The Utah Narcotics Officers Association recognized the Sevier County Major Crimes Unit for its work in slowing the flow of illegal drugs in the region during a conference last month.
The award is one that belongs not just to the detectives of the unit, but all the agencies in Sevier County that have been cooperating under a new model of operation for the past year and a half, said Det. Sgt. Allen Pearson.
Pearson was also named as the Officer of the Year by the UNOA.
“It was an honor, but at the same time I have five guys who work for me who deserve it as much as I do,” Pearson said. He said the Sevier County Sheriff’s Office detectives have been working with an emphasis on stopping illegal drugs as part of the MCU.
“We’ve been able to put four people in federal prison in the past year,” Pearson said. He said the convictions have made an impact on the local drug trade and also sent a message that distributing illegal drugs will not be tolerated.
Those sent to federal prison all face minimum mandatory sentences, which will require them to serve sentences that last years — something that doesn’t always happen with drug offenders in Utah.
“Our state has made heroin, cocaine, meth and LSD misdemeanors,” Pearson said. While simple possession of illegal drugs is a misdemeanor, distribution is still a felony. Those who distribute a large enough amount can be charged federally.
Since the creation of the MCU, detectives with the sheriff’s office as well as other law enforcement agencies in the region have adopted a system where information is shared more openly. For instance, a Richfield City Police Department patrol officer may discover a piece of information about a drug transaction. The officer then passes the information on to officers in the MCU, and in turn the detectives will utilize patrol officers for gathering more evidence.
“Everyone has a vested interest,” Pearson said.
While the vision of an environment free from illegal drugs is unobtainable, Pearson said big dents have been made in the supply. However, the only way the battle with drugs can be won is to eliminate the demand.
“If we could just convince people not to even try drugs,” Pearson said. “It affects not just the addicts, but their whole circle of family and friends.”
The MCU and Pearson were nominated for the awards by Sevier County Sheriff Nate Curtis, and were selected by the members of the UNOA.
The MCU was nominated specifically for its work in the July 2018 arrest of Jason Saunders and the subsequent cases it led to. Saunders was later convicted of drug trafficking crimes.
“The efforts have continued beyond these cases and we are continuing to see unprecedented results by the Sevier County Major Crimes Unit,” Curtis said. “They don’t quit the case because it is inconvenient. They truly care about the work they do.”
As the leader of the group, Pearson was presented the Robert B. Hutchings Officer of the Year award. The award is given to a nominee who has gone above and beyond in the line of duty in trying to eradicate the illegal use, distribution or manufacturing of controlled substances in Utah.
“There has been a complete change in the way the illegal drug trade is being investigated in Sevier County,” Curtis said. “One of the biggest reasons for this nomination is the dedication and personal sacrifice Allen puts into working narcotics investigations,” Curtis said. He said Pearson and his team work extra hours late into the night in order to make sure cases are put together and arrests made.
The result is a 100 percent conviction rate so far, Curtis said.