A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Covington Police D-Team works to clean up the city’s streets by helping to put ‘Dirt’ in jail for a long time


In August, 2018, a confidential and reliable informant (CI) contacted Detective Chris Dees of the Covington Police Department “D-Team” and provided information on a subject known by the street name “Dirt” who was dealing heroin from a residence in the 1500 block of Greenup Street.

Lewis

Dees, who spent several years running Beat 2 on Covington’s Eastside, suspected “Dirt” was actually Michael Jamal Lewis, who Dees was familiar with from his days in patrol. A few days later Dees met up with the CI who called “Dirt” on the phone and set up a deal for $40 worth of heroin.

Dees equipped the CI with covert recording devices and sent the CI to meet “Dirt” while Dees monitored the transaction via radio.

As agreed in the phone call, the CI met “Dirt” at the residence and purchased a quantity of heroin for $40. The transaction was recorded on the covert recording.

Later the same day, Dees and the CI made another call and arranged a second deal. Again, the CI was equipped with a recording device and went to “Dirt’s” residence to purchase heroin only this time the CI got a phone call from “Dirt” as the CI arrived instructing the CI to come to a window.

This time “Dirt” exchanged the heroin and cash through the window of the residence. The covert recording captured video of the hand to hand exchange but only showed the window, not “Dirt.”

The next day, Dees and the CI met up again to buy more heroin from “Dirt.” The same procedures were followed only this time Dirt’s phone went straight to voicemail so the CI set out for the residence without a pre-arranged deal.

When the CI met up with Dirt, he learned the drug dealer had not paid his phone bill and that’s why the calls weren’t going through. Still, the CI asked for and received a 1/2 gram of heroin from Dirt for $60 on the condition that the CI return later and purchase another 1/2 gram for $70, thus averaging the sales at $65 each.

After taking the first 1/2 gram to Dees, the CI returned as promised with $70 and purchased the 2nd 1/2 gram. The heroin was then returned to Dees. All four purchases would later be sent to the KY State Police Crime Lab for testing which found the substances were actually a mixture of heroin and Fentanyl.

Dees completed his reports which included still photos pulled from the cover recordings which clearly showed “Dirt” was, in fact, the person Dees knew to be Michael Jamal Lewis.

Dees also matched numerous tattoos seen on “Dirt” to those seen on Lewis when he was booked into jail for previous, unrelated arrests.

Dees presented his case to Commonwealth’s Attorney Rob Sanders who presented the case directly to the Kenton County Grand Jury. Lewis was indicted on four counts of Trafficking in a Controlled Substance 1st Degree (heroin) – 2nd or subsequent offense. Investigation into Lewis’ record showed he had a prior state conviction for Trafficking in a Controlled Substance 1st Degree (cocaine) in 2001 and a Federal conviction for Possession with Intent to Distribute Cocaine in 2003.

The case was called for trial before Kenton Circuit Court Judge Kathleen Lape on March 12, 2019. Commonwealth’s Attorney Rob Sanders and Asst. Commonwealth’s Attorney Noel Hudson presented testimony from the CI, Dees, Covington Evidence Technician Angela Keller, and KY State Police Lab chemist Susan Vanlandingham. 

The jury watched videos from all four purchases of heroin and learned Lewis had over $1,000 in cash on his person when he was arrested despite no identifiable source of legitimate income.

At the conclusion of the two day trial, Sanders methodically went through still photos from each of the secret recordings showing the jurors dozens of shots of Lewis’ face and several more of his tattoo covered body, comparing each of the tattoos to prior jail photos. The jury took approximately 20 minutes to return a verdict finding Lewis guilty on 3 of the 4 counts. The jury did not convict for the second purchase via the window when Lewis’ face was not visible on camera.

Sanders

In the sentencing phase of the trial, jurors learned about Lewis’ prior drug trafficking convictions. Under Kentucky law, subsequent offenders are subject to increased punishment which raised the possible sentence for each offense to 10 – 20 years in prison. After closing arguments from both parties, the jury deliberated less than an hour before recommending the maximum sentence for each offense.

In addition, the jury recommended those maximum sentences run consecutively for a total of 60 years in prison. Final sentencing was scheduled for May 7, 2019. Lewis will be eligible for parole after serving 20 years.

Sanders said the jury’s verdict clearly shows Kenton County is fed up with heroin dealers, but especially repeat offenders who haven’t learned from their prior transgressions.

“Mr. Lewis has been to prison twice for the exact same conduct but every time he’s released, his behavior has gotten worse, not better,” said Sanders. “A witness testifying for Lewis at sentencing said the defendant hasn’t been the same since his girlfriend died in 2015. On cross-examination, the witness admitted Lewis’ girlfriend died of a Fentanyl overdose, yet here he was dealing the same poison that killed her.

Sanders also complimented the work of Detective Dees and his CI, saying “I’ve done hundreds of drug prosecutions in my career and these were easily the best covert videos I’ve ever seen.”

Office of the Kenton County Commonwealth’s Attorney


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