Undercover agents, assisted by Gila County Sheriff's deputies, surprised a young mother in south Payson Wednesday afternoon when they entered her home and ordered her onto the floor at gun point. She was handcuffed and remained face down on the floor while they quickly searched her home for suspects wanted on drug-related charges.
But, it was the wrong house.
Acting on information from a "confidential reliable informant," agents from the Gila County Narcotics Task Force obtained a search warrant for a house where they believed 39-year-old Billy Linn Carter and 37-year-old Kennedy Fitzgerald Norton lived. Agents believed that Carter and Norton were selling methamphetamines out of the home.
"Jane" not the mother's real name said her 4-year-old was in the kitchen when the agents, dressed in dark clothes, came through the front door. Her son, she said, began screaming, as did her 1-year-old who was in his crib in the bedroom.
"I heard my dogs barking and when I looked out the window, I saw someone pointing a gun at them," Jane said. "I was trying to get dressed when I heard the word "police" and the officers came in and ordered me to lay down."
Once agents were certain there was no one else in the home, they took the handcuffs off Jane, and brought her children to her. When asked if she knew the suspects, Jane said no.
"They told me they had reason to believe meth was being dealt at my home," Jane said. "They asked me how long I had lived here and I told them three years they seemed to be surprised at that."
While being questioned by one agent, another was searching her bedroom.
"I felt violated they went through my personal things," Jane said. "They finally told me that they had apparently made a mistake. They told me they had a warrant, but never showed it to me ...
"My son has been traumatized. He keeps talking about the police coming back and are they going to take me away or shoot him," Jane said.
Jane said the agents left after apologizing to her for the mistake.
Jane said she later became angry when she learned that an officer from the Payson Police Department told agents prior to the search of her home that Carter's earlier arrest information showed that he lived several houses east of Jane.
Carter had been arrested by the Payson Police department at 12:49 a.m. in the 300 block of N. Beeline, 15 hours before the warrant was served at Jane's house. Carter was booked into the jail, charged with possession of a dangerous drug, drug paraphernalia and the outstanding warrant. He was still in jail when the warrant was served.
"They received this information before they came to my house and ignored it," Jane said. "Why would they take the word of a drug user over a police officer? Why after receiving different information from a police officer didn't they not do more research to make sure they had the right house I just don't understand."
An agent said when he received conflicting information on the suspect's address, he questioned the informant who insisted that Jane's house was the right house. Additionally the agent said they received information from an independent source that led them to believe the two suspects had moved.
Jane said she works a night shift and the children's father works days and that neither of them have ever been in trouble with the police.
"I've never even had a traffic ticket," Jane said.
The Roundup obtained a copy of the task force search warrant, which alleges that a vehicle parked at Jane's residence was a white Pontiac Bonneville displaying a fictitious license plate belonging to a Cadillac registered to Jane. In reality the vehicle was not a Bonneville, but a Cadillac Cimmaron legally registered to Jane.
A task force agent admitted that while they had conducted surveillance prior to the search warrant, neither Carter nor Norton had been seen at that residence.
According to Task Force Commander Captain Steve Craig of the Gila County Sheriff's Department, the informant made a mistake.
"The facts were, we had a CI that pointed out the place and we had reason to believe, because (the informant) was reliable ..." Craig said. "Turns out, (the informant) didn't know what (he/she) was talking about and we embarrassed the lady and we are as sorry as heck about that. ... (the informant) was just screwed up on (the) information ... where (the informant) was at, and that's not unusual," Craig said.
Craig said he did not believe that the informant purposely provided inaccurate information.
"I don't believe there was any intent there. (The informant) was just all messed up and what (he/she) showed (the agents) wasn't the house," Craig said. "We wrote the search warrant on good information based on a good CRI ... but when you deal with those kind of people sometimes it just doesn't work."
When asked if the informant was still considered "reliable," Craig said, "Of course."
Jane said that troubles her.
"I don't understand how they could continue to believe what this person says. That really upsets me," she said. "How many mistakes will it take?"
Later that day, agents picked up Norton on the outstanding warrant. He was booked into jail and was released in lieu of a $3,800 bond. Carter was also released from jail in lieu of a $2,500 bond.
The Gila County Narcotics Task Force under the supervision of the Gila County Sheriff was formed 17 years ago to combat the growing drug problem in Gila County. The Payson Police Department pulled its officers out of the task force last year after a 16-year stint in order to concentrate on drug activity within its jurisdiction.