Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Remembering Our Fallen Comrades

Ed Toatley, left, with Neill Franklin

Late in the evening on October 30, 2000, Major Neill Franklin was awaken by the ringing of his telephone. At the time, Neill was the commander of training for the Baltimore Police Department, and late night calls were no unusual occurrence. In answering the phone, he expected to hear news of a recruit experiencing difficulty, but instead the voice awaiting him on the other end of the line said something quite different: “Neill, Ed has been shot and taken to Prince George's County General Hospital, and it doesn’t look good.”

Corporal Edward Toatley was a 15-year veteran and undercover narcotics agent for the Maryland State Police. He was assigned to an FBI drug task force and, on that night, was making his final purchase of cocaine in Washington, DC, from a mid-level drug dealer when the dealer, Kofi Orleans-Lindsay, decided he wanted both the drugs and the money for himself. Orleans-Lindsay returned to the car Ed was driving, paused for a moment as he extinguished his cigarette, then shot Ed at point blank range in the side of the head.

Although it took only minutes, the high-speed 53-mile race to the hospital for Neill and his wife felt like the longest ride of Neill’s life. Arriving at the hospital among the scores of family and friends, Neill was guided to the room where Ed laid with his head bandaged and bloody. Ed was no longer with us, but his body was still warm. Neill thought of how just a few weeks earlier Ed was telling him of the plans to make this final purchase of cocaine, meaning one more case in a long line of many would be closed. Ed used to work such cases under Neill's command and they had many such talks in the past, thinking very little of the inherent dangers.

Back at the hospital, next came the moment of facing Ed’s wife and children. Words were few, but hugs were many -- lasting for what seemed like hours and leaving feelings that still linger today.

When the people are gone and the quiet comes, so does the question: Why? Initially thinking of the covert operation, you rehash the event. How could this happen? What went wrong? What was the protocol, what were the signs that this was about to take a wrong turn, and who missed what? But then Neill realized that the questions he was asking dealt only with the symptoms of a much larger problem, the War on Drugs

Ed wasn’t the only cop Neill knew to pass this way. When Neill was working undercover in the 1980s it was Detective Marty Ward in Baltimore City, shot during a botched drug deal in a Baltimore apartment. Then it was Baltimore officer Billy Martin, killed while responding to a drug dealing related call. Soon after Ed’s death, more Baltimore officers would die. Officer Michael Cowdery was gunned down by a local Baltimore drug dealer as he and his partner approached for a field interview on a neighborhood street corner. Officer Kevon Gavin’s patrol vehicle was intentionally broadsided by a heavily armed drug dealer wearing a ballistic vest. The dealer had just shot someone and was being pursued by other officers.

Law enforcers place their lives on the line every day in a career that is already inherently dangerous. Neill has realized that our drug policies are not only ineffective, but also cause great harm to police to and civilians in our communities alike. Our aggressive policing strategies actually generate violence. Police sweeps create voids within the underground market that are eagerly filled by those waiting in the wings. Violent tactics of those competing for a piece of the vacant market share make communities and law enforcement jobs extremely dangerous, more dangerous than necessary.

Neill has decided that enough is enough, and he has vowed to work toward ending the prohibition of all drugs. Too many police officers and children are dying in our streets and the streets of other countries like Mexico.

That's why Neill has joined with a group of other police officers, prosecutors, judges and corrections officials - under the banner of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) - to send a strong message that criminal justice professionals are fed up with the way the "war on drugs" needlessly leads to the deaths of far too many law enforcers.

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