You Do the Meth

Police raids bust up drug labs. But they also bust up families.

A few days later, at a North Metro Task Force meeting, Lopez told Moriarty, his commander, about a drug case he'd been tracking that involved a mom and dad and three kids. He said that the parents were getting clean, that the system was working on their behalf. But now the mom was going to prison, and he didn't understand why. He wanted to know if he could testify for them.

Moriarty was amazed. "At a meeting where the common thing to do was to talk about how many years you got a person sentenced to, this detective was asking if he could testify on behalf of a family," she remembers. "His piece in the system is usually prosecution and putting someone in jail, and I was watching his thought process go to where he saw these people had potential for recovery. That's social change. That's the beginning of it right there."

Moriarty told Lopez to do whatever he could do. A few weeks later, he testified at Vince's sentencing hearing. Even though Vince was already on probation, even though Lopez had caught him dealing drugs, the detective asked 17th Judicial District Court Judge Kathy Delgado not to lock the father of three away. Delgado understood, sentencing Vince to four years of intensive supervised probation.

Police commander Lori Moriarty is now leading a nationwide effort to help drug-endangered children.
Anthony Camera
Police commander Lori Moriarty is now leading a nationwide effort to help drug-endangered children.
On drug raids, Colorado law-enforcement agencies found not just dangerous chemicals, but children who'd been living in the labs.
On drug raids, Colorado law-enforcement agencies found not just dangerous chemicals, but children who'd been living in the labs.


To see a slide show related to this story, click here.
For video of a North Metro Task Force raid click here.

"Detective Lopez is usually in my court testifying about meth labs and getting warrants for people who are doing bad things related to meth," Delgado said to Vince. "You need to be there for your children, and that's one of the main reasons that I'm doing this, because your children have been through a lot already.... They deserve to have a parent, and you've demonstrated that you can be a good parent as long as you stay on the right track." Then Lopez went in front of Judge Moss, asking him to reconsider Miranda's sentence. Moss did — dropping her DOC sentence from four years to two.

For Miranda, that still meant up to 24 months at Pueblo Minimum Center prison. For someone who'd never spent any significant time in jail, everything was new: the little tubes of toothpaste and shampoo she got when she arrived; the long days she filled by picking up trash in fields on work crews and scrubbing bathrooms at night; the hours she spent waiting impatiently for letters and once-a-week visits from her family. She thought she caught a break when, seven months into her sentence, she was approved for community corrections, but the Denver halfway house to which she was sent proved to be even more challenging. She worked seventy hours a week at two fast-food restaurants to pay for her halfway-house rent, restitution charges and the drug classes she was required to take — even though she'd already completed every drug treatment available.

The fact that Miranda was already clean made the process even more confusing and frustrating. "We were rebuilding a family after a drug addiction, and everyone was trying to pick up the pieces, and they took me away from my family all over again," she says. In prison and in the halfway house, she saw many recovering addicts succumb to the odds and fall back on drugs — but she never did. "I didn't give up, because I knew that was what put me in this place to begin with," she says. "I had come way too far for that. There was no way I was going to hurt my children again or tear our family apart any more than it had already been. I went to DOC with my head on my shoulders. I used that time to make me stronger. I knew that when I came home, because of what I had been through, there was nothing I couldn't do without drugs."

The North Metro Task Force gathers around coffee and doughnuts in a basement meeting room in the Thornton police station. Lopez is here, scruffy as ever. The detectives talk about recent cases, like the marijuana bust last week that netted more than a million dollars' worth of pot. Then a special guest stands up: Lori Moriarty, until recently the task force's commander. She has some questions.

"What does reduced recidivism among drug users mean to undercover drug agents?" she asks the room.

The response is unanimous: "Leave them in jail."

Moriarty nods. "What about the next generation?" she asks. "How many of you have arrested someone and noticed their children and thought, we'll be arresting you in five, ten years?"

Everyone nods.

"Raise your hand if you think we have found in the past year all the kids involved at drug arrests," she continues.

No hands go up. "How about 50 percent?" she suggests. Still no hands.

"How many think we identified 10 percent of the kids?" A few detectives nod. "Maybe less," one offers.

The answers aren't surprising. "Social change takes a while," Moriarty says. More than five years after she first discovered a kid in a meth lab, the North Metro Task Force still has a long way to go. Even now, there's no guarantee that drug cops will call social-service workers or other DEC first responders for drug busts involving children; staff turnover and limited resources strain inter-agency relations. Many police officers don't know — or don't bother to find out — how to connect the children and families they find on raids with meaningful treatment and other programs that might actually turn their situations around.

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