Angels and Angel Dust

This wanton disregard for others including the innocent children who must live in a gang household is like the twisted sickness that causes arsonists it start uncontrolled fires even when their own home and family might be consumed.

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Among the uncounted casualties of criminal street gangs, and the drug culture they perpetuate, are the non-gang family members who become the collateral victims of their lifestyles. Drug abuse, child abuse and child neglect are part of almost every gang family.

When these gang members drive by a residence and spray it with bullets they never stop to think that uninvolved children and the elderly are just as likely to be killed as any intended gang target. Rarely does the gang member consider that the gang retaliation, which might follow his shooting, might also endanger the residents of his own house who aren't gang affiliated.

This wanton disregard for others including the innocent children who must live in a gang household is like the twisted sickness that causes arsonists it start uncontrolled fires even when their own home and family might be consumed.    

The city of Compton (Calif.) is a dangerous place, and the most dangerous area is called Willowbrook. This unincorporated county area of Compton is patrolled by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. This section of Los Angeles spawned many infamous gangs. One of the worst, the Fruit Town Piru gang, derived its name from the streets in this section of Willowbrook. Streets called Plum, Peach and Cherry cross this tough gang neighborhood. Just north of this area is claimed by the Mob Piru gang where Death Row Records' former CEO Marion "Suge" Knight grew up.

I grew up in these neighborhoods too and volunteered to work patrol there. On one PM shift I was with my partner, Deputy Chuck Cortez, a seasoned veteran of Firestone Station and a man whose handcuffs never needed much lubrication because they were in constant use. We were following our usual pattern of stopping everything moving that looked like a gang member.

The trick was to go 10-15 (code for prisoner in custody) before we got swamped chasing the radio calls for domestic disturbances, loud parties, and burglar alarms. At the end of each deployment period, we compared our statistics with the other Compton units to see who made the most felony arrests, who took the most dope and guns. Losers bought the beer.

Suddenly, our radio interrupted our routine with a call of a nearly naked, drunk young man in the middle of the street in the Fruit Town gang area. This was usually a hint that we would encounter an individual high on Phencyclidine, known in this neighborhood as Angel Dust, Sherm or PCP.

Phencyclidine was commonly found in this area in an oily liquid form with a strong chemical smell and was consumed by smoking it on a Sherman Cigarette dipped in this oily liquid. This method often produced PCP overdoses. The user would shed his outer clothing, since the drug raised his temperature to 106 degrees or more and sent his heart rate up.

The user would then become delirious and combative and seemed to posses superhuman strength. I've seen PCP users break handcuffs, withstand numerous police baton strikes, and even absorb gunshot wounds with seeming immunity. As we rolled to the call, we got ready to fight that kind of PCP monster. 

Anticipating this confrontation, the dispatcher also sent paramedics and fire units. The paramedics arrived first and were immediately attacked by the nearly naked young man. They requested police units to assist and two other sheriff's units arrived before we did. As we pulled up to the curb, both sheriff's units and the firemen were fighting the African-American version of the Incredible Hulk. Since I had originally been assigned the call, I tried to enter the fray but my partner held me back. He said, "Let them handle it."

Now this was not what I expected from my partner. With even a hint of probable cause, Chuck would have arrested the Pope without hesitation or remorse. I could see that a wicked plan was forming in his hook-and-book brain. Besides I'd been injured before in fights when too many deputies were trying to subdue the same wild suspect. So I watched and waited.[PAGEBREAK]

Soon the suspect was strapped to a gurney and on his way to Martin Luther King hospital. There goes a perfectly good misdemeanor arrest I thought, as the paramedics and sheriff's units drove away with my statistic. Why did we let him go? I asked Chuck.

"Think about it," he said. "Why take a misdemeanor when we have probable cause to look for the source of his intoxication, a felony?" He then pointed to the residence adjacent to the street where the Hulk had made his superhuman stand. He directed my attention to the front door which was standing open. This had to be where the Hulk had come from, and where we might find his PCP.

The sun was still up, but it was dark inside the house. We entered with flashlights and guns drawn and yelled, "Deputy sheriffs. Anybody home?"

It was a filthy place, smelling of must and mold. The living-room floor was littered with baby's toys, cups and dirty dishes. Trash and dirty diapers overflowed from the large plastic trash can in the kitchen and black mold had spread from the trash over the top of the refrigerator.  

Although no one answered the continuous announcements of our presence, I could feel that someone was near. Meticulously, we cleared room by room to the rear of the house but found no one. We were so sure someone was there that we re-checked closets and under the beds but found only more trash and garbage. I was upset and angry as I walked back toward the front door. I cocked my leg back to kick the small baby doll lying on the living room floor. Something stopped me.

With the flashlight, I illuminated the doll's face. Unsure of what I saw I went to my knees and stared at the six-month-old baby's face. She was real. Frozen on her tiny face was the look of horror — her unblinking eyes frozen wide open. Her little body was stiff and rigid as I checked her for a pulse and breathing. Her tiny heart was racing at an impossible rate and clutched in her tiny fist was a partially smoked Sherm cigarette.

Without moving or making a noise, she was pleading for help, and I felt powerless to help her. I yelled to Deputy Cortez to get the paramedics back here! But thinking that they might arrive too late I swooped up the tiny rigid baby and ran for the radio car. We made a frantic Code 3 race all the way to Martin Luther King. 

As I ran into the familiar MLK emergency room, I was relieved to see the ER staff running out to take the tiny PCP overdose victim from me. I watched as they strapped the baby down on the huge gurney and checked for vital signs. The baby's body remained rigid and her face was still unresponsive.

"Give her the antidote, doc," I pleaded.

"There is no antidote, deputy," he answered.

Over the next hour, we learned that the tiny angel had ingested some of the PCP and was in the most severe stages of extreme overdose. God only knows what hallucinations and nightmares she was experiencing. She was in a coma and could stop breathing or lapse into seizures that might kill her at any time. She would remain in this coma with her life hanging in the balance for many days and there were no known antidotes or remedies. The ER staff felt as helpless as I did.

Chuck and I returned to the Fruit Town residence, and I wrote the best child endangering and abandonment report I ever wrote. I photographed the squalor and filth and the mold growing on the refrigerator. I photographed the empty inside of the fridge as well. I vowed that the mother of this angel who had abandoned her to the Hulk would never again have custody of this child. After a long struggle, baby angel was released from the hospital.

California is a reunification state. That means the courts tend to return children to their biological parents whenever possible. For more than a year, I attended custody hearings in which the mother attempted to regain custody of my little angel. I made sure she did not succeed. Sometimes the court would not notify me of the upcoming custody hearings, but I had befriended the court clerk who called me to make sure I would be there. Angel's mama finally abandoned these reunification attempts when she was arrested on unrelated charges and sent on a long sentence to state prison.

Angel went to a foster home and was eventually adopted by a good family. Most of the children of these gang neighborhoods are not that lucky.

Remember Angel next time somebody says drug use is a victimless crime.

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Sergeant (Ret.)
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