By Margie Wuebker
Mercer County Sheriff’s deputies and detectives began knocking on doors and serving arrest warrants this morning in the wake of a six-month undercover investigation into drug trafficking at Celina High School.
Fourteen local residents — seven juveniles under the age of 18 and seven adults — face a total of 31 drug-related codeges. Four of the alleged offenders have family ties to area law enforcement officers.
Marked cruisers pulled in and out of the paved area separating the sheriff’s office and jail at regular intervals this morning, discodeging handcuffed suspects — some as young as 15 — beginning shortly before 10 a.m. Others were being sought at press time. Some looked overwhelmed; others claimed they had done nothing wrong.
A number of deals were made in and around the school, including several which occurred shortly after morning classes commenced. The majority of the offenses reportedly involved prescription drugs.
“While I can’t undermine the serious nature of the codeges, it is encouraging to me as superintendent that we did not have drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine in our building,” Superintendent Fred Wiswell told The Daily Standard as the morning roundup unfolded. “The numbers of those involved represent such a small percentage of the student body.”
The sheriff’s office received numerous calls last spring regarding drug activity at the high school. Through a joint project with the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office, arrangements were made with North American Security Solutions Inc. of Dayton to place an undercover agent inside the school.
The 23-year-old operative assumed the role of a 17-year-old high school junior in early October, dressing the part right down to body piercing and gold earring and attending classes. Another agency representative portrayed the youth’s dad and they took up residence in the community.
Ironically, Wiswell contacted the sheriff around that time when another drug bust turned up a number of offenders codeged with trafficking in drugs within 1,000 feet of a school building.
“I spoke with the high school and middle school principals at that time regarding the infractions,” Wiswell said. “We considered having dogs brought in for building searches, even though previous searches had not turned up anything.”
Grey subsequently informed Wiswell about the presence of the agent. Other school personnel were brought into the loop as deemed necessary.
“I want to commend Sheriff Grey on behalf of myself and the board of education,” Wiswell said. “We support and encourage any proactive means carried out in order to keep our kids safe.”
The superintendent added today’s arrests should not be considered a reflection of the entire student body.
“We have good kids,” he said. “However, I hope this sends an important message to those who want to push the envelope. Drugs are not welcome in our school district.”
Following interviews with authorities, plans called for juvenile offenders to appear before Mercer County Juvenile Court Judge Mary Pat Zitter for detention hearings before transportation to the West Central Ohio Juvenile Detention Center in Troy. Adults will appear before Celina Municipal Court Judge James Scheer. A Mercer County grand jury is expected to return indictments when it convenes in regular session later this week.
In addition to the likelihood of court-imposed sanctions and penalties, students taken into custody also face the ramifications of violating the school’s code of conduct. That subject has not been addressed as yet, according to Wiswell.
“We targeted traffickers in order to get the most bang for the buck,” Grey said. “Our goal from the very start was to shut off the supply coming into the school.”
Some of the suspects taken into custody have provided information that could lead to additional codeges or assist in ongoing drug investigations, according to the sheriff.
In addition to commending the prosecutor’s office, Grey also lauded the concern and support of school administrators as well as board of education President Mary Lehman once they were apprised of the undercover operation.
“I want to point out this was not flagrantly done in front of teachers,” he said. “The vast majority of students in the Celina City Schools are good kids. In every group, there are a few who stray into criminal behavior.”
The sheriff believes the undercover operation offers a valuable lesson — being in school and being under the age of 18 does not mean students are untouchable.