U.S. atty. vows ‘relentless’ response to drug crime
Brattleboro Police Chief Michael Fitzgerald

U.S. atty. vows ‘relentless’ response to drug crime

After raids, 16 face federal, state drug charges as area reacts to three violent deaths

BRATTLEBORO — If a show of force was needed against the drug and crime situation in the area, United States Attorney Christina E. Nolan delivered one on Tuesday at a press conference in the roll-call room at the Brattleboro Police Department.

Nolan's visit to southern Vermont came on the heels of a three-day drug sweep in Brattleboro and Putney that netted 16 suspects.

Flanked by 16 federal and state officials, state police officers, and Police Chief Michael Fitzgerald, Nolan sent a stern message to drug dealers in Brattleboro and Windham County.

“There were 110 deaths from drug overdoses in Vermont last year,” Nolan said. “That is an intolerable number. Those who sell deadly drugs [...] have blood on their hands, and they have unimaginable suffering on their hands.”

“We are coming after those who prey on the lives of Vermonters by peddling poison and profiting from addiction,” she said. “We will be relentless. I promise you that we will be relentless.”

This effort, which Nolan described as a “surge,” seized approximately 100 bags of heroin and 70 grams of cocaine base, defined as non-powder variants of the drug (like crack). The operation involved close coordination among local, county, state, and federal law-enforcement agencies.

According to documents filed in Vermont District Court in Burlington, investigators used multiple confidential informants to document the purchase of heroin, cocaine, fentanyl, and other substances from various sources in various locations, including in Brattleboro near Cotton Mill Hill, at the Black Mountain Inn, at a home on Central Street, and a dwelling on Chaffee Lane in Putney.

The press conference included representatives from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and numerous other policing agencies across the tri-state area, along with the state Department of Public Safety Commissioner Thomas Anderson.

The message was blunt, and repeated several times, applying both to those at the top level of the drug chain and those who sell not to exploit others but to finance their own habits.

“Stop selling and get into treatment, or you get arrested,” Nolan said.

'Turn around and go home'

Fourteen suspects were given federal charges, involving distribution of narcotics, including cocaine base, heroin, and fentanyl. Two faced state charges for cocaine possession.

Three of those charged, Daniel DeThomas, 37, Luis Duprey, 24, and Rory Jackson, 35, are from out of state and face charges related to being at a higher level of the drug-distribution network in Brattleboro.

Nolan emphasized that her office intended to address the problems of drug dealing and crime spanning the state.

She also acknowledged that Chittenden County is the home turf for most enforcement agencies at the federal and state levels. Although the area is also a center of drug problems, she emphasized the importance of enforcement agencies not limiting their scope in fighting illegal activities to the Burlington area.

Nolan emphasized that coordination among different agencies and across different states is essential to stemming the flow of illicit drugs up the I-91 corridor.

She spoke specifically of Brattleboro's location at the first three exits off of Interstate 91, and the town's close driving distance from places like Holyoke and Springfield, Mass., and Hartford, Conn.

“To Springfield dealers, do not come here,” she said. “Turn around and go home.”

She warned that Vermont State Police are coordinating with their Massachusetts counterparts. As a result, she said, Vermonters who drive south to purchase drugs and resell them in Windham County are not safe - and the Massachusetts or Connecticut dealers are not exempt from consequences, either.

The inter-state policing effort, according to Nolan, means that someone responsible for distributing drugs in Brattleboro may be arrested in another state.

The question of whether the arrests and prosecutions will make a real dent in the area's opiate challenge remains open. Nolan acknowledged that the crackdown will be an ongoing battle.

Sweep comes as community reacts to three deaths

The crackdown echoed a similar effort last summer, when 15 people were arrested for various levels of involvement in the drug trade.

Last week's drug sweep and Tuesday's press conference came on the heels of what appeared from press, social media, and police reports to be a double murder in Hinsdale and the death by suicide of the suspect in the shootings.

According to police reports, Neal Bolster and Aaliyah Jacobs were shot to death at the home that they shared at 240 Plain Rd. in Hinsdale, N.H., just across the river from Brattleboro.

The tragedy in Hinsdale underscored the actual, local cost of the drug epidemic on Windham County.

Derrick Shippee was identified as a suspect in the case. After a manhunt, Vermont State Police Tactical Services Unit found his body near land his family owns in Vernon.

The investigation is still ongoing, and law enforcement offered no further comment at the press conference. The three people connected to this case have not been linked to any of the 16 people arrested.

But Bolster's and Shippee's respective histories in the region's drug trafficking scene has led to abundant public discussion about the devastating consequences of addiction and drug dealing for a generation of young people in southern Vermont.

According to press reports, Bolster had pled guilty in Cheshire Superior Court in 2012 to counts of first-degree assault and attempted robbery in the 2011 shooting of Christopher Bodisher in Chesterfield, N.H.

Bolster was sentenced to five to 10 years in New Hampshire State Prison and in 2015 was approved for work release. He faced a charge in Vermont of selling a drug that resulted in the overdose death of Connor Rusin, 25, of Wilmington, last June.

In 2017, Brattleboro police confiscated more than 3,500 bags of heroin when they arrested Shippee on a variety of drug charges.

The main watchword: vigilance

There no promises at the press conference on Tuesday, and the challenges that Brattleboro faces likely won't go away any time soon. Despite the optics of the raids and the complexities of choreographing them with multiple law-enforcement entities, the net score amounted to less than $10,000 in street value in the cities that form the core of New England's problem with drug dealing.

Asked directly about how drug distribution networks work, Nolan said that some are organized within a larger context. She described others as gambits by what she called “lone wolves,” who move in on the town by finding a willing helper with a place to stay, someone who may be compensated with drugs or money.

The question remains open as to whether the recent drug sweep simply took some runners off the road and put a few drug houses off limits, as happened a few weeks ago with 33 Oak St. [“Closed - for now, at least,” News, March 6].

Brattleboro's Selectboard Vice Chair Tim Wessel, who owns rental property in town, asked what ordinary citizens could do to help law enforcement in trying to stem the crisis.

The role of landlords was discussed, both in terms of the complexities involved in both civil or criminal proceedings related to landlords who rent to drug dealers. The main watchword was vigilance - and the importance of reporting drug-related activities to local authorities.

'An absolute tragedy'

As several officials who spoke at the press conference noted, approximately 72,000 Americans died of drug overdoses last year, the greatest killer of individuals under the age of 50. In Vermont, 104 people died of overdoses, 24 of them in Windham County.

In emphasizing what seemed to be a new zero-tolerance policy for people fighting opioid-use disorder who also sell drugs as runners within the distribution network, officials who spoke in Tuesday also emphasized that help is available in Vermont for them.

Director of Public Safety Thomas Anderson challenged anyone who claims that they stay addicted because they can't get into treatment. There is no waiting list for treatment centers, he said, and to say otherwise is just not true.

Many have drawn clear connections between the three deaths last weekend and the harrowing consequences of drug trafficking on communities and individuals.

With the incident still under investigation by New Hampshire State Police, it is still not clear what happened in Hinsdale, where three people, by many accounts all well-known to the community, lost their lives.

“I guess some of Derrick's more redeeming qualities were that he was extremely loyal,” said one friend of Shippee's, who said she had known him for 10 years and spoke to The Commons on condition of anonymity. “He was there for the people he cared about, although that wasn't many. The few it included, he would go to the end of the earth for them.”

“Derrick was really trying to turn his life around after his most recent arrest,” she said. “He had been working for his dad at Shippee Auto and was engaged to his girlfriend Amber. This was so incredibly unexpected.”

“He really wanted to just have a good life and a family and provide for his loved ones,” she said. “Derrick has a soft side to him that he hid from the world. He was very compassionate and loving.”

She also knew Bolster and Jacobs.

“Aaliyah didn't deserve to be involved at all; she was a sweet girl,” she said. “And it's an absolute tragedy that she was caught in the middle of whatever happened between Neil and Derrick.”

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