A well-liked school teacher teams up with a less-reputable acquaintance to rob a stash house belonging to a notorious narcotics cartel. Their plan nevertheless backfires; a shootout erupts; and by the time the smoke settles, the school teacher is dead, while an alleged member of the cartel is barely clinging to life.
All this may sound like a storyline straight out of HBO’s The Wire, featuring characters lifted from AMC’s Breaking Bad. Yet, this premise describes events that actually occurred at a mobile home park in Green Level last Thursday, and which the office of Alamance County’s sheriff has spent the better part of a week struggling to unravel.
It wasn’t until this Wednesday that Alamance County’s sheriff Terry Johnson was ready to announce the results of his agency’s investigation, which he laid out in gory detail during a news conference that afternoon. Johnson also acknowledged that the events which took place in Green Level really were as dramatic as they appeared at first glance.
“We have something here that we don’t normally have happen in Alamance County,” he explained to the assembled reporters. “It was a lot like an old Western shootout…There were projectiles going into the trailer, and hitting other trailers in the trailer park…We found over 30 shell casings inside and outside the trailer.”
This fatal gun battle reportedly broke out shortly after midnight last Thursday when two men from Wadesboro burst into a mobile home that they had previously identified as a stash house for the infamous Sinaloa cartel.
Johnson identified one of these two enterprising stickup artists as Barney Dale Harris, a 39-year-old black male who was ultimately shot to death in the firefight.
BULLET HOLES IN TRAILER AND CASINGS FOUND:
A well-respected husband and father of three, Harris had worked as a Spanish teacher and coach at the Union Academy Charter School in Monroe prior to his fatal attempt to steal from the cartel. Harris had apparently undertaken this scheme with his brother-in-law Steven Alexander Stewart, Jr., a 32-year-old black male of 304 Old Lilesville Road in Wadesboro.
According to Johnson, the two men had staked out members of the Sinaloa cartel for a while before they launched their ill-fated raid on the mobile home in Green Level.
“What we’ve learned from the investigation,” the sheriff said during the news conference, “is that Harris and his brother in law…were following these cartel members and trying to find out where their stash houses were.”
During their raid on the alleged stash house, Harris and Stewart apparently encountered 18-year-old Alonso Beltran Lara, who had resided in the mobile home with his brother Juan.
According to Johnson, Alonso Lara had his feet bound and his arms restrained during the raid before he was shot “execution style” in the back of the head. The 18-year-old Hispanic male was nevertheless still breathing when deputies arrived on the scene, although he succumbed to his injuries later that day at an area hospital.
Harris, meanwhile, was found dead in a bedroom of Lara’s trailer – a victim of gunshot wounds that he received in spite of a tactical vest that he had worn for the raid. Deputies also discovered a kilo of cocaine near the site of the shootout along with one of the firearms that had been discharged.
It was another three days before the authorities caught up with Stewart, who apparently went on the run after the gun battle in Green Level. Stewart currently faces charges of first degree murder and first degree burglary for his alleged role in shootout, although he could receive additional charges as Alamance County’s district attorney, Sean Boone, hinted during the sheriff’s news conference.
“We expect additional charges and probably additional suspects to be charged,” the district attorney said during his brief turn at the podium.
Stewart has subsequently been charged with the illegal possession of a firearm by a previously convicted felon.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the sheriff’s office was still looking for Alonso Lara’s brother, Juan Daniel Salinas Lara, who was also allegedly involved in the gun battle.
STILL BEING SOUGHT:
Johnson ascribed the complexity of this case to his department’s decision to withhold information about the shootout for nearly a week. The sheriff also credited the delay to his concerns about potential retaliation against people involved in the crime.
“Folks, I can tell you right now that when you’re dealing with the Mexican drug cartels, somebody’s going to die as a result of this,” he declared. “I’m still worried about some retaliation because the Mexican cartels – they don’t forget, and they will pay somebody back somewhere…I’ll be honest with you, I fear for some of the family in Wadesboro.”
In addition to his blow-by-blow of the events in Green Level, Johnson shared some speculation about how it might all be connected to policies at the federal level.
“We’ve seen a tremendous increase in the amount of drugs since February of this year, which is telling me that the borders are open and the drugs are coming in.”
Johnson added that since February 19, nearly 130 kilos of cocaine have been seized in Alamance County along with over $2 million in cash that presumably came from the narcotics trade. The sheriff conceded that these seizures represent a small proportion of the illegal narcotics that are passing through his jurisdiction – the sheer volume of which, he said, has reduced the street value of a kilo of coke from $50,000 to $38,000.
In the end, Johnson delivered his account of the shootout with the nonchalance of a veteran law enforcement official who’s seen it all in the course of his many, long years on the job.
“I have been in this business 50 years now, and nothing surprises me,” he said during the news conference. “I do hate that it had to happen in this county, and we will do everything we can to make sure these crimes and this behavior don’t happen here again.
“I guess the one thing that surprised me,” he added, “was the bullet-proof vest. But it didn’t help Mr. Harris because different vests are made to stop different ammunition.”