On Jan. 14 over 100 law enforcement officers were involved in an undercover drug bust in Siskiyou County  that resulted in 33 arrest warrants and eight search warrants being executed by the Siskiyou County-Wide Interagency Narcotic Task Force, led by the California Department of Justice Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement.
The operation included officers from the Yreka Police Department, Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Department, California Highway Patrol, Mount Shasta Police Department, the county probation department, and officers from Weed Police Department, among others.
Many suspects were arrested in the bust, including Katrina Howard, a member of the Mount Shasta City Council.
As large as the operation ended up being, Siskiyou County Sheriff Rick Riggins said it almost didn’t happen.
“We were a week away from this not happening,” said Riggins, who spoke about how large the undertaking was, involving a lot of things that have to come together at the right time. “This is a very labor intensive thing. It takes forever to find the right guy who can go undercover,” he said.
The operation was initiated a year ago when Sheriff Riggins got a call from Mount Shasta Police Chief Parish Cross because he had been getting calls from parents and students concerned about drug use at Mount Shasta High School. Chief Cross wanted to enroll an undercover officer in the school, so he called the sheriff because the sheriff has county-wide jurisdiction and has more resources than local police forces.
An undercover officer was seen as more desirable than an informant for the operation because, “Informants have credibility issues,” according to Jim Parker, senior special agent for the California Dept. Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement.
Finding the right candidate was not easy, Riggins said. Law enforcement agents combed schools in Northern California that offered Police Officers Standard Training (POST).
“We talked to a lot of people to find the right one for the job,” Riggins said.
“One of the problems is having an adult in a situation where he has to interact with juveniles,” Parker said.
After the lengthy search they finally had a list of four candidates including two women and two men. They finally settled on Earl Klapperich, who began his career working in the courts.
Another problem Riggins faced was sneaking him onto the county payroll without answering too many questions. “You bring someone on board but you still have to pay them,” Riggins said. One of the most essential parts of this or any undercover operation is keeping identification secret. A lot of people were working on the operation and even the deputies didn’t know he was in school.
“Once it leaks out the program is finished,” Riggins said.
The next thing that had to be done was to give him a paper past. Riggins said a governmental agency helped to put the false information in the transcripts. “We had to scurry around to get him some experience besides his formal schooling,” Parker said.
Klapperich was hired in July and entered Yreka High School in August. According to Riggins his first month as an undercover agent was a hard one. “He couldn’t go to stores; he had to be very very careful.”
That situation was eased, according to Parker, when they would talk to him about being part of a team. “He became part of the task force team and saw how the team worked together and then he fit right in as a task force agent.”
The economic reality of the situation was not overlooked by Riggins. “You’re taking someone off the street, so you’re losing a deputy you could be using on the street,” he said.
Parker said, “We wanted the dealers. We didn’t want to turn a good person into a drug dealer. The people we arrested were drug dealers before this.”
Over the following months Klapperich made multiple buys gathering intelligence to make a case. The task force wanted a case that would stick and slowly put the case together. “It’s like a jigsaw puzzle – you need all the pieces,” Riggins said.
Klapperich had to work to develop contacts because there wasn’t rampant drug dealing in the school hallways, Parker said. “The schools are not full of drug dealers or users we found out.”
But the operation did reveal to the task force that school teachers and administrators took the time and effort to keep kids on the right track.
Klapperich was doing well in his classes and the team began to think he was doing too well, so they had him back off so he came up on the radar of YHS vice principal Chris Harris. “Chris and I have been friends a long time and he had no idea Earl was undercover,”?Riggins said. “But he (Chris) was on his case to keep his school work up. That made me feel really good.”
In October 2008 Klapperich enrolled at Mount Shasta High School and was able to buy drugs with relative ease – but he was never a student in both schools at the same time.
Again the task force ran into the problem of budget constraints. “He’s buying dope and that gets expensive,” Parker said. The team kept it all going as long as they could but when it ended Riggins said, “… it wasn’t because we ran out of dope dealers.”
The arrests involved 100 officers all having to be at the right place at the right time. Then the task force had to concern itself with the possibility of stale evidence, which comes into play when a suspect could have been arrested on the spot for selling narcotics from their home, but was not arrested at that time because the local agencies are putting together a bigger case.
Parker said that judges want to see that it is an on-going investigation as far as evidence accumulation.
Now, Parker said, the real work begins. Evidence has to be collected and logged, a process that is continuing. Before it’s over Klapperich might have to testify in every case. “He’s going to be sending people to prison, so it has to all be done right. But his credibility is beyond reproach,” Parker said.