Dowagiac men sentenced for drug possession

CASSOPOLIS — Drug possession has landed two Dowagiac men behind bars.

Richard Robert Johnson, 35, of the 500 block of High Street in Dowagiac, and Tyler Scott McNeil, 19, of the 300 block of Oak Street in Dowagiac, were sentenced Friday in Cass County Circuit court on unrelated charges of meth possession.

First, Cass County Circuit Court Judge Mark Herman sentenced Johnson to one year in Cass County Jail, with credit for 60 days already served, for a habitual offender charge of possession of a controlled substance; six to 20 years in prison, with credit for 165 days already served, for possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver; and six to 20 years in prison, with credit for 165 days already served, for a charge of maintaining a meth lab. On an additional charge of possession, Johnson was sentenced to 165 days in Cass County Jail, with credit for 165 days already served. His sentences will run concurrently.

Johnson pleaded guilty to the charge during a Jan. 18 court appearance.

The charges stem from a search of Johnson’s home on Dec. 13, 2017. A parole check was performed on Johnson’s home after officers received a tip that Johnson was distributing meth. During the search, officers found meth and drug paraphernalia in the home.

At the time of his arrest, Johnson was two and a half years into a three-year term of probation. Because he failed to complete his probation, Johnson was sentenced at the mid-level of the guidelines for his previous convictions. Previously, Johnson had successfully graduated from Cass County’s adult treatment court.

During sentencing, Cass County Prosecutor Victor Fitz said that though he acknowledges that addition is a serious obstacle to overcome, the fact that Johnson is a habitual offender who has undergone treatment, yet reoffended, made Fitz doubt Johnson’s desire to overcome his addiction and become a productive member of society.

“The county certainly goes above and beyond to help people get clean and address drug problems,” Fitz said. “But this defendant has been in the system again and again and again. … He is a danger to our community. We just want our streets safe.”

Johnson’s attorney Robert Drake disagreed with Fitz and said that Johnson has expressed remorse for his actions. Drake asked that Johnson be placed in a treatment program for his addiction.

“This is the cost of addiction,” Drake said. “Relapse happens. [Addicts] are human beings. I think their lives matter. I think their futures matter. … It happens that people lose sight of the tools they are given in treatment and relapse. Addiction is a powerful demon to fight.”

Judge Herman said that it was disappointing, given all the resources made available to Johnson to fight his addiction, that he was back in front of the court.

“You returned not only to your addiction, but to selling and delivering,” Herman said to Johnson. “We can’t keep you from ruining your own life. … I don’t know what else you think we can do for you. We can only offer you the tools [to fight addiction]. You have to use those tools.”

Herman sentenced 19-year-old McNeil to a lighter sentence than Johnson. McNeil was sentenced to eight months in Cass County Jail, with credit for 84 days already served, for a habitual offender charge of possession of a controlled substance. McNeil was also sentenced to eight months in Cass County Jail, with credit for 114 days already served, for a probation violation. His sentences will run concurrently.

McNeil pleaded guilty to the charges during a Jan. 29 court appearance.

The charges stem from an incident that occurred on Dec. 13, 2017, when McNeil was spotted in a vehicle by officers and arrested on an outstanding warrant. A search of the vehicle found drug residue on a pipe.

Herman said that he wished that McNeil had been present during Johnson’s sentencing, so that McNeil could see what will happen to him if he should continue down the road he is on.

Herman told McNeil that he needs to take the resources to tackle his addiction that he will be given in jail seriously, so that he can turn his life around.

“When I look at your youth, I would give a million dollars to change places with you,” Herman said to McNeil. “But I had a good life because I didn’t choose drugs. You can have a good life if you want. You have a lot of life ahead of you, and that life can be really, really hard. … I can only give you the tools to change your life, I can’t make you use them. …  But I hope you will.”

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