How an off-duty deputy's poolside joke turned into an undercover drug sting
Sarcasm can be a tricky thing. Just ask Andrew James Harris, who discovered the joke was on him when he ended up the subject of an undercover drug sting
By Kristina Davis
The San Diego Union-Tribune
SAN DIEGO — Sarcasm can be a tricky thing. Just ask Andrew James Harris, who, according to court records, discovered the joke was on him when he ended up the subject of an undercover drug sting.
It all started at the Courtyard by Marriott hotel in Mission Valley on March 26, where Harris got into a friendly conversation with a woman and two men relaxing in the hot tub. He asked the reason for their stay, and one of them jokingly responded: Their crack lab had blown up.
But the wisecrack was lost on Harris. He excitedly disclosed he was in the drug business, too, according to investigators.
Little did he know, his three new acquaintances were off-duty sheriff’s deputies from Marin County who were in San Diego for a two-week specialized narcotics training. And they were about to get some hands-on experience.
The meeting and the investigation that followed are outlined in a search warrant affidavit written by an El Cajon police officer working on the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s Narcotics Task Force. It was unsealed in San Diego federal court last week.
One of the detectives in the hot tub said in an interview Wednesday that it was especially surprising that Harris fell for the crack lab joke. Crack labs can’t blow up.
“We let him lead the conversation,” she said, “take it where he wanted to go.” She said they had a great story for their class the next day. The detective works drug cases as part of Marin County’s Major Crimes Task Force and asked not to be named due to her undercover work.
The next night, the three deputies were in the hot tub again, this time with six other law enforcement officers also in town for the training, when Harris came wandering up, according to the detective.
“Hey guys, I think I have something you’ll be interested in,” Harris told them, she said. He came back with an eight-ball of cocaine in a hat, she said. She told him she was in her bikini and had nowhere to put it, but they’d talk later, she said.
The deputies later reached out to the narcotics task force officer teaching their class, and the decision was made to run with the scenario.
The next day, the deputies met with Harris at a restaurant and introduced him to the undercover task force officer as their uncle, a hippie from Ocean Beach interested in buying LSD. The officer bought 4 grams of cocaine and 50 tabs of LSD for $600, according to the affidavit.
The deputies eventually went back home to Marin County, and the undercover officer continued the sting. On April 7, the officer and Harris met for another deal at a Point Loma Starbucks parking lot, where about 3.5 grams of cocaine and 20 tabs of LSD were purchased for $360, the affidavit states.
On April 27, the officer and another undercover special agent met Harris at a Point Loma Home Depot parking lot. When he attempted to sell them 30 grams of cocaine and 100 tabs of LSD for $2,000, he was arrested, according to the court document. Besides the drugs for sale, Harris was also in possession of $4,100 in cash, suspected drug proceeds, investigators said.
That day, a San Diego Superior Court judge had signed a search warrant for Harris’ apartment on Barnard Street and his Nissan. (Harris had told the undercover deputies that he was at the hotel waiting to move in with his girlfriend to a new place.)
At the Dylan Point Loma Apartments, investigators found 180 grams of cocaine, 30 grams of Ecstasy, 90 tabs of LSD, 3 grams of psychedelic mushrooms and several bottles and vials of what are believed to be anabolic steroids, according to the affidavit.
A digital scale, $2,600 cash, hundreds of tiny plastic baggies printed with designs and a Savage Model 10, 6.5 mm bolt-action rifle with ammunition were also discovered, the records state.
Harris was arrested at first on state charges, but the case was dropped so one could be filed in federal court. A federal grand jury indicted him June 8, and he was arrested on June 15.
He has pleaded not guilty to drug-trafficking charges. He was released on $30,000 bond.
The Marin County detective, who has five years on the force, said the case made for a unique experience.
“This was totally bizarre,” she said. “This is probably a career case for me. I don’t think it will ever happen again.
“I work undercover on a regular basis and have never encountered anything like this.”
©2017 The San Diego Union-Tribune