4 charged as Warren police take down 'deadly drug cell'
Warren police say they have taken down the key players in a “deadly drug cell” that's believed to be responsible for at least 24 overdoses and three deaths in Warren this past year.
Warren Police Commissioner William Dwyer said his special investigations unit has taken three men off the street and are seeking a fourth person in a conspiracy that allegedly involved the sale of drugs containing fentanyl to customers who thought they were buying heroin or cocaine.
“We know of at least three deaths in Warren alone this past year which are attributed to this group and there were likely others we aren’t aware of here and in other areas where they sold drugs,” said Dwyer, who said the group has been under investigation since November amid the death of a 47-year-old Warren resident.
Officers involved in Operation SNOW (Stopping Narcotics Overdoses in Warren) conducted raids, drug seizures and arrests at two Detroit locations last week, Dwyer said.
Three Detroit men have been arraigned and are jailed in lieu of bonds of $250,000 to $350,000. Jermaine Tate, 38; Nathaniel Clark, 32; and Terry Jamal Gaskins, 34, are each charged with conducting a criminal enterprise, a drug trafficking organization; three counts of delivery/manufacture of fentanyl, and three counts of conspiracy to conduct the delivery/manufacture of fentanyl.
Similarly charged in a not-in-custody warrant is Isaac Lee Bannerman, 34, of Detroit.
Each offense is a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
“As the investigation continues we are anticipating more charges and arrests in the future,” Dwyer said. “We believe this group is a cell in a major drug organization that is providing fentanyl to those addicted not only in Warren but also throughout Macomb, Wayne, St. Clair and Lapeer counties.
“This particular organization is responsible for additional deaths in those areas as well,” Dwyer said, adding that “at least 100 lives were saved from the amount of fentanyl seized in last week’s raids.”
Dwyer singled out Lt. Matthew Dillenback, Sgt. Steve Showers; and Detectives Craig Bankowski and Todd Murray for their “tenacity and dedication to the investigation.”
Overdose drug deaths are a rising problem nationally, Dwyer said. In 2019, there were 72,000 overdose deaths nationwide, and the number of such fatalities is up 13% this year, he said. Michigan averages 26.6 overdose deaths per 100,000 people and deaths from illicit drugs, particularly fentanyl, remain higher than annual death totals recorded for car accidents, gun violence and AIDS, Dwyer said.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid, is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent. It is a prescription drug typically used to treat patients with severe pain, especially after surgery.
“In Warren alone, we have recorded 296 overdoses up from 249 in 2019,” Dwyer said. “Overdose deaths have increased from 29 in 2019 to 55 so far this year — an 89.6% increase.”
Both Warren Mayor James Fouts and interim Macomb County Prosecutor Jean Cloud applauded the work of the Warren Police Department.
“It has been a priority of my administration to work on eliminating drug overdoses and holding those who distribute these toxins throughout our city accountable,” Fouts said.
Cloud noted drug abuse continues to be a problem in Warren and elsewhere.
“Macomb County has faced unprecedented adversity during the opioid epidemic,” Cloud said in a news release. “The negative impacts have truly taken a toll on our community.
“Thankfully Macomb County has some of the best law enforcement officers in the nation,” she said. “We sincerely applaud the efforts of the Warren Police Department in their relentless pursuit of the individuals who disseminated these lethal drugs. We will hold those individuals accountable and ultimately bring a sense of security to the City of Warren.”