February 6, 2004 - Drug War Chronicle (US-Web)

Drug War Kills More Than a Cop a Month

Drug War Chronicle has reported with depressing regularity on people killed by police prosecuting the war on drugs. This week, we look at the flip-side: the number of police officers killed fighting the drug war. Working from a list of 146 officers killed in the line of duty last year presented on the Officer Down Memorial Page (www.odmp.org), part of a larger pro-police web site, Officer.com, and digging into the background of the sometimes incomplete reports, DRCNet has found that at least 14 police officers, or slightly more than one per month, were killed enforcing drug prohibition last year.

And the toll continues. The latest prohibition-related police fatality occurred just last week, when 24-year-old St. Louis Police Officer Nick Sloan was killed while working undercover to make a drug purchase as part of the federally-funded Weed and Seed program. When Sloan and other officers attempted to arrest Dennis Hathorn, 31, of nearby Centreville, Hathorn grabbed Sloan's weapon and opened fire, killing Sloan and wounding his partner, Police Officer Gabriel Keithley. Hathorn was in turn shot and killed by other police.

"I just spoke with a relative of a police officer who was a friend of the one killed in St. Louis," said Jack Cole, director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (www.leap.cc), who happened to be in Missouri this week for a set of appearances detailing the group's opposition to the drug war. "She came up to me after a speech almost in tears, telling me about that dead officer," Cole told DRCNet. "I would bet you anything that the guy who shot him was not a big time criminal."

Cole would win that bet. According to St. Louis police, Hathorn had no criminal record. His mother told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that her son, a railroad worker, was having money troubles. "After this incident happened, one of his friends told me that Dennis had financial troubles with child support and that he was thinking about finding someone to show him how to sell cocaine until he could get on his feet," said Francis Hathorn. "The police said they found crack cocaine in his pocket. I can only go by the reports of the police. I would have said, 'No, he never would get involved in drugs.'" Hathorn added, "Dennis may have thought he was being robbed. I know he didn't know they were police officers."

While the younger Hathorn was relegated to the dustbin -- in an article Thursday on Officer Sloan's funeral, he was referred to only as "a drug dealer" -- Sloan's death was marked by an outpouring of official grief.

"These police deaths are totally unnecessary," said Cole. "If we ended drug prohibition, none of these officers would have had to die. We're killing our police. All we have to do is legalize drugs and that would not be happening. Can't we learn from Alcohol Prohibition?" Cole asked. "We had the highest murder rate in our history and cops were dying right and left."

"These are casualties of war," said LEAP member Peter Christ, a retired police captain with 20 years of experience fighting the drug war. "It's a war we shouldn't be fighting," he told DRCNet. "Drug prohibition creates an environment where we put cops in a job where they can't win, and you have to expect these kinds of results. The answer is a no-brainer, at least for me: You have to legalize drugs."

Officer.com identified 146 police officers who died in the line of duty last year, a figure in line with recent years, when, except for 2001, the number of police killed hashovered between 150 and 200 each year. Nearly one-third of those died in car crashes, while among those killed confronting criminals, responding to domestic disturbances proved to be a leading killer. But at a minimum, almost 10% of all police line-of-duty fatalities last year came in the war on drugs. They include:

  • Officer Andre Gerard Booker, 26, Henrico County Police Department, VA, killed January 12, 2003. Booker drowned when his patrol car sank in an icy pond as he was maneuvering to block the road to stop a fleeing suspect. Although authorities charged the suspect in the case with Booker's murder, he was not convicted of the death. He was convicted of possession of cocaine and possession of a firearm while in possession of a controlled substance.
  • Patrolman Jeremy (Jay) Carruth , 29, Alexandria Police Department, LA, killed February 20, 2003. Carruth was one of two Alexandria police officers killed in a shootout with escaped fugitive Anthony Molette, 25. Molette had broken out of the parish jail, where he was serving a sentence for sale of Schedule II drugs. He had been arrested numerous times before, including eight separate times for drug offenses. Four of those arrests were for "anti-drug loitering" or "drug trafficking loitering." After he escaped from jail, Molette ambushed another police officer the day before he turned an AK-47 on Carruth and his partner. Molette was killed by police later in the same engagement.
  • Private First Class David Ezernack, 26, Alexandria Police Department, LA, killed February 20, 2003. Ezernack was the other Alexandria police officer shot and killed by Molette.
  • Deputy Sheriff Randy Smith, 31, Evangeline Parish Sheriff's Department, LA, killed April 16, 2003. Smith was shot and killed while attempting to arrest Frank Jack, who had escaped from the Evangeline Parish jail two months earlier. Jack was in jail for distribution of counterfeit drugs. Jack was shot and killed by police during the same incident.
  • Police Officer Mary Ann Collura, 43, Fair Lawn Police Department, NJ, killed April 17, 2003. Collura was shot and killed and another police officer wounded in a shootout at the end of a vehicle chase where passengers were seen throwing items from the car as it fled. Police in nearby Clifton began the pursuit, and Collura joined in to provide assistance, but was shot and killed in a struggle once the vehicles came to a stop. According to the police, her killer stole her car and ran her over as she lay dying. That killer was "drug dealer Omar Marti of Passaic," who in turn was killed in a shootout with police three days later in Florida.
  • Officer Tony Zeppetella, 27, Oceanside Police Department, killed June 13, 2003. Zeppetella was shot and killed during a traffic stop by Adrian George Camacho, 30. Camacho was identified as a gang member and was in possession of methamphetamine. He was wounded, but fled to a relative's house, where, surrounded by more than 50 police, he surrendered after a four-hour standoff. He faces murder charges.
  • Sergeant Michael Johnson, 39, Vermont State Police, VT, killed June 15, 2003. Johnson died attempting to place spike strips on Interstate 91 to stop 23-year-old Evan Daley, who, facing drug charges in Vermont and New Hampshire, sped away from a traffic stop minutes earlier. After placing the strips on the highway, Johnson was standing in the median when Daley swerved to avoid the strips and hit him. Daley didn't stop, but was caught two days later in Pennsylvania and faced charges of second-degree murder in Johnson's death.
  • Police Officer Douglas E. Wendel, 41, Richmond Police Department, VA, killed July 30, 2003. Wendel was shot and killed after responding to a call about a suspected drug dealer in the city's Southside. Wendel was patting the suspect down when he felt a gun, and a struggle ensued. Peter Lee Boone, 19, was convicted of shooting Wendel four times and sentenced to life in prison. At the time of the incident, Boone was on probation on a drug charge.
  • Deputy Stephen Sorensen, 46, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, CA, killed August 2, 2003. Sorenson disappeared after responding to a trespass call. Witnesses reported hearing six shots, and after searching the area for an hour, other deputies found his body. He had been shot six times with a .223 rifle before his feet were tied together and his body was dragged into the desert. Deputies found meth lab chemicals in the area, leading to the theory he had discovered a meth lab. The man who admitted killing Sorenson died a week later in a blazing inferno. Surrounded by deputies at Lake Los Angeles area house, the man responded to tear gas and battering rams with gunfire before the house burst into flames.
  • Sergeant Rodney L. Davis, 30, Greene County Sheriff's Department, VA, killed August 26, 2003. Davis was shot and killed as he and another deputy attempted to serve a warrant on a man for selling crack cocaine. The suspect was also killed when deputies returned fire.
  • Narcotics Officer Donnie Washington, 31, Richland County Sheriff's Department, SC, killed October 16, 2003. Washington died in a one-vehicle car accident while on duty as an undercover narcotics officer.
  • Police Officer Matthew Pavelka, 26, Burbank Police Department, CA, killed November 15, 2003. Pavelka was shot and killed while doing back-up on a traffic stop. After the driver of the vehicle was unable to produce a driver's license, he and his passenger came out firing handguns. One of the suspects was killed in the exchange of gunfire; the other fled and was arrested in Tijuana, Mexico. He faces murder and attempted murder charges. Police found methamphetamine and several semi-automatic rifles in the vehicle.
  • Sergeant Hubert (John John) Yancey, 35, Scott County Sheriff's Department, TN, killed November 28, 2003. Yancey was accidentally shot and killed by a fellow officer while conducting a raid on a suspected meth lab. The first deputy inside the residence noticed someone hiding in a closet and took cover when the door began to open and women residents began screaming. Thinking his fellow officer was in trouble, Yancey entered the building, and the deputy, thinking he had an armed suspect, shot him. Four people were arrested on methamphetamine charges, but were not charged in Yancey's death.
  • Trooper Nikky J. Green, 35, Oklahoma Highway Patrol, OK, killed December 26, 2003. Green was shot and killed after he stopped to check on a vehicle parked on the side of the highway. During the stop, Green discovered the occupant had been cooking meth in the vehicle. A struggle ensued, and the suspect shot and killed Green with his own weapon. The suspect was caught two days later and faces murder charges.

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