KEITH WHITCOMB JR.
BENNINGTON -- Wednesday afternoon I found myself sitting in the back of a police cruiser next to a nice young lady wearing handcuffs.
My day began early with a text message from a trusted source telling me "Operation County Strike 2" was commencing, and that I should make my way to the Bennington Police Station to meet up with one of the arrest teams that were searching the county for 23 people suspected of selling drugs.
I found Bennington Police Lt. Lloyd Dean and Sgt. David Dutcher getting ready to head out, and rode in the back of their cruiser as they went searching for Edward "Eddy" Crandall, 36, who was wanted for allegedly selling heroin.
Dean told me that each arrest team was being given a file containing a name, allegations, and a few lines of biographical information. Each team would search for their subject until they were found, then take them to either the Bennington Police Department of the Vermont State Police barracks in Shaftsbury. After dropping a suspect off, they would get another file and repeat the process, even if finding one person took them all day.
Dean and Dutcher had made one arrest already when I met them. An easy one, the guy was under conditions of release from court requiring him to check in at the police station on a regular basis.
Locating Crandall was likewise not so difficult.
I was concerned about riding in the back seat of a cop car with a person under arrest. I’ve ridden with cops before when they have taken people into custody and been thankful for the metal and plastic barrier separating the back of my head from their kicking feet.
We had a calm ride to the station. Crandall asked about his Family Court hearing, and was informed the court had been made aware of his arrest and not to worry about it now.
The third person Dean and Dutcher were sent to find was Chalissa Shakir, 20, accused of selling cocaine.
I learned how much of a pain finding someone can be even if you have access to police databases. The closest thing they had to an address for Shakir was a place on Route 11 north of Manchester near Winhall, so it was there we went. Riding up Route 7, texting other reporters and posting to the Banner’s Facebook page, I rediscovered my inclination toward car sickness, but thankfully I was able to get out of the cruiser whenever we stopped.
The first place we came to was a white house at a bend in the road. Dean and Dutcher knocked on doors, surprising the people who did live there. No Shakir, though, so we went to the other possible address for her which we had already passed by and had some trouble finding.
The place was an apartment complex that, to me, looked like an old ski lodge. Again, more door knocking until who I was led to think was the building’s owner and his helper showed up.
At first they seemed helpful, but then the apparent owner started asking Dean and Dutcher for their business cards. Perhaps their uniforms and badges weren’t convincing enough, or maybe he wondered what Bennington Police were doing so far from home, I don’t know. I do know he wasn’t pleased with my presence, so I went to enjoy the beautiful autumn day by the cruiser while Dean and Dutcher spoke with him.
Dean later told me all he wanted to do was knock on a door, which he was able to do. He said he encountered Shakir’s boyfriend, who said she had been there but not recently.
This set the theme for the next few hours.
Police had a cell phone number for Shakir’s sister which they were planning to use as a last resort, but in the meantime we returned to Bennington to search for Shakir in places she was known to have been before.
Police make a note of it whenever they encounter someone and according to the report Dean called up on the cruiser’s computer Shakir has been encountered on Pageant Street and Pleasant Street. The folks on Pageant Street had seen her, just not recently, so it was off to Pleasant Street to ask around.
Plenty of people had seen her, just not in a while. We learned she sometimes drives a red Dodge Durango, and at the east end of Pleasant Street we met some people who were under the impression she had left town on a bus toward Albany, N.Y., about a month ago.
Dutcher then decided to call Shakir’s sister, who said Shakir would be at the Bennington Police Station shortly. Dutcher said he could hear Shakir in the background on the phone call, so knowing she was in Bennington we went back to the station to wait. If she didn’t show, they planned to go to her sister’s house.
We used the chance to take a little break. I had time to nab a cinnamon bun and update my colleagues on what was happening. No coffee for me since 7:30 a.m. It was past noon, now.
Shakir did turn herself in, and I first saw her being led from the back of the station to the cruiser in handcuffs. Again, I was a little worried over this ride, but Shakir turned out to be pleasant to speak to. She wasn’t happy to see me; she was concerned about having her face and name printed in the newspaper. She was likewise not thrilled to see the television cameras set up at the State Police barracks.
During the ride to Shaftsbury, Shakir told me this is the first time she has been arrested for allegedly selling drugs.
She said this past year has not been a good one for her, as she has been addicted to heroin and cocaine. She recently graduated from drug rehabilitation, but the day she was finished she was offered drugs by a person she knows and went back to using.
"Bennington is not the place to be if you are trying to get clean," she said. Shakir said she had a dream about being arrested the night before and sentenced to life in prison.
Shakir knew this was going to happen, and according to her many arrested in the sweep did, too. She said they were all "waiting for the other shoe to drop," given the last Bennington drug sweep in January and ones that followed in other counties over the summer.
I didn’t ask her if she did what she was accused of or not. I did ask her what she had been planning to do that day, and she said hang out with her 11-month-old daughter who stays with her sister. I asked her if she was homeless. She is, which I remarked made her tough to find. She had a good sense of humor about the whole thing, despite being nervous. I asked her if she worked. She said she does not have a job, but her sister works two jobs and attends college.
I had a lot of questions for Shakir and no time to ask them.
Shakir was brought into the barracks and I followed her in, expecting to head back out, but Shakir was one of the last suspects being sought, it seemed, so I hitched a ride back to Bennington with Dutcher and Dean.
I didn’t ride with the police during the first "County Strike" operation, which involved black body armor, assault rifles, a helicopter, and twice as many suspects as this event. This time it seemed more low-key, while the reaction from the community on Facebook was much the same -- except with more swearing. At any rate, there’s more news to follow.
Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at Kwhitcomb@benningtonbanner.com or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.