MCSO jail officers seize hundreds of suspected fentanyl pills from inmate smugglers

Feb 16, 2023, 1:10 PM | Updated: 1:27 pm
(Maricopa County Sheriff's Office Photo) (Maricopa County Sheriff's Office Photo) (Maricopa County Sheriff's Office Photo) (Maricopa County Sheriff's Office Photo)

PHOENIX – Maricopa County jail detention officers have seized hundreds of suspected fentanyl pills in recent days, thwarting the efforts of drug-smuggling inmates.

“Our detention officers are doing an exceptional job and they have three more seizures this week … of inmates trying to bring drugs into the jail concealed in body parts in very unique and uncomfortable ways, because that’s how desperate the addiction is and that’s how profitable the industry is,” Sheriff Paul Penzone told KTAR News 92.3 FM on Thursday.

Penzone said smuggling is done by inmates who have advance notice of their incarceration. MCSO doesn’t have the legal authority to search body cavities, he said.

“If they can get through undetected and the drugs get into the system, it makes a really difficult for us to mitigate at that point,” he said.

“But we do have certain practices and processes that if you try to conceal it inside your body that the things that we do would make it difficult for you to retain them there.”

In one recent case, two blue pills came out of a female inmate’s body when she was submitting a urine sample, MCSO said in a press release. When she was searched, about 150 pills fell out from a plastic bag that tore open inside her. She consented to a cavity search after being sent to a hospital, and 50 more pills were found, some already dissolving.

In another incident, a AA battery fell from an inmate’s pocket during a routine search. A closer inspection revealed that the battery was actually a container and had several suspected fentanyl pills inside.

“We’re just trying to be as aggressive as possible within the parameters of the law to make sure that we can identify and seize these drugs and charge people accordingly,” Penzone said.

“It’s not as though we just take the drugs from them and they get a free pass. They’re charged with felony counts of possessing contraband and possession for sale or for transaction [or for] conspiracy to distribute drugs.”

It’s not just inmates who are being watched. Last month, MCSO arrested a Lower Buckeye Jail officer suspected of coordinating with inmates to smuggle in pills.

At the time, Penzone put forth a plan to install machines to scan everybody entering jailhouses for drugs and other contraband.

He said Thursday the process should be fully implemented by late summer or early fall.

“The equipment will be purchased through cost savings, basically money in the budget for this year that wasn’t spent. So there’s no additional cost to taxpayers,” he said.

“Our hope is that we’ll have the equipment delivered by June of this year. … We’re already in the process of hiring those who will be responsible for scanning our own employees as they enter the jail system to make sure they’re not bringing contraband in.”

Penzone said the drug problem in jails “is just a microcosm” of an issue seen throughout society.

“This is a societal issue throughout our community, and everyone needs to be aware of it,” he said.

“We all need to take steps to educate our children, to protect our families, and to provide support and help for those who are addicted to make sure that they’re not making bad decisions and they can find a path back and being healthy, because it does affect crime and violent crime in our communities, also.”

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Taylor Tasler contributed to this report.

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MCSO jail officers seize hundreds of suspected fentanyl pills from inmate smugglers