Investigators confiscated what they allege to be an attempted bribe and contraband during a sting operation before it entered the Morgan County Jail. [COURTESY PHOTO]

An inmate's effort to have contraband cellphones and drugs brought into the Morgan County Jail led to an undercover operation that resulted in a Decatur woman's arrest and highlighted what authorities say is an ongoing issue. 

The investigation began several weeks ago and involved jail staff and other agents of the Morgan County Sheriff's Office, according to Mike Swafford, office spokesman.

“An inmate propositioned a corrections officer, who handled it correctly by notifying investigators,” Swafford said.

During the undercover portion of the operation, Marquita Laneice Gary, 25, of Decatur, met with an investigator posing as a jailer on two occasions, Swafford said.

The first time, she brought $500 for the “jailer" as payment, Swafford said in a news release. During the second meeting Monday, Gary brought four cellphones, the synthetic narcotic spice and alprazolam, or Xanax, Swafford said. Gary was taken into custody after the second meeting, he said.

During further investigation, agents recovered more spice and alprazolam, a quantity of crack cocaine and a pistol from her residence, Swafford said. Jail records listed her address as 407 14th Ave. N.W.

Gary was charged with two counts of distribution of a controlled substance and possession of a controlled substance-cocaine, Swafford said. Gary remained in Morgan County Jail on Tuesday with bail set at $11,000.

The contraband issue is “not growing, but an ongoing issue any facility faces, that we continue to combat,” Swafford said.

In June, for example, the office’s Drug Task Force arrested two people that authorities say collaborated in coordinating the delivery of drugs into the Morgan County Jail through drops made outside and inside the jail.

The Morgan County Commission agreed last month to spend $181,000 on two scanners and a metal detector that weren't included in the county’s fiscal 2020 budget. The equipment is to be used to keep contraband out of the jail and reduce liability for body searches. The equipment will be paid for with county reserves.

“It gives us another tool to secure the facility,” Sheriff Ron Puckett said last month. “Hopefully, it will eliminate all contraband in the jail.”

The Drug Task Force has added Peluchi, a K9 deputy, to the force. The golden retriever, certified in narcotics detection, will assist the task force and will be deployed in the Morgan County Jail to guard against illegal contraband, Swafford said last month.

This is the first K9 deputy assigned to the Narcotics Unit and to be regularly used in the jail.

Lawrence County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Tim Sandlin said for every facility — jails and prisons — “contraband is always an ongoing problem."

“We have issues at times,” Sandlin said. “It comes in waves.”

He said that initiatives in place to combat contraband include requiring any items, like toiletries, that aren’t issued by the jail to come through the commissary or through corrections officers.

“Anytime anyone leaves the facility, such as a work release inmate, we institute a search procedure when they re-enter,” he said. or 256-340-2438. Twitter @DD_MAccardi.
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