INDIANAPOLIS — After two-and-a-half days worth of testimony and cross-examination of Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent Erik Collins, 11 witnesses took to the stand Wednesday in the drug trial against four Kokomo men police say were involved in one of the biggest drug rings in Howard County history.
The defendants — Michael O’Bannon, 34, Jason Reed, 50, Shaun Myers, 36, and Michael Jones, 37 — are facing a slew of charges related to what has come to be known as “Operation Law and Order,” a drug investigation that culminated in around 130 local and federal law enforcement officers conducting several drug raids across the city on May 1, 2018, netting around 50 arrests in total.
On Wednesday, several of the officers involved in the investigation testified about the events that led up to that May day, including the countless hours of surveillance against some of the drug ring’s “kingpins,” such as Kokomo resident Reggie Balentine and Georgia drug distributor Pierre Riley.
Kicking off Wednesday’s testimonies was Kokomo Police Department Sgt. Cody Rayls, who told the court about his involvement in the Feb. 24, 2018 surveillance of the alleged drug exchange between Balentine and Terre Haute resident Derrick Owens at an Indianapolis Bob Evans.
In his testimony last week, Collins stated that Owens was a drug client of Reed’s, and Reed and Balentine had worked out the exchange at the restaurant, with the caveat being that Balentine would keep a certain amount of the money obtained in the deal to settle up a drug debt that Reed owed Balentine.
Rayls told the court that the exchange in the Bob Evans parking lot resulted in a subsequent Hendricks County traffic stop on Owens’ vehicle, which was actually being driven back toward Terre Haute by Owens’ father, Dennis.
After a free air sniff by one of the county’s K9s, police eventually located over 160 grams of methamphetamine in Owens’ vehicle, and Dennis Owens was arrested in the incident.
The state also brought up an incident that occurred on March 5, 2018, in which surveillance officers were called to a Megabus terminal in Indianapolis after being made aware that Balentine was picking up a drug courier at the terminal.
In his testimony of that day’s events, Hendricks County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Sam Chandler told the court that he observed and took photographs of that courier getting into a vehicle that was driven by Balentine before the two headed back toward Kokomo.
Upon arriving back in Kokomo, the pair then went to J Edwards Fine Chocolate, Rayls told the court in his second testimony of the day.
That is where they met up with Kristin Kinney — who police believe laundered money as part of the alleged drug ring, as well as stored methamphetamine inside her residence. Last December, Kinney plead guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute or to distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine, as well as conspiracy to launder monetary instruments.
Rayls, who said he took video of the encounter on a handheld device, testified on Wednesday that he saw Kinney walk to the back of the store and meet Balentine, and the video played in court also showed a black bag dropping to the ground at one point.
Three days later, on March 11, 2018, more surveillance video caught a white SUV driven by Reed pull up to Balentine’s residence, and Rayls testified that it was believed there were firearms inside Reed’s vehicle as it pulled away.
A short time later, KPD Officer Charlie Fourkiller — who also testified on Wednesday — administered a traffic stop on Reed’s vehicle in the Lowe’s parking lot, but Reed ended up fleeing the scene as Fourkiller approached the vehicle.
Reed’s vehicle ended up driving through several feet of grass separating the parking lot from the highway, before it collided with another vehicle in the southbound lane of Ind. 931, Fourkiller told the court.
Reed then drove away from that scene and ended up crashing his vehicle into a residence in the 800 block of East Alto Road, Fourkiller testified, and he also ended up leading police on a short foot pursuit.
During his testimony, Fourkiller told Prosecutor Michelle Brady that police located two loaded firearms in Reed’s vehicle, as well as bags of ammunition found nearby.
Jurors were able to get an up close view of those two firearms on Wednesday, as well as all the other firearms that were obtained during the alleged murder-for-hire scheme involving O’Bannon and the raids on Balentine and Jones’ respective residences on May 1, 2018.
According to testimony from ATF Agent Brian Clancy, all the firearms police seized were later test fired and determined to be functional.
The state continues its evidence phase on Thursday, with local alleged-drug runner Melissa Baird — who already plead guilty to a possession and intent to distribute charge in March — taking the witness stand.