The accomplice of a small-town police chief caught selling drugs was sentenced Tuesday to 15 months in prison.
Rettie Morris, 42, of Harlan County will serve nine months in prison and six months on home detention under the order from U.S. District Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove.
Morris was the longtime girlfriend of Jackie Keith Stewart, who was police chief in the historic Harlan County coal town of Lynch in 2015 and early 2016 before being arrested.
Stewart was charged with selling drugs throughout the time he was police chief.
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Witnesses told authorities Stewart sold cocaine, crack, methamphetamine, prescription pills and Suboxone, sometimes from his home, according to a court record. Suboxone is used in medication-assisted treatment for addiction to drugs called opioids, but can be abused itself.
One witness reported seeing Stewart snort cocaine while in uniform in March 2016, and bought drugs from Stewart at his home, according to a court record.
Stewart kept a 12-gauge shotgun with a pistol grip near the door of his house during drug sales.
He pleaded guilty to possessing a gun to further a drug crime and was sentenced to five years in prison.
The story of a police chief selling and using drugs was a graphic example of Eastern Kentucky’s debilitating drug problem.
“That’s about as bad as it gets,” said Lynch Mayor John Adams.
Adams said he did a background search on Stewart before hiring him and saw no red flags. Stewart had experience at other police departments in the region and his training was up to date, Adams said.
Morris, who had been addicted to drugs for years, took part in trafficking with Stewart.
When a witness who was working with police confidentially bought cocaine from Stewart in January 2016, he sent Morris in his unmarked police vehicle to another dealer to pick up the cocaine, according to a court record.
Morris pleaded guilty to selling a .22-caliber derringer to a convicted felon.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Parman recommended a sentence of 15 months for Morris during her sentencing hearing Tuesday in federal court in London.
Parman said Morris went through drug treatment while awaiting sentencing and appeared to do well for awhile, but then used drugs again and submitted a urine sample from someone else to try to hide her relapse.
Morris has a severe drug addiction, and when she can’t control it “she is a distinct danger to others,” Parman said.
Morris’ attorney, Paul Croley, said Morris’ problems flowed from her addiction, and that she had suffered physical and sexual abuse over a period of years.
“It made it hard for Rettie to break the cycle of the abuse and dependency,” Croley said.
Van Tatenhove told an emotional Morris that addiction has an insidious power he would never discount, but that people need to make good choices even when times are hard.
The judge said Morris had to be held accountable for conduct that hurt the community, but that he hoped her sentence would help her turn her life around.
“You have to beat the addiction every single day,” Van Tatenhove said. “So win Tuesday,” take that accomplishment “and then win Wednesday.”
The judge recommended further substance abuse treatment for Morris.
Morris has already served five months of her nine months behind bars.