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High school drug sting snares 32 in Siskiyou County

A four-month undercover investigation into drug sales at two Siskiyou County high schools culminated Wednesday in the arrest of 32 people, including a Mount Shasta City Council member.

More than 100 officers from agencies across Northern California participated in simultaneous raids beginning at 8 a.m. Wednesday. They made arrests, seized guns, marijuana, psilocybin mushrooms, methamphetamine and prescription drugs, and took two children into protective custody, said James Parker, senior special agent in charge at the California Department of Justice's bureau of narcotic enforcement office in Redding.

"We want kids to go to school without being pressured to buy or sell drugs or even be around them," Parker said as he described the operation coordinated by the Siskiyou Countywide Interagency Narcotic Task Force.

Among those arrested was Katrina Howard, 40, a Mount Shasta city councilwoman appointed in November. Parker said 34 pounds of marijuana were seized from her home, along with firearms. The drug task force has done undercover work in schools in the past, but hadn't for several years, Parker said.

"It's tough to get going, to find the right person and get all the paperwork lined up," Parker said.

The operation, requested by Yreka Police Chief Brian Bowles and Mount Shasta Police Chief Parish Cross, was in part a response to concerns raised by parents, students and school administrators who wanted police to focus on drug activities at and around schools, officials said.

Cross said the small department he has headed for four years often doesn't have the resources for long-term undercover investigations, so they jumped at the chance to use a tool often only available in larger communities. Planning began in April for the investigation, which targeted dealers around schools and adults selling to teens anywhere.

Parker said a 23-year-old Siskiyou County sheriff's deputy — fresh from the police academy — provided the right combination of youthful looks and mature decision-making skills.

"He had no street experience, but he was well-versed beyond his age," Parker said of the deputy, whose name wasn't released. "He did a great job."

With a carefully vetted backstory and fresh high school transcripts and other documents, the deputy enrolled in Yreka High School in August. He attended classes, hung out with students at lunch and went to games and other after-school activities for two months, Parker said.

During that time, the undercover officer made arrangements before, during and after school to buy drugs, mostly marijuana, from students. Most of the purchases were made at after-school functions and within 500 feet of the school, Parker said.

The investigation revealed that adults also congregated around the high school at lunchtime and during events after school. The undercover officer bought marijuana from four adults there. Still posing as a student, he contacted seven other adults in Yreka to buy marijuana, hashish and ecstasy.

In all, the Yreka portion of the investigation resulted in 24 arrest warrants being issued for a variety of drug offenses. On Wednesday, nine adults and 10 teens were arrested on drug charges — some on warrants and some on new charges based on evidence found during the raids. Police still are looking for five people wanted on warrants, Parker said.

In October, the deputy was transferred to Mount Shasta High School, where he again spent two months as a student. He again bought marijuana at the school from students and also bought marijuana, ecstasy and psilocybin mushrooms from teens and adults in the community. Nine warrants were issued, and, on Wednesday, seven adults and six teens were arrested.

Howard, the city councilwoman, was charged with drug sales and weapons violations and lodged in the Siskiyou County Jail.

"We are disappointed and somewhat shocked," Mount Shasta City Manager Kevin Plett said.

He described Howard's arrest as a legal and personal matter for her. He said the five-member council, which has no authority or mechanism for removing members, would continue business as usual. Howard could resign or face a recall, but she remains on the council and eligible to serve at meetings.

Plett said Howard was the only candidate who filed for a vacant post in November, so the council exercised a money-saving option of appointing her instead of holding an election. She previously served on the Mount Shasta Chamber of Commerce board of directors, he said.

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4485, or e-mail aburke@mailtribune.com.