RADE awarded for EK prison gang drug investigation
A narcotics task force out of Grants Pass was honored for its work in a seven-month investigation into the Josephine County drug dealings of a white supremacist prison gang.
The Rogue Area Drug Enforcement team, better known as “RADE,” was awarded the Outstanding Local Impact Investigative Effort Award for its work last year in a racketeering investigation that involved months of round-the-clock wiretaps before culminating in the arrests of five individuals linked to the European Kindred prison gang — three of whom have since been convicted.
The September award from the DEA’s Oregon-Idaho High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program and the Narcotics Enforcement Association recognizes the police work in the multi-agency Southern Oregon investigation that ultimately took out more than 100 pounds of dried marijuana, more than 40 plants, methamphetamine and heroin, more than $35,000 in suspected drug money and more than 30 illegal firearms from the streets, according to police.
What kickstarted the investigation was a June 7, 2020 armed robbery for $9,000 involving suspects Eric William Robert Kelly, Kyle David Thier and Nathaniel David Anderson, according to Grants Pass police Det. Sgt. Doni Hamilton, who oversees the multi-agency RADE task force.
“We knew who they were and knew they were part of this EK gang,” Hamilton said.
Details about the robbery location and victims are sealed in Josephine County Circuit Court records because two suspects in the five-person ring are awaiting trial, but the narcotics task force found evidence that the prison gang was trafficking large quantities of meth in multiple states.
Hamilton described EK as “intimidators.”
“We knew they were kind of like an enterprise from the prison to the streets,” Hamilton said.
The task force applied for a Title III wiretap investigation with the Oregon Department of Justice for five phones linked to Kelly, Thier, Anderson and two other suspects identified as William Glen Eaves and Earl Leslie Wayland.
Starting in September, the task force, which has members from Oregon State Police, the Josephine County District Attorney’s office and Josephine County Community Corrections, monitored the suspects’ communications seven days a week.
“For about 14 to 18 hours a day we listened to phone calls,” Hamilton said.
He praised the work of OSP detectives Brent Sitowski and Dave Chambers assigned to RADE, saying they did most of the work in the wiretap investigation.
“I’m just a supervisor, I just oversee the operation,” Hamilton said. “Those guys were the true worker bees.”
A challenge with wiretap investigations, according to Hamilton, is that the officer needs to be on alert for criminal activity discussed that may put someone in danger.
“You try not to jeopardize the investigation, but if it saves lives and it’s extreme, you have to take action,” Hamilton said.
One of the suspects, Kelly, reportedly possessed a 9 mm pistol Sept. 26, 2020, which he “planned to use to murder multiple individuals,“ according to an affidavit filed by Sitowski in Josephine County Circuit Court in early November. Kelly has since pleaded guilty.
The following month, RADE obtained information about pounds of marijuana trafficked to a residence in Hugo, and a gun sale that allegedly occurred at the Iron Oar Bar in Merlin, according to an affidavit filed by Sitowski in another suspect’s case.
At least two search warrants were served last year in the case.
On Oct. 25, RADE seized approximately 70 pounds of marijuana at a property off of Gray Eagle Drive in Hugo.
On Nov. 6, RADE seized another 10 pounds of marijuana and multiple firearms at a property in the 1700 block of Hugo Road in Merlin.
With the help of other law enforcement, including the Medford Area Drug and Gang Enforcement team, the Oregon State Police Southwest Region Marijuana Team, federal agencies such as ATF and DEA, each of the five suspects were lodged in the Josephine County Jail by November.
Thier and Eaves are each scheduled to stand trial early next year on felony charges including racketeering, first- and second-degree robbery and first-degree theft on accusations that their alleged enterprise with the EK prison gang lasted between May 1 and Nov. 6 and that they each were involved in the June 7 robbery, according to a grand jury indictment.
Thier also faces felony counts of unlawfully delivering and possessing marijuana and five counts of felon in possession of a firearm, and Eaves faces methamphetamine delivery charges.
If convicted, Thier and Eaves could spend the rest of their life behind bars.
Kelly pleaded guilty to felony charges of racketeering, first-degree robbery and first-degree theft in the case, court records show, but the case is still open as he’s only been sentenced on the racketeering charge. Terms of his plea agreement are sealed in court records.
Suspects Anderson and Wayland have since pleaded guilty to felony charges under similar arrangements.
Hamilton also praised the work of Josephine County District Attorney Josh Eastman for following through on the in-depth investigation from start to finish, as well as for working with law enforcement and the Oregon Department of Justice to facilitate the wiretaps. He called Eastman “by far the best DA” in Hamilton’s 18 years in law enforcement.
“In all honesty, we can’t do a wiretap without the DA on board,” Hamilton said. “He serves this county with due diligence and in their best interest.”