 
"Normally, we can field test illegal drugs within minutes of buying them, and know if we bought bona fide illegal drugs or something that looks like an illegal drug," said the detective.
 
However, synthetic drugs became illegal late last year, and detectives in Maple Valley do not have field tests yet. Det. Mullinax said while new field tests are being created, they do not have one approved for use in Washington state.  As a result, detectives had to send what they recently found to a busy place, the state crime lab.
 
"It took a number of months to get the results, so it wasn't something we could make an immediate arrest on," said Chief Michelle Bennett, Maple Valley-KCSO.
 
After an eight month investigation, the owner of the tobacco store was arrested. He is out of jail now, and the case continues to move through the courts.
 
The new obstacles law enforcement face are apart of an old fight, one where detectives try to keep something they call dangerous off the streets.
 
"Now we are dealing with it being sold out of a display case in an apparently legitimate business," said Det. Mullinax. "It's the system we have to work right now."

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