Arizona Jail Detention Officer Arrested for Dealing Meth, Fentanyl

Lower Buckeye Jail in Phoenix, Arizona is tackling the flow of drugs and corruption.

Benjamin M. Adams

Drugs on demand, straight from a jail guard, were shut down by the sheriff at the Lower Buckeye Jail in Phoenix, Arizona.

According to Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone, a detention officer was arrested for attempting to bring methamphetamine and fentanyl into the Lower Buckeye Jail in Phoenix, Arizona.

Fox 10 reports that detention officer Andres Salazar faces several drug-related felony counts. A money exchange took place in the parking lot of the jail before Salazar attempted to bring a package containing about 100 pills into the jail.

“This was an ongoing investigation,” Penzone said at a press conference on Jan. 11. “This detention officer was hired in October 2019, recently worked with inmates and some folks on the outside, and attempted to bring fentanyl and methamphetamine into the jail.”

Salazar apparently wasn’t very good at it, a regrettable choice that will impact his future. “We have strong reason to believe this was his first attempt,” the sheriff said.

“This young man, whatever led him to make this decision, will now not only lose his career, but most likely the future that he has for himself is definitely going to be hindered in an adverse way,” Penzone said.

The drug problem is bad: In Maricopa County jails in 2022, 172 inmates were taken to the hospital for overdose or drug-related incidents; 17 in-custody deaths were caused by an overdose, or drugs were a major contributing factor to the deaths; 194 inmates tested positive for some type of drug through a urine sample; and 114 of those inmates tested positive for fentanyl specifically.

The County says that 150 inmate postcards were intercepted in the mailroom that tested positive for being soaked in fentanyl and/or methamphetamine. “Since October 2022, 1,503 detention officers, sergeants and lieutenants were trained to deploy Narcan,” the sheriff said.

A Pattern in the U.S. Criminal Justice System

This kind of thing isn’t unheard of in the criminal justice system: In 2021, Marc Antrim, a former Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy, was sentenced for orchestrating a fake drug raid, stealing over half a ton of cannabis and $600,000 in cash from a warehouse. 

Three South Carolina prison guards were arrested in 2018 for smuggling drugs and other contraband into two different correctional institutions. In one of those incidents, a guard attempted to smuggle in 143 grams, or about five ounces of pot into a detention center.

Think that drugs are out of reach in the prison and jail systems? Think again: According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, there are “high” rates of substance use within the criminal justice system. Specifically, some research shows that an estimated 65% percent of the United States prison population has an “active substance abuse disorder,” and they have to get those drugs from somewhere. It’s one of the best arguments to say that drugs won the War on Drugs.

Maricopa County, however, is tackling the problem with some new changes.

Maricopa County Fights Drugs, Corruption in Jail

Penzone is now taking action proactively to prevent incidents like this from happening again under his watch. KTAR News reports that the sheriff announced scanning machines will soon be installed at jailhouses to detect drugs and other contraband entering and exiting the facilities, authorities announced Wednesday.

“I’m at a stage now where I think it’s not only important but appropriate that we purchase scanning machines so that every individual who enters our jail—whether it be staff/volunteers—anybody and everyone who enters into the secured population will be checked to determine if we can mitigate and intercept any potential contraband coming into the jail,” Penzone said.

“If we need to upgrade the entire system in the entire jail system, I’m willing to do that,” Penzone said. “But we’re going to find the one that is the most effective and put it in play in all of our jails as soon as possible.”

Drugs such as fentanyl and methamphetamine rank high in the danger level.

According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), fentanyl is the deadliest drug threat facing this nation. “In 2021, a record number of Americans—107,622—died from a drug poisoning or overdose,” the DEA release reads. “Sixty-six percent of those deaths can be attributed to synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.”

Benjamin M. Adams

Benjamin M. Adams is Staff Writer at High Times, and has written for Vice, Forbes, HuffPost, The Advocate, Culture, and many other publications. He holds a Bachelor of Communication from Southern New Hampshire University.

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