Drug arrests highlight role of traffic stops in fighting drug activity

JOHNSON COUNTY, Ind. – Authorities in Johnson County say several recent arrests for drug and paraphernalia possession highlight the important role of traffic stops in helping to curb illegal drug activity.

Between Friday and Sunday last week, three traffic stops resulted in four people being booked into the Johnson County jail, and a fifth person being transported to Marion County for an outstanding warrant.

Cherrish Dunn, 31, was arrested on suspicion of driving on a suspended license and Sarah-Jo Ramadan, 27, was arrested on drug and paraphernalia possession charges after an officer pulled them over near County Line and Peterman roads Friday afternoon. The officer said the initial stop was due to a windshield that was severely damaged and cracked, obstructing the driver’s view. Further investigation, including a police K9 sniffing the car, found drug paraphernalia in the vehicle.

Later Friday afternoon, an officer pulled a vehicle over on State Road 37 for speeding and an improperly displayed paper license plate. That traffic stop ended with Dustin Barber, 29, being arrested for drug and needle possession and driving on a suspended license. Brittany Richardson, 25, was arrested for possession of methamphetamine and paraphernalia. Richardson was also arrested for trafficking with an inmate after suspected narcotics were found inside one of Richardson’s body cavities at the jail.

Sunday evening, police pulled over a car that had crossed the center line on Smith Valley Road into the path of the oncoming officer. Amanda Jarred, 34, who was a passenger in the car, was eventually arrested for illegal paraphernalia and needle possession. Another woman in the car, Carolyn Clinard, 33, was taken to the Marion County jail on an outstanding warrant.

Johnson County Sheriff Doug Cox says drug-related arrests like these are becoming more common as illegal drug use continues to increase throughout the area.

“It’s not uncommon for us now to find needles hidden in people’s shoes, in their pants, in their underwear,” Cox said. “I will tell you we are certainly having more traffic stops where paraphernalia is recovered and or individuals arrested.”

Traffic stops for various violations like speeding, reckless driving, failure to use a turn signal and others often serve as the first step in a larger investigation. Cox says his officers are constantly running license plates while sitting at stop lights, using their onboard laptop computers. Checking those records on patrol can point officers toward people who are driving on suspended licenses, stolen vehicles, or individuals with outstanding warrants. Stopping drivers who are violating traffic laws is another useful tool for officers to make first contact with suspected drug users or dealers.

Johnson County Prosecutor Brad Cooper says officers are trained to observe any signs of drug use after pulling a driver over.

“Whether the driver in intoxicated, whether there’s a smell of marijuana coming from the car,” Cooper said. “If a narcotics sniffing dog is available, to run the dog around the car.”

“When an officer has a suspicion that there’s something more to a traffic stop, a dog is brought in,” Cox said. “If that dog alerts on the vehicle that there are narcotics on board, that gives that officer reason to search that vehicle.”

“Just about every one of our low level possession cases, is the result of a traffic stop,” Cooper said. “Those are probably literally a thousand arrests a year that come traffic stops in Johnson County.”

Neither Cox nor Cooper say officers are being more aggressive in making traffic stops, but they agree that more traffic stops are leading to arrests as a result of more individuals carrying illegal drugs or paraphernalia in cars.

At the same time, officers must also be careful to make sure they have justifiable reason to pull a driver over so a solid drug bust doesn’t get thrown out in court for lack of probable cause, Cooper said.

“It’s a constant review of what our courts are telling us is legal and not legal,” Cooper said. “And we are in constant communication with police officers to let them know what they can and can’t do and what they should be doing.”