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Yuba City, Calif., police officer arrested in drug trafficking probe

Yuba City, Calif., police officer arrested in drug trafficking probe

A Yuba City, Calif., police officer was arrested by federal agents Wednesday on suspicion of trafficking cocaine, authorities announced.

Officer Harminder Phagura, 35, was taken into custody at the Yuba City Police Department by agents with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations after a four-year investigation into his alleged partner, Gursharan Phagura, 39.

The two are believed to be related, authorities said.

According to a federal criminal complaint unsealed Wednesday, Officer Phagura would do counter-surveillance for his relative’s drug deals while on duty and monitored police radio frequencies to ensure federal investigators weren’t about to close in.

In one instance last July, federal agents told Yuba City police dispatchers they would be at a particular intersection in specific vehicles in to see whether Phagura would relay the information to his cohorts.

Phagura allegedly warned the dealers law enforcement was in the area by texting a single word, “Hot.”

Despite the ruse that the feds were watching for local drug deals, the Phaguras and the informant went about their exchange anyway, according to the complaint. Later, agents watched Phagura, in his police vehicle, inexplicably drive down a dirt road into an orchard before turning around and leaving. Officials say they believe it was his attempt at seeing if he was being followed.

The drug deals were for as much as a kilogram, or 2.2 pounds, of cocaine at a time, authorities say.

 “This is a sad day for the Yuba City Police Department, the citizens of Yuba City and all of law enforcement,” said Yuba City Police Chief Robert D. Landon. “Our men and women of law enforcement work hard daily to earn the trust and cooperation of the citizens we serve. Events like this erode that trust and confidence for those who so proudly wear the badge and serve with honesty and integrity.”

Phagura joined the department as a reserve officer in 2010 and became a patrolman full time in 2012. He worked on patrol and as a hostage negotiator but in recent months was assigned to light duty, department spokeswoman Shawna Pavey said. Phagura has been placed on paid administrative leave, she said.

Phagura was charged Wednesday with conspiring to possess a controlled substance with intent to distribute and using a communication facility for narcotics trafficking. He was released on $100,000 bail. His suspected relative remains in custody and will have a detention hearing Thursday, officials said.

Though the Department of Homeland Security began investigating Gursharan Phagura in 2011, it wasn’t until March of last year they appeared to have heard about his suspected relative, the police officer, the complaint shows.

“On March 1, 2014, during a recorded, in-person conversation (as arranged via text message), Phagura informed [the informant] that he had a local law-enforcement friend that could provide assistance/counter-surveillance” for drug deals,” the complaint reads.

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