DICKSON CITY -- The Viewmont Mall in the Scranton area is busy this week with families doing back to school shopping, but Thursday evening when it was still daylight, undercover state police carried out a drug bust that ended up injuring four troopers!
Is it justified to carry out a bust in such a busy parking lot with innocent people all around?
State police said to make sure troopers don't blow their cover, undercover drug buys often have to happen where they dealer wants it.
On Thursday night, troopers said Joseph Klecha wanted to do the deal there.
State police said they took many precautions to make sure the public was safe, but felt the arrest was important enough to go through with the buy and arrest at the mall.
A white SUV was boxed in by other cars. State police said undercover troopers blocked the way out for suspected drug dealer Joseph Klecha of Montrose.
Investigators said those four troopers were hit by the SUV and its open doors as he tried to flee. Klecha was also hurt in the struggle to arrest him.
It was a busy night at the mall when all this went down.
“I think it's really strange. I wouldn't expect that to happen in an area like this. I guess it happens everywhere but to have it happen in the mall parking lot is kind of strange, especially people getting hurt,” said Brittanie Hess of Carbondale.
“The civilians probably didn't realize what was going on, they probably just saw some commotion so the undercovers did an excellent job of what they're prepared to do, trained to do and executed it perfectly,” said Cpl Michael Carroll of the Pennsylvania State Police.
Corporal Michael Carroll said drug dealers often want to dictate where the drug buys happen, and to not blow their cover the undercover cops often have to agree.
“They tend to go to a public place where they can mix in with a lot of people, do something quick in and out, cars coming and going all the time,” said Cpl Carroll.
For this case, troopers met at the barracks beforehand, evaluated the risk and determined it could be done safely.
Cpl Carroll said numerous troopers were hiding around the mall area as back-up just in case something went wrong. They got called to help, but by the time they got there, the undercover troopers had the suspect in custody, despite all four being hurt.
“They're very dedicated troopers, they did a phenomenal job. By the time our support troopers came up on scene, they already had the individual out of the car and on the ground,” said Cpl Carroll.
Troopers said what happened at the mall also helped lead to a man staying at a hotel nearby. Keiyamo Nelson, a key figure in a drug network from New Jersey to our area.
All the commotion at the mall led to two arrests.
“For it to be effective they need to do it in situations like that, I just wish people didn't get hurt,” said Hess.
The four troopers are out of the hospital. Their injuries weren't serious, and they are expected to be back to work soon.
Joseph Klecha, the suspect accused of hitting them had to have surgery on Friday.
Keiyamo Nelson is in the Lackawanna County Jail.