An Obscene Profit Motive - The War on Drugs in Dayton, Part 2

‘ B U T  W E  D I D N ’ T  H A V E  A  G U N … ’

It seemed the unspoken consensus.

Who was going to argue with a kid with a gun?

The boys made it clear they were there for money and drugs, and Zackery James stated in his testimony he thought they were going to give it to them. But there was confusion as to how the robbery was going to go down.

Alexander Bailey stood up and reached for his pockets, but this seemed to make the boy with the gun nervous, and he pointed it at Alexander, who immediately sat down. The boy seemed worried that Alexander might be reaching for a weapon.

“But we didn’t have a gun,” James said from the witness box, his expression grim, “or they wouldn’t be here right now. But that’s, you know, neither here nor there.”

He glanced across the courtroom at the teenage defendants, seated side-by-side before the judge’s bench: Dominique L. Dunn, 16 – he would turn 17 four days later – and Antonio J. Harrison, 17.

They faced charges of aggravated robbery and felonious assault, but their slight, youthful appearance and contrite demeanor seemed more befitting of boys awaiting reprimand outside the principal’s office. Throughout the probable cause hearing, they looked directly ahead or stared at the table in front of them, answering questions from the judge or lawyers in soft-spoken, solemn tones.

In the back of the courtroom sat Dominic’s mother, Donna Dunn. No one from Harrison’s immediate family showed. The purpose of the Feb. 20 hearing was to decide jurisdiction. A man was dead. Now, would they be tried as juveniles or adults?

James, the state’s sole witness, provided under prompting from the prosecutor a harrowing blow-by-blow account of the botched robbery at 1244 Kumler Ave. in which his two cousins, brothers Eric and Alexander W. Bailey, were shot. Eric survived but Alexander, 26, the father of a 5-year-old girl, died from his wounds Feb. 1 at Miami Valley Hospital.

James insisted in his testimony the only drugs in the apartment were about $10 worth of marijuana. Under cross examination, however, he failed to provide any reason why two teenagers would have arrived at a West Dayton apartment they had never visited before to rob at gunpoint three men who, James said, they didn’t know.

‘ W E L L ,  H E ’ S  W R O N G . ’

Lately, Dayton has seen its share of drug violence. In April, Dayton’s Westwood neighborhood was rocked by a string of home invasions that left two dead and one wounded.

“These are not random acts of violence.,” Police Chief Julian Davis said at a press conference. “These were all known to us as drug houses.”

While much is made of the link between drugs and crime by the media and proponents of harsh drug laws, quantifying the drug/crime relationship with any degree of accuracy is difficult if not impossible. The definition itself typically varies from study to study and reports by offenders themselves are notoriously unreliable. While the overall evidence suggests drug users are more likely than non-users to commit crimes, critics point out that much drug-related crime stems from the underground market created by drug prohibition itself.

In recent years, drug-related homicides have been on the decline. According to the Justice Department, 4.9 percent of homicides in 1987 were drug-related while 4 percent of homicides in 2005 were drug-related, a decline of 0.9 percent.

Even so, selling drugs remains a dangerous business. Dealers have not only the police to worry about, but also rival dealers, turf wars, and robbers. Drug markets tend to be located in economically disadvantaged areas where legal and social controls are largely ineffective. The Office of National Drug Control Policy has cited the proliferation of lethal weapons as the cause for an increase in the deadliness of drug violence.

In an interview with DCP about the War on Drugs, Lt. Pat Welsch, commander of the Dayton City Police Department’s narcotics unit, admitted there would likely never be a final and decisive victory in the War on Drugs and even expressed a slight distaste for the ‘war’ metaphor itself.

“I’m not sure who coined the phrase,” he said. “Wars have a starting point and an ending point, but human nature is such that there will always be drug abuse. So we take our victories one at a time. When you whittle it all down, many of your property crimes, thefts and crimes of violence are drug-related in some fashion, and a lot of crimes of violence are also associated with the drug trade.”

Welsch bristled at the notion of decriminalizing or legalizing drugs and stopped short of acknowledging any relationship between prohibition and drug violence.

“Whether it’s legal or not,” he said, “the black market aspect will still be there. People will still try to beat the system and break the law even though something is legal, and they’ll still be killing each other over competition.”

Jack_Cole.jpg

Former detective Lt. Jack A. Cole has a different perspective.

“Well, he’s wrong,” Cole said of Welsch’s remarks. “You’d think he would know better than that, but you have to remember these people make their living doing this stuff. By 2003, the federal government was spending $65 billion a year just for the War on Drugs in the United States. That’s 690 times as much as what we spent in 1970. A lot of that money is going into the coffers of police departments.”

A co-founder of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), Cole spent 26 years in the New Jersey State Police, 14 of them in the narcotics bureau as an undercover agent. In the four years since its inception, his nonprofit has grown from five original members to more than 8,000 members, many of them judges, prosecutors and prison wardens.

“When I retired in 1991,” Cole said, “I felt very bad about my part in implementing what today I consider an immoral policy. I decided I had done a great deal of damage to people. Something like a thousand went to jail as a direct result of what I did as an undercover agent.”

Studies have shown that most drug-users are not addicts, but use of any illegal drug is regarded as abuse, and nonviolent drug offenders are subject to harsh prison sentences. Thanks in large part to punitive drug prohibition policies and restrictive sentencing guidelines, the U.S. now has the highest incarceration rate of all industrialized countries.

In 1970, when federal funding for the War on Drugs first began pouring into police departments across the nation, there were less than half a million arrests for nonviolent drug offenses. By 2004, this number had grown to nearly 1.9 million, almost half of which were for marijuana violations.

Between 1970 and 2005, the U.S. prison population grew by 700 percent, according to a Pew Charitable Trusts study. The prison population is projected to increase 13 percent by 2011, an addition of more than 192,000 inmates. Ohio’s prison population is expected to grow to 57,000 inmates over the next five years, an increase of 20 percent, giving it the highest number of inmates of any state in the Midwest.

Once a staunch proponent of the War on Drugs, Cole now regards it as a destructive and self-perpetuating policy. He believes the cost of illegal drugs to society should be attributed not to their use but to their prohibition. He likens the current situation to the 1920s, when prohibition outlawed nationwide the manufacture, sale and transport of alcoholic drink. Prohibition caused a host of unintended consequences, including the rise of a lucrative and violent underground market.

“When you prohibit a drug, you create a market that’s instantly filled with criminals,” he said. “Because the drug is dangerous to distribute, that creates an artificially inflated value, an obscene profit motive. And there are hundreds of people more than willing to take the risk because of it. Arrest a drug dealer, and the number of drug sales won’t change one iota. All that happens is you create a job opening.”

‘ W H E N  I   S A W   A L E X A N D E R   M O V E ,   I   K N E W   I   H A D   T O           M O V E . ’

It was around 8 p.m., Jan. 25, according to James’ testimony.

He had come to visit his cousins at their upstairs apartment in the Southern Dayton View neighborhood. He and Alexander played chess in the living room while Eric watched TV. They smoked some pot, drank a few beers. At one point, Alexander’s girlfriend stopped by for 10 or 15 minutes, then left. Perhaps an hour after James arrived, the doorbell rang.

Eric stepped out to answer it. When he returned up the stairs, Dunn and Harrison were with him. James said he was so engrossed in the chess game that it took him a moment to realize what was happening.

“Gimme that shit!” Dunn said.

“He had a gun,” James recalled. “Looked kind of like a 38 caliber.” James had no idea who either of the boys were – neither did Alexander or Eric.

He said when Harrison, who was unarmed, approached Alexander and began to pat him down, feeling his pockets, all hell broke loose. Alexander grabbed Harrison, attempting to overpower the unarmed 17-year-old. When James realized what Alexander was doing, he moved to help.

“When I saw Alexander move, I knew I had to move,” James explained.

During the fight, James heard two deafening gunshots, and the three of them hit the floor. James assumed this was when Alexander was shot, though he didn’t know it at the time. Behind them, Eric wrestled with Dunn for control of the gun. The struggle took them into the kitchen.

James heard two more shots. There could have been more, he said. It was hard to tell in the confusion.

Thinking Alexander could handle Harrison on his own, James rushed into the kitchen to help Eric with the gunman. Eric was already shot in the face, but James didn’t know that either. He found Eric barely holding onto Dunn. James leapt in. The fight lasted several minutes.

“He [Dunn] told me he was going to kill me,” James said in his testimony. At some point, Dunn was apparently tired of the struggle or had decided it was more trouble than it was worth. All he wanted was get out of the apartment, it seemed, so James let him run. Dunn was apprehended by police half a block away.

Then James went to check on Alexander. Though bleeding from gunshot wounds in his stomach and leg, Alexander still had a grip on Harrison. They held him until police arrived.

In the aftermath, police described the Kumler Ave. residence to the media as a drug house, and neighbors said they were aware of drug activity on the street. As for the Bailey brothers, both had been indicted in the past on weapons and drug charges. In 2002, Alexander served time in prison on a felony drug conviction: possession of crack cocaine, the distribution and abuse of which the DEA has identified as responsible for the most violent crimes in Ohio.

The hearing concluded with Judge Nick Kuntz finding probable cause for Dunn and Harrison to be tried as adults. He set bond at $500,000 and sent them back to jail. Months later, the coroner ruled Alexander’s death a homicide, and the teens could face additional charges. The prosecutor’s office is currently reviewing the medical evidence. As of this writing, Dunn and Harrison’s trial date has still not been set.

As people filed out the courtroom doors, Mary Wilson approached Donna Dunn. Both of them sobbing, the mother of the suspect and the mother of the victims embraced. Afterward, Wilson told a reporter she felt no ill will toward Dunn.

“My boy is dead,” Wilson said, tears running down her face. “These two boys’ lives are over. It’s a tragedy all around.”