Deadly Fake: Riding with Dallas narcotics detectives as the Jump Out Boys bust drug houses


The Jump Out Boys like to keep things rowdy and loud in their unmarked vans as they head out on a drug bust — giving each other hell as the van vibrates with the booming bass of Texas rapper BigXthaPlug.

On a recent morning, the undercover narcotics detectives, more than a dozen in each van, sweated in their body armor. Everybody knew the assignment. They had gone over it a thousand times.

It’s one officer, one job: “I open the outer door and knock.” “I put eyes in that front right-hand window.” “I deploy the distraction devices.”

Beyond that is a lot of uncertainty. No one knows what’s on the other side of the door.

“One minute out,” the sergeant barked, and the van began to quiet. “30 seconds out.” Silence now. Many said a quick prayer.

They were a final right-hand turn away from executing a search warrant on a trap house on a block of tidy frame cottages in southeast Dallas near Pleasant Grove Stadium. They expected to find heroin, meth — and maybe fentanyl.

Game time, some detectives call it. No time for mistakes. “You can’t go in scared,” one said. “You have to go in ready.”

The back doors of the van burst open and the masked detectives swarmed out. Uniformed patrol officers popped up around the property’s perimeter.

A loud knock. “Dallas police! Search warrant! Come to the door!”

Within seconds, a bang like a cannon shook the heat-heavy air. Ten seconds later, another.

While one officer tossed the flashbangs into the front yard to distract the occupants, two groups jimmied open the front and back doors. Others smashed two windows.

Detectives found one man in the back bathroom, flushing the stash. Minutes later, he was herded out along with two other men and one woman, their hands zip-tied behind their backs.

Officers found the remaining drugs packaged in about a dozen snack-size bags, each containing a handful of M30s and what appeared to be Xanax and black tar heroin. Preliminary tests showed fentanyl in every sample.

A narcotics detective, one of the Jump Out Boys, searches tennis shoes for drugs in a West Dallas house Aug. 24. Minutes earlier, when SWAT officers entered the residence, one of the suspected drug dealers broke through this bedroom window in an effort to escape. (Tom Fox / Staff Photographer)

Fentanyl in dope busts

Jump Out Boys, printed in white block letters on the back of their T-shirts, is what the undercover narcotics guys have long called themselves. For their safety, none of them is identified in this story.

They bust an average of five houses or more a week. Since the beginning of August, The Dallas Morning News got the rare chance to ride along on eight raids across the city and watch the detectives’ work at headquarters.

Every bust had its reality-TV moment. The young suspect hurling himself through a glass window. The lookout, videoing detectives at an apartment raid then relaying the details in what sounded like a call to his boss. The woman zip-tied at the wrists as a plastic bag of pink pills spilled out of a compression sleeve on her ankle. The boy quietly watching his father’s arrest.

Thursday, the Jump Out Boys flooded an apartment building in northwest Dallas, falling in line behind a SWAT team with a battering ram. SWAT led the way because of the threat of gunfire and the cramped third-floor entry. Under DPD policy, only SWAT can execute “no knock” warrants.

SWAT slammed the apartment door — no knock, no warning — and detained the four men inside, one of whom was sitting in the front room with a Glock in his lap.

Now the Jump Out Boys went to work.

Inside, the only furnishings were a mattress, filthy wing-back chair and TV. The occupants smoked Newports. They left the packs all over the floor, alongside piles of wrinkled clothing.

On the kitchen countertop, drugs were displayed alongside plastic bags and a scale. “You can make your selections and be in and out in under a minute,” a detective said. “Just like any other business, they have it set up for convenient shopping.”

Outside, neighbors pointed detectives to a minivan, with a “Parent Pickup 21-22” tag hanging from the rearview mirror. A heavy odor of pot and PCP wafted from the locked vehicle, which residents said belonged to one of the apartment’s occupants.

When the detained men claimed the key was lost days ago, detectives broke the windows and found more dope and cash.

Gallery: On the job with the Jump Out Boys

It was 2 a.m. Friday before they completed the evidence inventory and testing, interviewed and booked the suspects, and finished the official report.

This bust found what preliminarily tested as about 50 M30 fentanyl pills, an ounce or more each of meth, heroin and cocaine and two ounces of pot. Also seized were two handguns and about $1,000 in cash.

“When it comes to fentanyl, I don’t care if it’s five pills,” Dallas Police Chief Eddie García told The News. “I don’t care if it’s 50, I don’t care if it’s 100. Every one of those pills taken off the street, that’s five, 50 or 100 lives that are saved.”

The narcotics detectives see more meth, heroin and cocaine, but the fentanyl numbers have grown throughout 2023. Since the beginning of August, the police department’s Special Investigations Division has seized 1,165 grams of presumptive fentanyl. At $20 a pill, that’s about $220,000.

Kids love the fentanyl tablets, one detective said. “The drug problem is getting worse, especially among teens. Any small thing we can do is worth it.”

The view from narcotics

Maj. Devon Palk, a 16-year Dallas police veteran, oversees about 100 narcotics and vice detectives who make up the Special Investigations Division.

Hanging from the rearview mirror of his department-issued black Dodge Charger is a cardboard Sasquatch. He got the nickname during his time undercover, when he sported Duck Dynasty-length hair and beard.

The majority of Palk’s narcotics detectives work out of the fourth floor of the Jack Evans Police Headquarters. The others are deployed to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Dallas operation, part of a drug task force made up of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.

While the task force more often gets the headlines for big fentanyl seizures, the narcotics unit’s busts are key to reducing violent crime in Dallas neighborhoods. “Where drugs are found,” Palk said, “you also are likely to find people with outstanding violent-crime warrants.”

Narcotics detectives collect evidence Sept. 14 in an apartment adjacent to Love Field. Among the drugs were about 50 M30 pills, which preliminary tests showed to be fentanyl. Four suspects were arrested, and the dog was taken to Dallas Animal Services.

Narcotics detectives collect evidence Sept. 14 in an apartment adjacent to Love Field. Among the drugs were about 50 M30 pills, which preliminary tests showed to be fentanyl. Four suspects were arrested, and the dog was taken to Dallas Animal Services. (Tom Fox / Staff Photographer)

The eight busts observed by The News took place in all but one of Dallas police’s seven patrol divisions. Three were north of I-30 — in a downtown high rise, in a northeast apartment and in a complex just across the fence from Love Field. Others observed were in Pleasant Grove, West Dallas and Oak Cliff.

In every trap house’s steel mesh door was a small opening sawed out, just above the handle, for drugs and money to pass through. Even the most deteriorating property was flush with surveillance cameras.

A suspected dealer’s luxury downtown high-rise apartment was barely furnished, but its closets were packed with high-end clothes. That raid netted guns, drugs — and a French bulldog. When Dallas Animal Services wasn’t available to pick up Aspen, detectives had no choice but to take him back to the office.

The home in Pleasant Grove looked like a grandma’s house. A crucifix on the wall. Neatly stacked CDs and old family photos. Porcelain angels. In the front yard were toddler riding toys — a pink Jeep and a green tractor. Decoys, the detectives said. No kids lived here.

One detective used a broom to poke for evidence. “Here I am,” he said, “sweeping a drug dealer’s house for him.”

Detectives cataloging evidence from another raid leafed through a school composition notebook filled with hand-written accounts of the day’s drug sales, the wares labeled “green” for pot, “work” for crack and “soft” for cocaine. Other pages were devoted to the dealer’s fitness goals, daily calorie counts and instructions for “how to set up an LLC, so you don’t co-mingle your funds.”

“These guys are entrepreneurs,” Palk said. “Drug sales are just another part of their daily routine.”

Fleeing ‘Hollywood-style’

West Dallas school children walking home stopped to stare at the long police caravan on one 105-degree late August afternoon. At the front were SWAT officers hanging onto the exterior of their armored vehicle.

Less than an hour earlier, a joint SWAT-narcotics briefing ticked off myriad instructions. Assignments were confirmed, especially who slams, who covers and who does what if shots were fired. The locations of cameras and barricades. Surrounding streets that patrol needed to block so civilian cars weren’t caught in crossfire. The identity of the onsite police medic. The location of the closest hospital.

“Any questions?” the sergeant said. “Let’s go to work.”

As their armored vehicle rolled to a stop, the SWAT officers leaped off. Doors banged. Windows broke. Six flashbangs sounded.

One of the suspected dealers made a run for it — through his bedroom window, scattering glass and blood, into the backyard and over the fence. Two perimeter officers apprehended him and bandaged his wounds in the alley.

“Man, he’s gonna need a lot of stitches,” a detective said as an ambulance pulled up. The boy was just 17, and lucky he didn’t cut an artery.

A 17-year-old suspect who broke through a West Dallas window receives treatment in the back of an ambulance. The teen’s injuries, sustained in his unsuccessful effort to escape police, were not life-threatening.

A 17-year-old suspect who broke through a West Dallas window receives treatment in the back of an ambulance. The teen’s injuries, sustained in his unsuccessful effort to escape police, were not life-threatening. (Tom Fox / Staff Photographer)

“That’s a lot of blood splatter,” another officer said as he examined the shattered window. “He went Hollywood style.”

They develop sympathy for the young ones. “No supportive family,” one detective said. “For them, drug running is easy, a decent way to survive.”

On the other side of the broken glass was a wall unit of meticulously arranged Air Jordans. A purple-gloved detective searched the inside of each of the 35 pairs then tossed them, one by one, into a pile on the bed.

“Every time we’re turning our head in here, we’re finding more drugs,” one said. In drawers, in kitchen cabinets, in the broiler pan storage under the oven.

They’ve found drugs at the bottom of cereal boxes, inside holes cut in the drywall or windowsills, in the engine of the family car, inside teddy bears and under a crib mattress.

“It’s like a puzzle,” one detective said. “Can I find their stash?”

This bust netted a quarter kilo of cocaine, a quarter kilo of crack and two to three kilos of meth. Plus black tar heroin, pot and seven guns. Palk described the house as a mid-level distribution spot, probably selling to users and smaller dealers.

The drug business was booming on this block of tidy homes — right across the street from the neighborhood Baptist church.

Beach towels, rugs and plastic garbage bags were tacked over the trap house windows. On one wall in the front room was a framed movie still of Al Pacino from Scarface and a poster of TV and film gangsters in a tableau of the Last Supper.

Unicorns in police work

The Jump Out Boys are more than a little proud of the fact that officers in other divisions think they’re crazy to do what undercover work requires.

“We love each other up here,” a detective said. “You make stories that you can’t ever share around most campfires, not with anyone but the others in this division.”

To get to a drug’s source, they move in the shadows. They make deals in high-end malls, bars and restaurants and in convenience store parking lots. Their cases often involve people who, from the outside, seem legitimately successful. People who have great families and go on Disney cruises.

The detectives know how to shift from one persona to another. They sometimes wear disguises that protect them in their off-duty lives. The team contains officers of all races, ages and genders because they have to blend with all kinds.

They’ll dumpster dive or sit on a curb in the dead of night to make a deal. They must have what one described as “the gift of gab” to persuade a dealer they’ve never met to sell them drugs.

“We know these people are armed and sometimes intoxicated,” a detective said. “We have so many rules we have to play by, and they have no rules.”

Officers built for the tradecraft of narcotics are unicorns, Palk said, equally adept at the tactical and the analytical work.

They take a criminal case from A to Z, working undercover to establish probable cause, make the arrest, secure and process the evidence, write the report, testify in court and put together a strong enough case to get the conviction.

Narcotics detectives didn’t grow up wanting to be accountants. “Those of us who are adrenaline junkies, we love to do it,” one said.

They laugh about the complaints of “stanky weed and PCP” smells in the elevators they use at headquarters and the mix of heavy metal and rap that reverberates on the fourth floor.

“You have to unlearn everything you’ve learned to become a police officer,” Palk said. That means deprogramming the basics: How a cop walks, talks, stands and knocks on a door.

Even the one-upmanship in the van is training for how to deal with unexpected situations when working undercover. “Handling it here is part of knowing you can handle it in the streets,” a detective said.

A FryDaddy for drugs

Visitors smell the Narcotics Unit’s “trophy room” at police headquarters before they see it — a skunky odor of dope and sweat. Here the detectives spread out their haul: drugs, guns and cash.

One August afternoon, it smelled like a cocaine-infused fish fry.

The evidence came out of a bust in the Red Bird neighborhood of Oak Cliff. A trail of small broken-open plastic bags littered the front yard, dropped by users smoking the crack before they got to the gate. Surveillance showed women selling drugs out a side window, where tall shrubs partly obscured the transactions.

When officers showed up, the woman inside threw as many drugs as she could grab into the kitchen FryDaddy’s boiling oil. The walls were sticky gold from the fryer, which ran all the time in case of a bust. Ten grams of crack became a half-gallon of oil the Jump Out Boys carefully poured from vat to heavy-duty plastic pitcher to tag for evidence.

A narcotics detective at Dallas police headquarters tests one of the M30 pills seized at a Love Field-area apartment. Preliminary testing showed the pills were fentanyl. A more conclusive test would be done in a lab as detectives build their case.

A narcotics detective at Dallas police headquarters tests one of the M30 pills seized at a Love Field-area apartment. Preliminary testing showed the pills were fentanyl. A more conclusive test would be done in a lab as detectives build their case. (Tom Fox / Staff Photographer)

A few neighbors applauded as the two paper bags of drugs were carried out. Kids on the other side of the fence played an impromptu soccer game. A new house was going up a few doors away.

“We’ve got children here,” the woman next door said. “That place is a total dump.”

Undercover officers know their job is akin to bailing the ocean with a soup spoon. They won’t ever stop the drug trade in Dallas. But they can bring relief to people caught in the middle.

“The grandmas who can’t protect themselves,” one detective said, “the young kids walking by drug houses on their way home from school. That’s what you’re doing it for.”

They acknowledge often feeling defeated. They miss family meals and their kids’ school events for undercover work only to have suspects bond out of jail before all the paperwork is finished.

“Then they find another case and get excited all over again,” a sergeant said.

Just home from school

The worst part of the job isn’t the danger, the long hours or even the reams of paperwork. It’s seeing the kids who suffer as a result of their parents’ dealing or using. This is not a victimless crime, the detectives say.

“When I see kids not getting love or attention,” one said, “that is hard to deal with.”

A recent warrant run on a house in a fast-gentrifying street of West Dallas provided a first-hand look.

As the line of police vehicles arrived, SWAT in the lead, the suspected dealer and his son were talking in the front yard. The young teen had just been dropped off by another family member, whose car was still running in the driveway.

Several officers swooped over to hustle the father and son to the curb while others breached two doors and searched the exterior.

One man was found inside and another four drug users were lounging on blue adirondack chairs out back. Everyone except the student was restrained with zip-ties or handcuffs and escorted to patches of shade.

The boy, with a start-of-school haircut and crisp polo shirt and khakis, sat expressionless and still, his clear backpack of books strapped on his back. He talked quietly with detectives and, once his mother was located, he was taken home.

The father faced charges of manufacturing and delivering cocaine. The guy found in the house was taken to jail on a probation violation. The users in the backyard were released. One left his shoes behind on the sidewalk and walked away in his socks.

In the back room of the house, next to a cart covered with plastic bags filled with cocaine, crack and pills, was a mirror with a greeting card that read:

A man to RESPECT & a man to ADMIRE


How the reporting was done

The Dallas Police Department gave The Dallas Morning News the rare opportunity to spend the last seven weeks inside the narcotics unit of its Special Investigations Division. Reporter Sharon Grigsby and photographer Tom Fox accompanied narcotics detectives on eight drug busts between Aug. 1 and Sept. 15.

The two journalists, who signed liability waivers, rode with Maj. Devon Palk in the convoy of police vehicles. They were kept at a safe distance until each scene was secured. In some instances, they were close enough to witness the first moments of the bust.

After suspects were detained, The News staffers were allowed to watch the investigation and collection of evidence. They could not legally enter the residences but could observe through open doorways and windows. Back at police headquarters, The News watched the initial testing of drugs as well as the sorting and cataloging of guns, cash and other evidence.

A narcotics detective escorts a suspect to a patrol car after SWAT officers served a search warrant on a West Dallas residence Aug. 23. Powder and crack cocaine were found in the house, on a block where big new homes are replacing frame cottages.

A narcotics detective escorts a suspect to a patrol car after SWAT officers served a search warrant on a West Dallas residence Aug. 23. Powder and crack cocaine were found in the house, on a block where big new homes are replacing frame cottages. (Tom Fox / Staff Photographer)

Sharon Grigsby

Sharon Grigsby is the City Columnist at The Dallas Morning News. Much of her reporting has involved mental health care and substance abuse in North Texas. Sharon was a 2018 Pulitzer Prize finalist for editorial writing for her work on sexual assault at Baylor University.

Tom Fox

Tom Fox is a senior visual journalist at The Dallas Morning News. He’s covered numerous stories for The News the past 30 years, including Hurricane Katrina, for which he and a team of photographers won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography. In 2020, he was named a Pulitzer finalist for images of a gunman opening fire on a Dallas federal courthouse.