Jan. 31, 2021

Inmate Testimony, Drug Labs, and Drone Flights

Adam talks about transporting an inmate from federal custody to testify in state court, creating realistic clandestine drug lab scenes, and the realities of cops using drones for an aerial search.


Adam talks about transporting an inmate from federal custody to testify in state court, creating realistic clandestine drug lab scenes, and the realities of cops using drones for an aerial search.

This episode would not be possible without the support of the following Patreon Patrons:

 

Transcript
 

- This week on the Writer's Detective Bureau. Inmate testimony, drug labs, and drone flights. I'm Adam Richardson, and this is the Writer's Detective Bureau. Welcome to episode 105 of the Writer's Detective Bureau. The podcast is dedicated to helping authors and screenwriters write professional quality crime-related fiction. In this week I'm answering your questions about transporting an inmate from federal custody to testify in state court, creating realistic clandestine drug

 

labs scenes, and the realities of cops using drones for an aerial search. But first, I need to thank Gold Shield patron, Debra Dunbar from debradunbar.com, CC Jameson from cc.jameson.com, Larry Keeton, Vicki Tharp of vickitharp.com. Chrysann, Larry Darter, Natalie Barelli, Craig Kingsman of craigkingsman.com. Lynn Vitale, Marco Carocari of marcocarocari.com. Terry Swann, Rob Kerns of knightsfallpress.com. Chris A Moody of chrisamoody.com, and Mariah Stone of mariahstone.com for their support along

 

with my Silver Cufflink and Coffee Club patrons. You can find links to all of the patrons supporting this episode in the show notes which you can find at writersdetective.com/slash/105. To learn more about using Patreon to grow your author business or to support this podcast, check out writers detective.com/patreon, P-A-T-R-E-O-N. (upbeat music) And this week's first question comes from Gold Shield Patron, Rob Kerns. You can find Rob's work at

 

knightsfallpress.com and Rob writes, "Hello, sir, first, let me say I hope things in your corner of the world are calming down. Can a person in federal custody be subpoenaed for testimony in a state felony case? The mental image I have of the situation is that the person receiving the subpoena is in a federal detention center at the time of the subpoena and not technically a convicted felon as

 

of yet. If so, would it be a regular subpoena or would there be a special curly cues to it since the person is in federal custody? Will the US Marshals transport the person to the state courthouse for the testimony or would it be up to the local jurisdiction filing the subpoena to retrieve the person and return them? Many thanks and best wishes to you and yours." Thank you

 

very much, Rob. And yes, things are quieting down in this corner of the world and you've presented an excellent question. It would be up to the local agency to retrieve the witness for court and bring them back to federal custody afterward. I've personally done half of this equation, returning a witness to another state's prison after testimony in a local criminal case. My guy was a state prisoner so

 

not a federal prisoner in that case but I'm sure the process would be pretty similar. I'm not so sure, however, of the whole paperwork process in this scenario though. A typical witness subpoena in a state superior court criminal trial would be pretty standard, but I don't know if the US attorney or a federal court judge would also have to sign off on the temporary transfer to local custody,

 

especially because it could interfere with the federal courts appearance process. In a typical extradition situation a fugitive is arrested in another state for my arrest warrant. Let's say the local cops pull him over for a traffic stop and discover my felony arrest warrant for him out of California. He gets booked into the local jail and then awaits extradition. And then the fugitive usually has a right to a

 

hearing before being extradited out of state. He can either waive extradition, meaning he agrees to be extradited to the other state or he can challenge the extradition. If the latter happens, the original agency that obtained the arrest warrant will get what's called a Governor's Warrant. Essentially the governor of my state in this case, California sends a warrant to the governor of the state where the fugitive was arrested

 

and both governors sign off on extraditing the fugitive from one state to the other. Then when I go fly out to pick up the fugitive, I provide a copy of the Governor's Warrant to the jail where the fugitive is being held. That's how most of these things happen just in case you were curious. But in your scenario, Rob, the inmate is already in federal custody and he's only

 

a witness in the local case. And this situation that you've presented actually is a pretty common one when the inmate was an informant on a local case at some point, and then that case has finally come to trial. And since he isn't being charged at the local level, a Governor's Warrant wouldn't be used. And I guess one other way to play this, I suppose it would be possible

 

to have the federal inmate moved to the closest federal detention facility to where the local trial is being held. So let's say he's in custody at a federal facility in New York, but the US Marshals move him to a federal detention facility in Phoenix, Arizona. So the detectives from let's say, Tempe Arizona can just drive over to Phoenix, pick him up from the federal facility and do the

 

court appearance. Not sure how likely that is in reality because we're talking about who's on the hook to pay for all of this, but that might be a possibility as well. But having worked this on a local level with a state inmate in another state, it's definitely going to be on the local jurisdiction to pay for all of that transport. So I hope this helps. Thanks for the

 

question. (upbeat music) Our next question comes from Ken Shoemaker. Ken is a retired fire captain and now runs the Authors Fire Rescue Group on Facebook which is the Fire/Rescue equivalent of my Writer's Detective Facebook Group. Collectively, I guess you could call us guns and hoses. So if you're writing anything about fire department or EMS related stuff, be sure to check out the Authors Fire/Rescue Group on Facebook. This

 

is what Ken had to say. "Hi Adam, thank you for everything you do to help writers and authors. I also wanna thank you for your inspiration and pulling the trigger pun intended on starting our group. We're proud to have you in our firehouse." Well, thank you so much for having me. "We've been working with a couple of authors who are working meth labs in their works in progress.

 

What are some signs you would look for in a meth lab? What is your way as a firefighter rural fertilizer plants have had anhydrous ammonia tanks stolen? What smells or trash would you commonly link to a meth lab?" First of all, congrats Ken, on the quick growth of the Authors Fire/Rescue Facebook group. You provide a wealth of fire and rescue knowledge there. Oh, meth labs or clan labs

 

short for clandestine labs were really common throughout the 1990s. And we've seen a sharp decline of full blown, pardoned upon I'm returning the favor there. Full blown meth labs ever since pseudoephedrine became regulated. In case you weren't aware, the reason you need to show your ID when you buy your favorite allergy medicine is because of the severe methamphetamine problem we used to face. I mean, we're still facing

 

it, but I guess I should say it's the severe methamphetamine production problem we used to face. The very basic start of the meth manufacturing process was to take medications with pseudoephedrine and separate them from their binders which are basically the rest of the pill. There used to be what we called smurf crews that went from store to store to buy the allowed allotment of pills at a time.

 

Before they required your ID, the store would by law only sell you like two boxes of allergy pills at a time. So these crews would send two or three or four people into the store at a time to buy their daily allotment. But since IDs weren't being tracked, they'd go from one store to the next, and then from one town to the next. They were called smurf crews

 

because the street term for getting your pseudoephedrine in small amounts like that was called smurfing. Smurf to size amounts of pseudoephedrine. Now, though, when you provide your ID, it's tracked in a nationwide database. So if you go to target and get your Claritin-D with pseudoephedrine, you can't buy any more from any other stores for around another two weeks or so. So as a result of these regulations, most

 

of the meth production that we see in Southern California at least has moved to South of the border because Mexico and other Central and South American countries don't have the same controls we do domestically over pseudoephedrine. And they've established smuggling routes into the United States. So it's kind of a no brainer for those groups. Most of the meth labs that we see now are ones where the cook

 

is trying to "clean up" the meth, and I say clean up in quotes. So they start with some sort of methamphetamine like the yellowish powder that bikers used to call crank. And then they're trying to make it more of a clear and crystallized kind of like rock candy kind of look. And they sell that for a higher profit because it's perceived as being more pure. So to answer

 

your question, Ken, the old clan labs from the 90s often had precursor materials like Red phosphorus or Red P as we called it. And anhydrous ammonia which as you mentioned was often stolen from agricultural farms or Ag suppliers. Harking back to my college chemistry days, I vaguely recall that anhydrous chemical compounds were lacking a water molecule and that they reacted rather violently by clinging to any water molecule

 

they could find. Anhydrous ammonia, as you might guess, is a gas. And it was a known danger that opening a container in a meth lab if it had an hydrous ammonia in it, would lead to that ammonia seeking out the water molecules in your lungs causing permanent and often fatal damage to the person breathing it in. A former colleague of mine lost a lung and a half to

 

inhaling it during a SWAT raid on a meth lab where an anhydrous ammonia container was knocked over during the SWAT teams entry. He was lucky to live through that experience. Other chemicals we found that were pretty common were acetone and brake cleaner which are not so ironically the same chemicals meth users will use to wash checks. So allow me to go on a short tangent. Supporting a drug

 

habit means theft. And one of the common ways meth users will support their habit is by stealing checks from the mail. Let's say your electric bill is due next week. So you write a check, put it in the envelope supplied with your bill, attach a stamp, and then you put it in the mailbox at the end of your driveway and put up the helpful red flag to tell

 

the postal worker and any meth heads in the area that you have an outgoing envelope most likely with a check inside. So our aforementioned meth head rides his bicycle through your neighborhood at three o'clock in the morning and opens all the mailboxes with the flags up and steals your outgoing mail. So what's he going to do with the check made out to the electric company? He's going to

 

dunk your check in that acetone or brake fluid to get your ballpoint ink to lift from the paper. It will still have the printed ink on it like the lines with your name and address and your routing and account number, but the handwritten stuff like the name of the electric company and your signature will be magically washed away. So I have two suggestions for you to combat this.

 

First, don't use the red flag on your mailbox or your mailbox at all. Preferably just send it out via the actual post office. Go inside and put it in the slot. And second, use gel pens to write out any checks. Unlike regular ballpoint inks, gel pens don't lift from the paper when washed with acetone or brake fluid. Oh, and one more thing. If you have a shared mailbox

 

with like your apartment or condo complex where you have a drop slot where you drop it into a box with a decent size opening, those same meth heads will use the rat traps that are adhesive like a big giant sticky pad attached to a string to kind of go fishing. They pop it in there into the mailbox. It drops down, attaches to all of the envelopes that are

 

in the outgoing mail and then they fish it right back out through the hole. Again, if you're gonna mail your stuff, do it from inside the post office where it goes inside the building. Back to the question at hand. Meth production definitely stinks from strong chemical smells. And it creates a lot of toxic chemical waste. So meth labs are normally done in remote areas so as not to

 

be discovered by onlookers or on smellers in this case. Meth cooks are not environmentalist's either as they usually dump these chemicals right into the ground. So labs are often surrounded by dead vegetation and may even have discolored dirt or dead grass. A partner of mine recalled having his footprints catch fire just from the friction of walking across contaminated ground. Hopefully this is creating a mental image which you

 

can use to create a realistic meth lab setting. There are several different methods to making meth. So it was also common to find small batch meth cooks in cheap hotel rooms as well. So it doesn't have to be some big "Breaking Bad" kind of cooking setup, but with a lot of the meth production moving out of the country, we're seeing a much more common type of drug lab

 

these days, but they aren't producing meth. We call them BHO labs. And they're responsible for most of those residential explosions you hear about in the news these days. BHO stands for Butane Honey Oil which is a way of producing concentrated cannabis. These labs essentially take leftover bits of marijuana, pack them into PVC tubes, and then fill them with Butane. And what results is a honey-like substance. The problem

 

with this is that BHO makers tend to be pot smokers. And when they light up their weed in the same room as the pipes filled with Butane, there's a big boom and a fire. We usually find a stash of large Butane canisters in the house where the explosion and fire happened along with a pothead that's missing his eyebrows and arm hair. And he's often lucky if he survives.

 

If you wanna learn more about how the fire department responds to these kinds of explosions and fires, definitely join Ken's Authors and Fire Rescue Group on Facebook. (upbeat music) Mark McDonald asked this question in the Writer's Detective Q & A Facebook group. "Hello everyone, a few questions regarding my work in progress. A young girl has gone missing in rural Montana. She was last seen attending a Barn Party.

 

The sheriff's deputy wants to fly a drone over the farm. Some 10,000 acres in order to look for her. My questions are, is this the best or most likely initial approach? Will a warrant be required to look for if the owner of the farm is either unwilling or unavailable to provide consent, and would the Sheriff's Department have this sort of capacity or is it feasible to write them

 

relying on a private individual for drones, helicopter, boat support instead. Thanks in advance, doubtless more questions will follow as the story develops." Great questions Mark. For the Sheriff's Department to use a drone or a UAS, Unmanned Aerial System as the FAA defines them, they'd need to use a licensed UAS operator. In other words, a pilot that has a Part 107 Endorsement. Essentially an FAA licensed remote pilot in

 

command is the terminology. Anyone can buy a drone and anyone can fly a drone for a hobbyist purpose. Like flying a radio controlled airplane. But as soon as you're flying it for any commercial or governmental purpose, you need to have a Part 107 licensed operator for the drone. Part 107 refers to Title 14 of the US Code of Federal Regulations Part one zero seven or 107. If the

 

Sheriff's Department has a UAS program, then yes, they'd be able to fly the drone to look for the missing girl. 10,000 acres is a lot of area to cover with a drone though, especially if they're using an off the shelf drone like a DJI Mavic that has about a 20-minute battery life, it's far more likely that they would call for a police helicopter which might come from a

 

state police agency. For your story, Mark, I know that Montana Highway Patrol has two OH-58A helicopters which is the military version of a Bell Jet Ranger. And there's also an aviation operation that supports search and rescue missions called Two Bear Air which you can find at twobearair.org. That's T-W-O-B-E-A-R-A-I-R.org. As long as the helicopter or the UAS are operating within lawful airspace, they do not need a warrant currently.

 

Case law for helicopters when it comes to non-invading privacy is if the helicopter is 500 feet AGL, meaning above ground level, they do not need a warrant. As anything they see from where they are lawfully allowed to fly, is considered a plain view search. And it's the same altitude as any other helicopter. And you can Google plain view doctrine to learn more about plain view searches. It's another

 

thing if you're using a FLIR device, the Forward Looking Infrared which is a thermal graph to look at heat radiating out of a building, as you would likely need a warrant for that if you're specifically targeting that specific building to search for like evidence of an indoor weed grower or something, but that should not apply in the scenario you described. There have been bills introduced in the legislature

 

historically to require law enforcement to obtain a search warrant prior to using a UAS to search. But none of those to my knowledge have actually been signed into law. So as it stands now, they would not need a warrant to search with a drone and certainly not with a helicopter. So I hope this helps. Thank you so much for listening this week. This show is powered by your

 

questions. So send them to me by going to writersdetective.com/podcast. Thanks again for listening. Have a great week and write well.