Daniel Comeaux arrived at work Monday to lead the Drug Enforcement Administrations Houston office. It is familiar territory for the 51-year-old lawman.
His first stint as a cop was here, in the Houston Police Department, where he spent years as a street level narcotics investigator chasing dealers across the city. He also spent his first days as a DEA agent here before threats from a corrupt drug-dealing Houston police officer hed investigated and arrested prompted Comeauxs bosses to transfer him to San Francisco.
When Comeaux was sworn in as a Houston police officer in 1992, crack cocaine was the drug of choice and more than 400 Houstonians died that year in crimes of violence.
Three decades later, the nations war on drugs has come under increasing scrutiny, as states across the U.S. have taken more permissive stances on medical and recreational drug use.
In Houston, however, homicides are back on the rise, with more than 400 in 2020. Instead of crack, federal agents are now seizing fentanyl and methamphetamines.
As the DEAs Special Agent-in-Charge, Comeaux oversees 700 agents working in 12 offices across south, central and east Texas, targeting transnational criminal organizations, gangs, counterfeit pills and other dangerous drugs.
Comeaux remains unwavering in his mission.
We have to continue to fight, Comeaux said, during a recent interview in the DEAs Houston Field Office on the West Loop. We have to try to stay up with the times and be more aggressive.
A baseball fanatic, Comeaux moved to San Marcos in 1990 to play baseball at Texas State University then known as Southwest Texas State University.
Hed dreamed of playing professional baseball, but when an injury sidelined him, a classmates father a Houston police officer asked him what he planned on doing for his career.
Be like you, a cop, Comeaux joked. The next week, the sergeant dropped an application into his lap.
I dont think so, he remembers thinking.
Comeaux grew up on New Orleans east side, in the seventh and ninth wards neighborhoods where kids didnt trust or rely on police. Gradually, however, he became more intrigued, and eventually signed up and attended HPDs training academy. After being sworn in 1992, he worked as a patrol officer on the citys east side and in south central for about a year, before the department announced it was hiring dozens of new narcotics officers.
Still a green patrol officer, Comeaux applied anyway. When he showed up for an interview, one captain asked him why he was there he didnt have enough time on.
I just put my name in, he said. You guys gave me a call, he told them.
Despite his inexperience, a sergeant phoned him soon after that interview. He still remembers the call.
They made me take you, the sergeant said. Report Monday to South Central narcotics.
The animosity didnt end there.
He took a lot of flak, said Darrin Bush, Comeauxs old HPD partner. A lot of guys resented the fact that he got there so quick.
For the next several years, the pair worked on street level enforcement teams attempting to stem drug trafficking across the city.
It was a perfect, perfect scenario, Comeaux said. You have a 22-23 year old black male, from New Orleans which Houston, has always been a source city for New Orleans so my whole story was Im down here to buy dope to bring back to New Orleans.
Comeaux was known for a relentless competitive drive There was always something to compete about, Bush said and his numerous side hustles. After he read a story about how much dentists made, he talked about wanting to go to dentistry school. Though he never was able to play professionally, he coached Little League and sometimes spoke of wanting to run a baseball clinic. And there was an ill-fated attempt to start a travel agency.
He always had different irons in the fire, Bush said.
The policework, meanwhile, was frequently dangerous. As the two sat outside an apartment complex on one stakeout, they saw a car pull up alongside them. One of the people in the other car looked over, and asked them what they were looking at.
I kind of just shook my head, and I wasnt gonna say anything, Comeaux recalled. He was about to pull out of the parking lot when he heard the driver tell a passenger in the car to blast that fool.
My eyes got big. I see the trunk pop open. And it was like a movie. The guy goes in the back and gets a shotgun. And he points the shotgun at me .. And at this point, Im like, Yo, this guys going to jail. He doesnt know who hes messing with. So I get out the car. And as I get out the car, the shotgun, boom, they shoot with a shotgun. And I hit the ground.
The gunmen drove off, and then barricaded themselves in a nearby apartment. Neither Comeaux nor Bush were hit. They called SWAT and posted up outside the apartment. When SWAT burst into the apartment, they discovered the men had broken a hole through the ceiling, crawled across the ceilings of several apartments, then entered another apartment four doors down to escape.
But instead of fleeing, the men wandered back to the crowd to watch the cops at work and thats where Comeaux and Bush spotted the suspects and arrested them.
In 1997, Comeaux decided to join the DEA. The reason was simple: The money was better. But a recruiter told him hed have to get a degree. He transferred to the University of Houston, finished the degree hed started at Southwest Texas State University, and enrolled in the DEAs training academy in August of that year.
After he graduated, he returned to Houston only to have to pack his bags once again, after informants contacted his bosses with a tip. A Houston police officer Comeaux had investigated and arrested for drug trafficking shortly before making the jump to the DEA was threatening his life. Comeaux would have to leave town, they said. There was a spot in the San Francisco office. He had to leave immediately.
Comeaux returned to Houston in 2000, before transferring to an assignment in Arizona. He steadily rose through the ranks, with other assignments in Mississippi, Washington D.C., New Orleans, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.
Across the country, many critics argue that the war on drugs has caused a wave of incarceration which has disproportionately hit African-American men and led to needless crime and violence.
Comeaux sees it differently. Some 81,000 people died of overdoses between May 2019 through May of 2020, he argues. Fatal overdoses fueled by synthetic opioids rose 39 percent in that time period, while meth overdoses rose 35 percent during that time. Seizures of both drugs are up sharply as well. In Houston, DEA agents seized more than 300 kilograms of fentanyl in 2020 six times as much as the year before. Agents seized some 9,800 kilos of meth twice as much as in 2019. The products are pushed by violent cartels like the Jalisco Cartel New Generation and consumed by eager American buyers.
Its hitting everybody, Comeaux said.
The drugs are mass produced in Mexico, easily transported across the border. And the product is no longer getting sold on the corners, as sellers have shifted to Craigslist or OfferUp or other online venues.
If we didnt do drug enforcement, I think youd have 10 times the violence that you see now, he said. If we werent taking these criminals off the streets, it would be even more violence.
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