Hartford raid results in drug charges against couple known for prison guard-inmate pregnancy

Police remove evidence from an apartment on Hartford Avenue near Hartford High School in White River Junction, Vt., following a search on Wednesday, June 7, 2023. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Police remove evidence from an apartment on Hartford Avenue near Hartford High School in White River Junction, Vt., following a search on Wednesday, June 7, 2023. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news photographs — James M. Patterson

Hartford Police, from left, Cpl. Eric Clifford, Officer Jhonathan Angulo, and Officer Lucas Menezes, arrest Leanne Salls for alleged cocaine possession following a search of her White River Junction, Vt., on Wednesday, June 7, 2023. James Ingerson was also arrested for alleged cocaine possession and possession of a firearm during the operation that involved Hartford Police, Norwich Police and officers from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Hartford Police, from left, Cpl. Eric Clifford, Officer Jhonathan Angulo, and Officer Lucas Menezes, arrest Leanne Salls for alleged cocaine possession following a search of her White River Junction, Vt., on Wednesday, June 7, 2023. James Ingerson was also arrested for alleged cocaine possession and possession of a firearm during the operation that involved Hartford Police, Norwich Police and officers from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

James Ingerson (Hartford Police photograph)

James Ingerson (Hartford Police photograph) —

Leanne Salls (Hartford Police photograph)

Leanne Salls (Hartford Police photograph) —

By JOHN LIPPMAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 06-08-2023 9:33 AM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — A Hartford couple who started a relationship and had a baby together when he was a prisoner and she was a prison guard were arrested and charged with possession of cocaine after multiple police agencies raided their Hartford Avenue apartment on Wednesday morning.

James Ingerson, 52, and Leanne Salls, 40, were taken into custody by Hartford police with assistance from Norwich and Lebanon police and federal ATF agents at their residence adjacent to White River Valley Family Eye Care, across the road from Hartford High School, Hartford police said in a news release.

Ingerson, whose criminal record includes prior convictions for burglary, also was charged with being a felon in unlawful possession of a firearm, police said. He was released into the custody of Hartford Probation and Parole and is being held at Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield, Vt., on a parole violation.

Salls was taken into custody and then released and cited to appear in Windsor County Superior Court at a future date.

The arrests and charges followed a monthlong drug investigation dubbed “Operation Hurricane Alley,” Hartford police said. It culminated when the first of up to seven law enforcement vehicles — three of them unmarked, including a Prius — arrived at the Hartford Avenue apartment building at around 9:45 a.m.

Police were observed entering and leaving the six-unit, Victorian-style building at 549 Hartford Ave. for more than two hours. Salls spent much of the time in the front seat of her car parked in the driveway.

By about 11:15 a.m., ATF agents emerged carrying a gray plastic bin with paper sacks inside. Police officers next escorted Salls in handcuffs from her car to a Hartford police vehicle.

Hartford police later posted a photo on the department’s Facebook page that showed five plastic bags with unidentifiable contents, a kitchen scale speckled with a white substance and a break-action long gun that inspired commentators to remark it looked like an antique that would have been used for “robbing a stagecoach like it’s 1886.”

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A resident of the apartment building who did not want to give her name told the Valley News after police had cleared the scene on Wednesday that suspicious activity involving strangers showing up at all hours at the couple’s first-floor apartment has been a problematic occurrence for the more than a year in which she has lived at address.

“It’s been hard. People stop and go. They had a lot of visitors. All the tenants have been uncomfortable. … We feel the situation was causing lots of problems,” she said, adding that she hoped Wednesday’s police action “would put a stop to this.”

The apartment building is owned by Kurt Spann and Liz Neily, of Woodstock, who own several other apartment buildings in Hartford, according to town records. The apartment building is managed by The Simpson Cos., a well-known property management and housing contractor in the Twin States that has offices a few minutes north on Hartford Avenue.

“We are aware of the situation that took place today and are working with our legal team to resolve it,” said Rachel Bertrand, facilities manager at The Simpson Cos., declining further comment.

Spann and Neily said they have been aware of the alleged drug dealing at their apartment building but that taking action to remove tenants through Vermont’s stringent eviction process has proved difficult.

“While we have had our share of challenges over our nearly 20 years in the residential rental business, 99% of our tenants have been good, hard-working people,” Spann said via email to the Valley News on Wednesday. “So it’s especially difficult to see our other tenants suffer through this kind of situation.”

Ingerson and Salls gained notoriety a decade ago when Salls, then a prison guard at Southeast State Correctional Facility, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of prohibited acts, after it was discovered that she had become pregnant by Ingerson in 2011, when he was serving a sentence for burglary.

Salls had been initially charged with sexual exploitation of an inmate, a felony that carries a five-year maximum prison sentence, but the charge was reduced to a lesser offense when the couple said the relationship was consensual and Ingerson said he was the one who initiated it.

Contact John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com.