There is talk of marijuana legalization in the air, talk about sentencing reform, talk about second chances for drug offenders. But despite all the talk, the drug war rolls on, and the day-to-day grind of it can be a deadly business. So far this month, police officers enforcing the drug laws have killed at least four people.
None of the cases below is an obvious case of police misconduct, although the judgment of some of the officers involved can certainly be questioned. The departments to which the officers involved belong stand behind their men. But four people are dead after having encountered police officers doing drug war business, and at least one of them was not even the target of the cops.
In New York City, Shem Walker, 49, was shot and killed by an NYPD undercover officer Saturday night on his own stoop. The officer was part of a team of narcs, and was standing on Walkers' stoop to provide backup for a narc doing a buy-and-bust at a bodega a couple of doors down the street. Walker went outside to have a cigarette, encountered the undercover officer, told him to get off his porch, then got into a scuffle with him and a second narc standing on the stoop next door. Walker died lying in front of his house after taking a bullet to the chest.
"He said, 'Mommy, I'm going out for a smoke.' That was the last time," Walker's mother Lydia Walker said as she sat in her wheelchair Sunday morning before breaking down. "My son was the peacemaker," she said. "He wasn't involved in no violence. He always tried to make peace."
Walker's sister, Audrey Nurse said he was only trying to protect the family home. "Mind you, guys hang out on our front steps and my brother was always chasing them off. That's the only thing anyone can say about my brother. He comes and takes care of my mother. He is a peaceful guy. This is ridiculous."
In Gwinnett County, Georgia, an as yet unnamed man was shot and killed in a predawn drug raid on July 1. According to police, Gwinnett County police officers entered the home after knocking and announcing their presence, only to be met by a man pointing a gun at them. They shot him dead. Another man at the residence was arrested on a cocaine trafficking warrant, but it was not clear if any drugs were recovered at the scene.
Outside Holden, Louisiana, Donel Adam Stogner, 42, died after being choked by a deputy who was trying to force him to spit out a bag of suspected dope. The incident took place in the predawn hours on Sunday, July 5, when Livingston Parish Deputy Chris Sturdivant pulled Stogner over for weaving in traffic on I-12. The entire 8-minute encounter captured on the deputy's dash cam can be viewed here.
The encounter begins with the deputy asking Stogner for his driver's license, then asking Stogner what he has in his right hand. "I don't have nothing in my hand," says Stogner. "I swear to you."
But the tape appears to show Stogner placing something in his mouth. "Spit it out," the deputy yells, as he attempts to handcuff Stogner and he resists, if not exactly passively, also not aggressively. Stogner never strikes the deputy although the deputy strikes him repeatedly. Still, the deputy was unable to cuff Stogner until more deputies arrived on the scene. Shortly after their arrival, one deputy asks another, "Is he breathing?" He wasn't.
Stogner had been arrested for methamphetamine possession a week earlier. Preliminary coroner reports found meth in his system and concluded that he had died of severe coronary artery disease, an enlarged heart, and a fracture of the hyoid bone in his neck. The coroner ruled the death accidental, and Livingston Parish law enforcement said Deputy Sturdivant acted appropriately.
In Marrero, Louisiana, just six days later, Demarco Washington, 33, was shot and killed after a car chase following a drug investigation. Undercover deputies attempted to stop him, but he fled in his vehicle. Marrero was wanted on drug warrants, and collided with a police cruiser before driving away across lawns. According to deputies, Washington then exited his vehicle and pointed a gun at them. They shot him, and he was pronounced dead at the scene. Washington had previously been arrested for armed robbery, illegally carrying weapons, burglary, marijuana possession, distribution of drugs within 1,000 feet of a school, and battery on a police officer.
One man protecting his front porch, one man in the all-too-familiar predawn drug raid scenario, one man possibly trying to avoid another meth arrest, one man desperate to avoid going back to jail -- all dead. And let us not forget the police officers. How does Deputy Sturdivant feel knowing he choked a man to death to try to make a nickel and dime drug bust? How does the NYPD narc feel knowing he shot a man to death who was only trying to shoo thugs off his porch?
The drug war grinds on, and the toll isn't always measured in arrests, seizures, or prison sentences.