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Kentucky town's battles with methamphetamine ensnare its police chief

Associated Press Writer

SEBREE, Ky.- Like a watchful grandfather, police chief Bobby Sauls promised to protect this quiet community when the scourge of methamphetamine spread through rural western Kentucky.

The 65-year-old, gray-haired policeman and another officer in the department worked to seize clandestine meth labs and comfort the town's 1,700 citizens. The mayor lauded them for their efforts.

So when Sauls was indicted by state police on two meth-related charges in early April, the news came as a shock to this quiet town 30 miles south of Evansville, Ind.

"It's the talk of the town, everywhere you go," said 77-year-old Betty Catlett, who works at The Sebree Banner, the weekly newspaper her family owns. "Some folks just think it can't be true, and others do. I guess it's divided us."

Sauls has pleaded not guilty to criminal conspiracy to tamper with anhydrous ammonia equipment to manufacture methamphetamine and criminal conspiracy to possess anhydrous ammonia in unapproved containers to make meth.

Anhydrous ammonia, a common fertilizer, is a key ingredient in making the drug, which comes as a powder or a pill and can be smoked, inhaled, swallowed or injected.

State Police have not discussed specifics of their investigation. The brief indictment says the crimes were committed in 2003 and left open the possibility Sauls may have acted with another person.

"It'll all come out one of these days, and it'll be a little different than you all think," said Sauls, a former county sheriff who grew up in Sebree.

Sauls remains free on his own recognizance while awaiting trial but has been suspended without pay. One officer now covers all of the town's shifts and the county sheriff's department assists when needed.

It's been a decade since the meth problem slowly crept across the nation, leaving a trail of addiction. In Kentucky, police began discovering clandestine meth lab operations by the dozens in the mid-1990s.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy releases an annual report on areas most intensely affected by illegal drugs. The 2004 Appalachia report lists Warren County, about 70 miles south of Sebree, as an area where accessibility to meth has risen dramatically.

Mayor Jerry Hobgood, who previously praised Sauls' crime-fighting efforts, did not return recent calls seeking comment. He said in April that he does not believe the charges against Sauls are true.

In Sebree, where dozens gather at The Purple Opry on Saturdays to listen to bluegrass music, many know the chief as a respectable member of the community who attends the General Baptist Church.

Jim Bell, who owns Bell's Drug Store, said he's known Sauls most of his life and finds the charges against him unbelievable.

"They're going to have to come up with some better-than-average proof," Bell said. "This guy has a modest lifestyle."

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