How an off-duty deputy’s poolside joke turned into an undercover drug sting
Sarcasm can be a tricky thing. Just ask Andrew James Harris, who, according to court records, discovered the joke was on him when he ended up the subject of an undercover drug sting.
It all started at the Courtyard by Marriott hotel in Mission Valley on March 26, where Harris got into a friendly conversation with a woman and two men relaxing in the hot tub. He asked the reason for their stay, and one of them jokingly responded that their crack lab had blown up.
But the wisecrack was lost on Harris. He excitedly disclosed he was in the drug business too, according to investigators.
Little did he know, his new acquaintances were off-duty sheriff’s deputies from Marin County who were in San Diego for a two-week specialized narcotics training course. And they were about to get some hands-on experience.
The meeting and the investigation that followed are outlined in a search warrant affidavit written by an El Cajon police officer working on the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s Narcotics Task Force. It was unsealed in San Diego federal court last week.
One of the detectives in the hot tub said in an interview Wednesday that it was especially surprising that Harris fell for the crack lab joke. Crack labs don’t blow up.
“We let him lead the conversation, take it where he wanted to go,” said the detective, who works drug cases as part of Marin County’s Major Crimes Task Force and asked not to be named due to her undercover work. She said she and her colleagues had a great story for their class the next day.
The next night, the three deputies were in the hot tub again, this time with six other law enforcement officers also in town for the training, when Harris came wandering up, according to the detective.
“Hey guys, I think I have something you’ll be interested in,” Harris told them, she said. He came back with an “eight ball” — an eighth of an ounce — of cocaine in a hat, she said. She told him that because she was in her bikini she had nowhere to put it, but they’d talk later, she said.
The deputies discussed the hot tub contacts with the narcotics task force officer teaching their class, and the decision was made to run with the scenario.
The next day, the deputies met Harris at a restaurant and introduced him to the undercover task force officer as their uncle, a hippie from Ocean Beach interested in buying LSD. The officer bought 4 grams of cocaine and 50 tabs of LSD for $600, according to the affidavit.
The deputies eventually went back home to Marin County, and the undercover officer who had made the restaurant buy continued the sting. On April 7, the officer and Harris met for another deal at a Point Loma Starbucks parking lot, where about 3.5 grams of cocaine and 20 tabs of LSD were purchased for $360, the affidavit states.
On April 27, the officer and another undercover special agent met Harris at a Point Loma Home Depot parking lot. When he attempted to sell them 30 grams of cocaine and 100 tabs of LSD for $2,000, he was arrested, according to the court document. Besides the drugs for sale, Harris was also in possession of $4,100 in cash believed to be drug proceeds, investigators said.
That day, a San Diego Superior Court judge had signed a search warrant for Harris’ apartment and car.
At the Dylan Point Loma Apartments, investigators found 180 grams of cocaine, 30 grams of Ecstasy, 90 tabs of LSD, 3 grams of psychedelic mushrooms and several bottles and vials of what are believed to be anabolic steroids, according to the affidavit.
A digital scale, $2,600 in cash, hundreds of tiny plastic baggies printed with designs and a Savage Model 10 6.5-millimeter bolt-action rifle with ammunition were also seized, the records state.
Harris was arrested at first on state charges, but that case was dropped so charges could be filed in federal court. A federal grand jury indicted him June 8, and he was arrested on June 15.
He has pleaded not guilty to drug-trafficking charges. He was released on $30,000 bond.
The Marin County detective, who has five years on the force, said the case made for a unique experience.
“This was totally bizarre,” she said. “This is probably a career case for me. I don’t think it will ever happen again.
“I work undercover on a regular basis and have never encountered anything like this.”
Davis writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune