Pubdate: Sat, 04 Dec 2004
Source: Lexington Herald-Leader (KY)
Copyright: 2004 Lexington Herald-Leader
Author: Bill Estep, South-Central Kentucky Bureau


Drug Task Force's Authority Is Upheld

In the first ruling in state court on challenges to the authority of
Operation UNITE, a judge yesterday ruled the federally funded drug
task force had complied with the law and could make arrests in Owsley
County. Defense attorneys had argued that UNITE had not properly filed
agreements with county governments in its area before officers started
investigations, meaning they had no authority to make the arrests.
That challenge, along with similar ones pending in Jackson and
Breathitt counties, had raised the potential for a number of drug
cases or charges to be dismissed in the 29 counties UNITE covers in
Eastern and south-central Kentucky. However, special Circuit Judge
Lewis G. Paisley ruled yesterday that UNITE's officers had
jurisdiction to make arrests in Owsley County because the fiscal court
had approved agreements with the task force in 2003, before agents
began investigating cases, according to Tom Jensen, UNITE's attorney.
The issue in Owsley County, as in the others, was the interlocal
agreement between UNITE and the county.

The detectives who conduct undercover drug investigations for UNITE
are employees of local police and sheriff's departments who work in
one of three regional task forces under an agreement between UNITE and
local governments. The agreement is designed to allow officers from
one county to work cases in other counties throughout the region. The
agreement says it is to becomes effective only after several steps
have been completed, including filing a certified copy with the
Kentucky secretary of state and the county clerk. However, Jensen said
Paisley ruled that the law was intended to give direction, without
requiring strict compliance. The fiscal court's vote to approve the
deal with UNITE was sufficient to comply with the law and give
officers jurisdiction as of that time, not when the document was filed
in the clerk's office, Jensen said. The ruling applies only in Owsley
County. Attorneys who have raised challenges to UNITE's authority were
not available for comment late yesterday. U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, R-5th
District, who created UNITE to tackle the drug problem in his
district, said in a news release that he was pleased with the ruling.
"Illegal drug use has reached epidemic proportions in Southern and
Eastern Kentucky, and UNITE will continue its fight to combat this
problem through an integrated, comprehensive campaign of
investigation, treatment and education," Rogers said.
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