Awards Honor Law Enforcement Efforts Across Nebraska
By Scott Stewart
The Daily Record
Several awards were presented during the 32nd annual Nebraska Law Enforcement Coordinating Committee Criminal Justice and County Attorney’s Conference.
The three-day conference, held May 15-17 in Kearney, brought together more than 250 local, state and federal law enforcement officials and prosecutors.
“The conference is designed to bring training to law enforcement officials and prosecutors in the latest topics impacting the criminal justice system,” according to a news release from U.S. Attorney Joseph P. Kelly’s Office.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office and Nebraska County Attorneys Association hold the conference. It is among a handful of conferences nationally that combines training for law enforcement officers and prosecutors on a variey of topics.
Topics this year included human trafficking, DNA evidence, prosecuting police radar cases, language barriers with crime victims, dynamics of child sexual abuse interviews, cyber-security digital evidence and tracking opioid overdose information.
The awards were presented by Kelly during the May 16 banquet. The LECC Awards recognize the outstanding contributions to the criminal justice system and their communities by the law enforcement officers and prosecutors.
Those recognized were:
• Trooper Courtney Horak (Nebraska State Patrol).
Horak was honored for initiating several community outreach programs, including partnering with a local animal shelter in Scottsbluff for weekly social media highlights.
Horak uses social media to post about daily enforcement actions, and she participates in driver safety programs for teens and recruitment fairs on behalf of the State Patrol.
“She creates a balance within her career that allows her to enforce public safety while maintaining a positive relationship with the citizens of Nebraska,” according to the LECC.
• Special Agent Jeff Howard (FBI).
Howard is assigned to the FBI’s Sioux City, Iowa, field office and works on cases at the Winnebago, Omaha and Santee Sioux Indian Reservations.
Howard is dedicated to his work and will go out of his way to make sure witnesses are able to make it to court. He also picks up stray dogs and cats, and he typically has a box of dog treats in the back of his vehicle.
“He understands how poverty, substance abuse and family violence impacts people’s lives,” according to the LECC. “Even people who he has investigated have turned to him when they needed help. He treats people with dignity and respect and in turn he is respected.”
• Boyztown drug investigation team members Special Agent Frank Feden (DEA), Special Agent Brent Fisher (DEA), Kevin Jimerson (DEA), Sgt. Mark Shiller (Sarpy County Sheriff’s Office), Theresa Ogorzaly (Douglas County Sheriff’s Office), Robert Branch (Omaha Police Department), Mike Mittan (Iowa Division of Narcotics Enforcement), AUSA Matt Lierman (U.S. Attorney’s Office), Becky Lesser (U.S. Attorney’s Office) and AUSA John Higgins (U.S. Attorney’s Office).
The Drug Enforcement Agency’s Omaha field office began investigating a methamphetamine trafficking organization based in Omaha in 2015. The small investigation culminated in a multi-agency effort that netted 11 co-defendants, 10 of whom were ultimately convicted, and shut down the flow of hundreds of pounds of meth into Omaha.
The investigation lasted more than a year and ended after officers on routine patrol stopped a vehicle occupied by two of the distributors, recovering more than $10,000, a firearm, meth, cocaine, ledgers and receipts. The DEA and partner agencies gathered up other defenders and evidence, including about 8 pounds of meth, three firearms, cocaine, currency and additional financial records.
“This investigation is a model of interagency cooperation,” according to the LECC. “They had to set aside agency competition and focus on the common goal of dismantling the entire organization. Doing so stopped substantial quantities of meth from flowing into the community and held accountable both those trafficking the drugs and those laundering the proceeds.”
• Det. Matt Hultquist and Det. Aaron Howe (Fremont Police Department)
Hultquist and Howe took over an investigation of an armed robbery at a grocery store in Fremont by two masked men in February 2017. They tracked two stolen cars and eventually identified three suspects, contacting investigators of a similar case in Tulare County, California.
The three men subsequently returned to California, where they committed at least three more armed robberies. They were arrested in California and indicted federally in February 2019. They are believed to have committed more than a dozen robberies in a year in Tulare County.
“The local Sheriff’s Department and FBI offices investigating the robberies relied on Detectives Hultquist’s and Howe’s reports from the Fremont robbery to help them identify Beltran and Medina and to establish the similarities in the robberies,” according to the LECC.
• Deputy Chad Miller (Douglas County Sheriff’s Office)
A task force in the Omaha metro area targeted a human trafficking ring throughout 2017-18 that was connected to several other cities nationally. They used an investigative model that was developed primarily by Miller.
The model uses a task force approach that builds on the strengths, training and experience of members from multiple law enforcement agencies. Operation Extended Stay resulted in 13 arrest, the seizure of about $1.4 million in suspected human trafficking profits and nearly $3 million in property as well as the cooperation of high-value targets.
“The ‘Omaha Model’ was used again recently during another large-scale investigation in the U.S. and Canada, which resulted in the dismantling of another prominent human trafficking ring,” according to the LECC. “Without Deputy Miller’s dedication and hard work much of the success would not have been possible.”
• Operation Speculation team members Travis Ocken (DEA), Jarrett Swearingen (DEA) and Martin J. Conboy (U.S. Attorney’s Office)
A driver with 18 pounds of meth was stooped in Utah in February 2017, and the driver told authorities the meth was destined to be delivered in Lincoln. Ocken and Swearingen identified at least nine primary targets in the drug conspiracy and seven who were distributing the imported meth.
Various takedowns resulted in more than 40 pounds of meth and more than $100,000 being seized. Ultimately, all 16 targets were indicted – despite the case running cold when the original meth was never picked up during an attempted controlled delivery.
“One key to the success of this investigation was the ability for Agents Ocken and Swearingen to bring in and coordinate with multiple law enforcement agencies, including the Lincoln/Lancaster County Narcotics Task Force and the Nebraska State Patrol,” according to the LECC. “This investigation received great orchestration and prosecution by Assistant United States Attorney Marty Conboy.”
• Operation Urgent Safety team members Det. Kim Woolery (Omaha Police Department), Det. Patrick Dempsey (OPD), Det. Adam Kruse (OPD), Sgt. Aaron Hanson (OPD), Det. Dustin Morris (OPD), Deputy County Attorney Jeff Lux (Douglas County Attorney’s Office) and Deputy County Attorney Mike Jensen (Douglas County Attorney’s Office).
The Omaha Police Department responded to a shooting death of a 22-year-old in May 2016 that was determined to be the result of an altercation involving Bloods gang members. One of the suspects in Douglas County Corrections called several associates about the lone witness in the case, and the suspect indicated that the witness should be intimidated or killed.
While reviewing recorded jail phone calls, officers determined that coded information was shared including the witness’s name, location and vehicle. Members of the FBI’s Greater Omaha Safe Streets Task Force, OPD’s Gang Suppression B-Shift and prosecutors from the Douglas County Attorney’s Office acted to intercept communications and were able to stop the suspect’s associates who were out looking for the witness, preventing an act of violence against the witness.
“Based on the training, experience and knowledge of law enforcement assigned to this investigation, they had become familiar with the coded language used by the subject and his associates in reference to the killing or intimidation of the witness,” according to the LECC.
• Disabled Amtrak train team members AUSA Lesley Woods (U.S. Attorney’s Offfice), Special Agent Montie Czaplewski (FBI), Deputy Robert Thornton (Furnas County Sheriff’s Office), Sheriff Kurt Kapperman (Furnas County Sheriff’s Office) and Deputy Shawn Rupp (Harlan County Sheriff’s Office).
A suspect boarded an Amtrak train in California in October 2017 and broke into the engine compartment of the train as it traveled near Furnas County, Nebraska. Train conducts subdued the suspect, who claimed to be a neo-Nazi, and Furnas and Harlan county sheriff’s deputies secured the scene of the disabled train.
Woods secured a hate crime enhancement, in part by showing a “Frontline” excerpt showing the suspect assaulting a protester at a riot in Charlottesville, Virginia. The judge described the suspect a “gun-toting, angry ... white supremacist” who was “caught while committing this particularly senseless and violent act.”
“In a first of its kind prosecution in Nebraska, AUSA Woods, through her diligence and hard work, made it clear that hate crimes will not be tolerated,” according to the LECC.