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Katy ISD Police Uncover Smoke Shop Selling to Minors in Sting Operation


November 22, 2019

By Natalie Cook Clark

The Katy ISD Police Department acted on suspicions that a local smoke shop near Taylor High School was selling tobacco products and vaping supplies to minors. Last Tuesday, in a multi-department effort, the agencies conducted a sting operation that involved a minor at the Still Smokin Smoke Shop on Provincial Boulevard. The operation confirmed suspicions and led to multiple citations.

Joint Operation Assembled Thanks to Student Tips

Katy ISD Police teamed up with the Harris County Sheriff's Office, Harris County Sheriff's Office Multi Agency Gang Task Force (MAGTF, ) Texas Comptroller’s Office, Cy Fair ISD, and Spring Branch ISD in this joint operation that took place on Tuesday November 19, 2019.

"We heard about this particular smoke shop by the way of a student that said this place was selling to minors," says Katy ISD Chief Robert Jinks. "Multiple students reported the same shop. One student did submit the tip through our Step Up App, the others was word of mouth and talking to our officers."

A Minor Went Undercover in a Controlled Operation

"We did not involve any of those students. We're part of the MAGTF and have an officer assigned to that task force. We asked him to help and he brought an undercover team," says Jinks.

Jinks could not comment on whether or not the minor involved was a Katy ISD student, but did state that the minor volunteered to assist in the operation.

Multiple Katy ISD Students Detained and Warned

Surveillance was conducted and the student tips were right. Minor juveniles were entering the store and purchasing tobacco products. The undercover minor juvenile entered the store and was able to purchase two packs of JUULS tobacco products. Katy ISD officers, HCSO patrol deputies, Special Agent with the Texas Comptroller’s Office and other law enforcement agency personnel detained the employee.

During the operation, several other juveniles not part of the investigation were exiting the store. All of the minors detained were Katy ISD students who had purchased JUULS and other tobacco products from the same employee. Those minors were warned and released with no charges.

Multiple Citations Issued Against Smoke Shop

Multiple citations were issued against the shop by the agent with the Texas Comptroller’s Office after they conducted an onsite inspection. Citations included selling tobacco products to minors. Further investigation will be followed up by the State Comptroller’s Office.

"The shop is still opened and that part is now being followed up by the Comptroller," says Jinks.

"We'll do it again."

"We wanted to get a message out there not to sell to minors and we'll do it again if it comes up," says Jinks.

While this is the first time Katy ISD Police have been involved with investigating a smoke shop, they do go out into the community when needed.

"Our jurisdiction includes the entire geographical area that reaches Katy ISD schools," explains Jinks. "We're also part of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force and have been involved with cases for that force."

"Whenever we see a threat affecting our students we will get involved," says Jinks.

Vaping Threatens Our Students

All students involved in this case were Katy ISD students, though Jinks stressed that the ongoing threat of vaping reaches far beyond our schools. MAGTF works when a department within the task force reaches out, and all those departments represented get involved. This time it involved Katy ISD students, but if Spring Branch or Cy Fair ISD's reach out the entire force including Katy ISD will assist.

In October, Katy ISD hosted a Legacy Parents Academy on the dangers of vaping. Officer Ivan Nelson with the Katy ISD Police Department spoke and shared some alarming statistics. In a 2018 National Institute Survey, 17.6% of eighth graders admitted to vaping, followed by 32.3% of 10th graders and 37.3% of 12th graders. Nelson pointed out that these statistics represent children who aren’t even old enough to purchase e-cigarettes.

Jinks showed the increase in the number of Katy ISD Police calls to respond to vaping incidents during the past three school years:

2016-17 - 65

2017-18 - 153

2018-19 - 185

Nelson reported that his office had received about 50 calls about vaping in the schools between August and October just this year.

Punishments for Vaping

At the presentation, Nelson shared the Justice of the Peace court punishments for students caught with a vaping device in the school:

  • 1st Offense: Court Cost $72.00 and must complete a tobacco awareness class within 90 days.

  • 2nd Offense: Deferred Adjudication with a $275.00 fine, community service, and repeat the tobacco awareness class.

  • 3rd Offense: Minimum fine of $275.00, up to $500.00

Vaping Affects Younger Students Too

All students involved in this week's operation were high school students, but vaping is affecting junior highs as well. In fact, Nelson shared at the Legacy Parents Academy that middle school students have an even stronger preference for vaping over smoking. Vaping, just like tobacco products are banned from school property.

"We're still learning the affects of smoking," says Jinks. "We're already seeing the dangers of vaping. What will we learn in 10 years?"

"Just like alcohol, you need to ask for ID," says Jinks. "If we hear if the smoke shop selling to our students we will come after you."

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