Investigating the drug trade can be life consuming, local law enforcement officials said. Many times that work goes unnoticed, except to those involved.
Two local law enforcement officials were recognized for investigating drug cases, which culminated with arrests and convictions of a large number of people.
Sgt. Keil Lasswell, with the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, and Sgt. J.W. Hawkins, with the Ottawa Police Department, were given an award for Investigation of the Year for the Midwest HIDTA (High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area) region from the U.S. Attorney’s office.
“This award recognizes the great work of our DEU (Drug Enforcement Unit),” Jeff Richards, Franklin County sheriff, said. “This investigation connected three large drug/crime organizations together and has led to many arrests. I am proud of the work they do each and every day. Our community is made a little safer because of the work they do.”
An Ottawa Police Department Facebook post stated, “Their roles in a joint investigation involving a multi-year, multi-target drug trafficking operation resulted in 50 indictments and cumulative federal prison sentences of 800 years.”
Dennis Butler, Ottawa police chief, said this type of work is hard and can be life consuming.
“Investigating large scale drug trafficking operations is tedious,” Butler said. “They are complicated and difficult to penetrate. It is critically important to have a team of investigators from several agencies who are willing to sacrifice so much of their personal lives to help address the negative impact of drugs on our communities. It is difficult to articulate what it means to me, our department, and to our citizens to have law enforcement officers willing to do this difficult work effectively. In this particular illegal drug investigation, we learned that people were being seriously hurt and targeted by criminals in order to accomplish their objectives. We truly are safer because the criminals responsible for a whole host of serious crimes are now in federal prison.”
Lasswell and Hawkins were assigned to the Franklin County DEU during this investigation, which lasted from 2012 to 2014.
“It was one of the more rewarding cases I have been able to be a part of,” Lasswell said. “It was a lot of hours. It was extremely interesting getting to learn about the drug trade. A lot of people don’t think Franklin County has a connection to the bigger organizations. It was really neat learning how that all worked out and tracking it back to original sources. It was a multi-year deal. The award was given under an umbrella of three different cases put together under one prosecution. We were involved in two of them.”
Lasswell said because of the nature of the work, the two became not only partners, but close friends through this experience.
“He and I pretty much became family,” he said. “We were together more than our actual families. We worked together a little bit on the tactical team before we were assigned to the drug unit. It really strengthened our bond working together daily and nightly. We are still pretty tight to this day even though we are not partners anymore.”
Sgt. Hawkins was not available for comment.
Lasswell said it was an eye-opening experience working to put all the pieces together.
“Linking 50 people together, putting a case on each one of them takes time,” he said. “It takes multi-years to do that. The sheriff was gracious enough to assign me to the drug enforcement unit at the time and that was my primary focus. It was my full-time assignment.”
Lasswell said they worked side-by-side with the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.
“They were absolutely phenomenal throughout the entire thing,” Lasswell said. “They took us under their wing and gave us jurisdiction. They allowed us to work right beside them in various jurisdictions across the state. We went to several counties and worked together. They provided some funding and expertise from the big cases they have worked. It was absolutely incredible.”
He said they also worked with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents.
“They were phenomenal to work with,” Lasswell said. “It was really nice to make those connections, build those relationships and be able to put that teamwork together from all agencies’ knowledge and information. Everybody listened to everybody. The bigger agencies, they don’t work around here, don’t have the information the local agencies have. We took their information and they took our information and it all worked out in the end. It was really nice.”