Several past and present Kokomo Police Department officers were honored by the federal government at a special ceremony Wednesday morning, a little more than two years after helping to dismantle one of the biggest drug trafficking rings in Howard County history.

Capt. Shane Melton, Capt. Austin McClain, Lt. Zach Rodman, Officer Cody Rayls and Officer Derek Root — the latter now with the Fishers Police Department — were each awarded the U.S. Attorney’s Award, given to law enforcement officers who demonstrate exceptional work while on duty.

The men received the award for their work in “Operation Law and Order,” a drug trafficking investigation conducted by federal, state and local enforcement officers from the fall of 2017 to May 2018, culminating in the arrests of dozens of people.

Most of those arrested during the investigation have since been convicted for their roles in the drug ring too, with many of them now are serving decades in federal prison.

Josh Minkler, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana, took several minutes during Wednesday’s ceremony to highlight the important and collaborative effort it took to bring those involved to justice.

“One of the greatest pleasures of my job is not just prosecuting and arresting the bad guys but also honoring the work of the good guys,” he told the crowd gathered inside the City Council chambers. “It’s just so important to us. … Just so you know what was done besides the arrest of these individuals, approximately 17 pounds of methamphetamine was taken off the streets. … Two pounds of cocaine, two ounces of heroin, 122 grams of fentanyl … thirty-seven thousand dollars in drug money and 24 firearms.

“This case, the defendants, this was not their first time committing crimes,” Minkler added. “They were extremely violent. During this case, a murder-for-hire plot was stopped by the efforts of law enforcement. … The result in this case was just magnificent.”

After the ceremony was over, Minkler reiterated some of those same points during an interview with the Tribune, saying that Kokomo should be proud of the officers who serve this community.

“I think it should give people great confidence that the officers they see on the street are there to keep them safe,” he said. “That’s their main job, their main objective. And they will do whatever it takes to keep people safe, no matter the cost.”

And though Wednesday was a great honor for him personally, Melton also said it’s just part of the job of being a police officer.

“None of us sitting here did it thinking that someone was going to come talk to us later on and say, ‘You did a really good job,’” he said. “We did it because they [those involved in the drug ring] were killing our community. That’s truly what it was all about. And when we went and talked to the DEA and explained how bad it was, they right away said, ‘OK, let’s do this.’”

Melton added that the officers won’t stop protecting the citizens of Kokomo either, because he said there is unfortunately almost always a “next time.”

“We want people to know that we’re here day and night,” Melton said. “We’re going to keep working super hard, and we’re going to chase down drug dealers and people with guns or those who want to do bad things. We want people to be proud of us and know that when they’re sleeping, we’re out protecting them.”

DEA Special Agent in Charge Mike Gannon agreed with Melton, noting that the work of law enforcement in Operation Law and Order hopefully sends a direct message to those who try to commit these types of crimes here in Kokomo.

“We get together and work collaboratively and go take out the organizations,” he said. “That’s exactly what we did in this case too. And at the end of the day, people aren’t going to put up with it. They’re not going to put up with people using violence and intimidation to pedal poison and make money by destroying our communities.

“If you think specifically about this case, they were actually going to murder people because they didn’t want their drug traffic to stop,” Gannon added. “And this case, this is for the people of Kokomo that know that they’re now going to sleep a lot better with these people off of their streets.”

Also recognized at Wednesday’s ceremony were Officer Ryan Shuey, Capt. Tonda Cockrell, Sgt. Charlie Fourkiller and Officer Chad VanCamp.

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