'Scary Drug' Makes Comeback
As PCP Use Rebounds Among Suspects, D.C. Authorities Worry About Violent Incidents
By Keith L. Alexander
Damon D. Taylor had been smoking PCP before he walked into his mother's bedroom this month and shot her several times in the chest as she lay in bed, police say.
Charlese J. Hall tested positive for PCP when she was arrested in the stabbing death of her 7-year-old daughter in December.
Derek J. Green also had been using PCP in July before he drove his car onto a sidewalk along Alabama Avenue SE at more than 60 miles an hour, pinning a pedestrian against another car.
D.C. police, prosecutors and drug testing agencies are bracing for more PCP-related violence. Ten percent of adult defendants now test positive for the drug, the highest rate in five years, according to D.C. Pretrial Services. The number of people with PCP in their system arrested on murder and sexual assault charges jumped to 12 last year, up from three in 2007.
Police are concerned by the trend, because in several categories of crime -- assault, murder, robbery and burglary, for example -- the raw numbers, though small, have doubled or even tripled in the past year.
"It's a very scary, scary drug for us," said D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier, who noticed the upward trend more than a year ago. "There's just so much violence surrounding it."
The rise in PCP use comes as crack cocaine use by criminal defendants fell to its lowest level -- 30 percent -- since the District began keeping records in 1995. Crack pushed aside the market for PCP, or phencyclidine, which had been popular in the 1970s and 1980s. On the streets, it was known as "Love Boat" or "Buck Naked" because users often shed their clothes to cool off.
Prosecutors in other jurisdictions are also seeing an increase. Glenn F. Ivey, the Prince George's County state's attorney, called current PCP-related violence "surprising" and said it is a reminder of his time as a prosecutor in the District during the crack years, when battles over turf and cash spun out of control. Ivey said defendants under the influence of PCP are now "routine."
In November, a Montgomery County man was sentenced to 85 years in prison for stabbing one man to death, carjacking three others and wounding yet another during an eight-day rampage a year ago. At sentencing, Calvin Currica's attorney said Currica smoked PCP cigarettes and drank beer and cheap wine before the rampage.
Last June, in the Port Republic area of Southern Maryland, a 49-year-old man was accused of fatally shooting his brother as they sat in a garage smoking marijuana cigarettes dipped in PCP.
Most Virginia police departments do not separate PCP from other drugs in their statistics, so it is difficult to determine the extent of any problem in those jurisdictions. Officials in Fairfax and Arlington counties said they have seen no increase.
In the District, the resurgence of PCP, like most drugs, is cyclical. Use of the drug dropped to a low of 6 percent among criminal defendants in 2004 from a high of 14 percent in 2002. During its peak, PCP users dipped marijuana cigarettes into a tiny bottle of PCP. Today, PCP users are dipping store-bought cigarettes into a bottle of PCP, or "making them wet," for $25 a dip, says Inspector Brian Bray, who heads the D.C. police narcotics unit.
Police and drug counselors in the District said PCP resurfaced as cocaine users began looking for a stronger and longer high. PCP highs can last three to six hours. In comparison, a high from a $10 crack cocaine rock lasts five to 10 minutes, Bray said. PCP has varied effects on its users: It often increases aggression and perceived strength and numbs physical pain, Bray said. Other users hallucinate or seem incoherent.
Ron Daniels, 61, hasn't smoked PCP in about 20 years but confronts addiction daily as a drug counselor for the Family Medical Counseling Services in Southeast Washington. For years, his clients were mainly heroin and crack addicts, but PCP users now show up regularly, he said. Unlike heroin and crack, Daniels said, PCP can impair physical and mental abilities within seconds after inhaling.
"People don't realize what they did," Daniels said. "It's not until the high wears off when they are told what they did."
Last month, D.C. police conducted one of their largest PCP busts in recent years when they recovered 178 ounces with a street value of $350,000 in Southeast Washington near the Condon Terrace neighborhood. Four suspects were arrested.
In October, 32 people were arrested in the Clay Terrace section of Northeast Washington during a PCP sting when 10 ounces of PCP was seized along with $10,300 in cash and a handgun.
Police are grappling with how to contain PCP's spread. Bray said much of the drug found in the District is shipped from California and Mexico. Recently, he seized a shipment that came in from New York.
Sales of crack cocaine and PCP have some elderly D.C. residents afraid to leave home, said Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Catherine Woods, who represents parts of Ward 7 near Clay Terrace.
"This used to be a community where people could walk safely all day or night. Not anymore," Woods said."
PCP use among juveniles is also a concern among D.C. officers and drug counselors. A 14-year-old was the youngest to test positive for PCP last year, according to Pretrial Services.
In January 2008, 17-year-old Diedrick Johnson of Southeast was charged as an adult with shooting nine youths in two incidents, one of which occurred outside Ballou Senior High School. During a search of Johnson's home, police found a bottle containing a liquid, which they said was PCP. He pleaded guilty last month and will be sentenced in June.
"This drug is hurting innocent people," said Lorraine Prophet, 50, who uses a wheelchair after she was injured when Derek Green, 31, ran her over in July on Alabama Avenue SE. It was Green's second arrest in two years involving a car crash while under the influence of PCP. He was sentenced to five years in prison after he pleaded guilty to aggravated assault.
Ron Moten, co-founder of the anti-violence group Peaceoholics, said young people consider PCP "higher brow" and more "exclusive" than crack cocaine. He said its users often don't look as worn as crack addicts.
"People know what crackheads look like," he said. "But PCP users can be anyone."
At Margaret Ann Taylor's funeral Thursday, about 600 mourners at Matthews Memorial Baptist Church, near the Anacostia Metro stop, were in shock that her son apparently killed her.
Damon Taylor was holding a .22-caliber semiautomatic handgun when police arrived. "I did something stupid. I just shot my mother," he told police, according to court records.
Dorethea Billings, a longtime neighbor, said she knew Taylor, 25, as quiet and introverted. She said Taylor's father died last April and his daughter died a few months later after being born prematurely. Billings said the deaths sent Taylor into a drug-fueled downward spiral.
"He's a victim, too," she said. "He didn't know what he was doing."
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