Darke County Jail drug case latest law enforcement exposure danger

Stephen Garner

Meth in the Darke County Jail air ventilation that sickened several officers and will shutter the facility through the weekend is the latest example of drug exposure danger faced by law enforcement.

At about 1 p.m. Tuesday, four officers and suspect Stephen A. Garner, 37, were taken to Wayne Healthcare after several baggies of what tested positive as methamphetamine fell from Garner as he was being processed at the jail in Greenville.

On Wednesday, air ventilation units were turned back on, causing meth to circulate and leading to another 10 corrections officers to show signs of contamination and be transported to the hospital.

RELATED: Meth poisoning affects 10 more Darke County Jail staff, shuts down jail

“Law enforcement is constantly facing a new threats due to all the synthetic drugs which are being introduced into our community,” Montgomery County Sheriff Phil Plummer said Thursday. “We constantly train, provide protective equipment and monitor new threats.”

Plummer said that two county drug task forces have seized 238.84 pounds of cocaine, 3.1 pounds of crack, 239.40 pounds of heroin/fentanyl, 4,653 pounds of marijuana and 144 pounds of meth from 2014 through 2017. He added that meth, cocaine and crack are on the rise.

“As we have seen locally, at anytime an officer can come in contact with an illegal substance which can be fatal,” Plummer said. “These threats also include offenders becoming violent and assaulting first responders.”

The Darke County Jail structure operates with multiple separate air-handling units. Sheriff’s officials said other areas of the jail, including inmate wards, 911 dispatch and the road patrol areas were not affected.

RELATED: Dayton officer treated at hospital for suspected fentanyl exposure

Even so, the sheriff’s office said 28 inmates were taken to Miami County and Mercer County jails and the jail operation will remain shut down until at least Monday so a private environmental contractor can decontaminate the affected area.

The case against Garner, who has a long criminal history in Darke County, will go to a grand jury for possible charges, according to Darke County officials.

The substance he possessed was identified Wednesday as methamphetamine by the Miami Valley Regional Crime Lab.

Other incidents in southwest Ohio and around the state have shown how serious drug exposure is to public safety personnel.

RELATED: Fairborn paramedic overdoses driving OD patient to hospital

Last November, a Dayton police officer was treated at a hospital after officials said the officer came in contact with suspected fentanyl while searching his cruiser after an arrest.

Police said that within seconds of the powder hitting his face, the officer became pale and felt light headed, so he was transported to Miami Valley Hospital for treatment.

In February, two Tri-County Jail corrections officers and three deputies were taken to a hospital, treated and released for flu-like symptoms not long after a female inmate was booked into the jail in Mechanicsburg.

RELATED: Tri-County Jail resumes normal operations after drug scare

Urbana Fire Chief Mark Keller said then that a HAZMAT team was dispatched to the jail. The team isolated the contaminated area and decontaminated it and potential victims. The jail serving Champaign, Madison and Union counties was on lock-down for a few hours.

“We’re taking precautions necessary to make sure there is no exposure to the inmate population or staff,” Tri-County Jail Executive Director Scott Springhetti said then.

In November 2017, a Fairborn firefighter-paramedic driving a suspected overdose patient to the hospital showed symptoms of an overdose, prompting his partner to stop the ambulance in the middle of the road.

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“He was not feeling right,” David Reichert, division chief for Fairborn fire said last year. “His partner in the back was immediately able to stop the medic in the middle of an intersection.”

The partner administered Narcan to the firefighter-paramedic.

Reichert said “it was determined that we needed to ramp up our decontamination process” after he said an additional six firefighters had to be decontaminated using showers.

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In May 2017, an eastern Ohio officer was revived with four doses of Narcan after accidentally touching fentanyl during a traffic stop. Patrolman Chris Green of the East Liverpool Police Department brushed the substance off his shirt and overdosed.

East Liverpool Capt. Patrick Wright told media at the time that vigilance is key.

“We changed our procedures to where we used to field-test drugs,” Wright said. “We don’t do that any longer because of accidental exposures.”

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