Washington area drug dealers increasingly are resorting to robbery and kidnapping to get narcotics and cash, and their victims often do not cooperate with police, law enforcement officials say.
"Clearly we are seeing homicides that are directly related to narcotics, drug dealers ripping off drug dealers and enforcement-like activity within drug organizations," said U.S. Attorney Jay B. Stephens. "There is an increase in execution-style killings."
The "5 N O Crew," a loose group operating out of Fifth and O streets NW, started robbing dealers in their Shaw neighborhood and then moved on to more ambitious targets, authorities said. Last month, three men who police said are connected to the group were convicted of conspiring to rob an armored car at Dulles International Airport.
Although kidnappings are not new to the drug underworld, investigators said they have noticed a significant increase in such crimes during the past year. One reason, according to investigators, is that the drug trade here has so many players and is in such disarray.
One case that drew investigators' attention came in July. Anthony Morrisey was executed, allegedly by a group that had contacted his family and demanded $20,000 and cocaine. Morrisey, 20, was held in a closet and then shot in the head when his captors realized police had been notified, court documents say.
Police said the case is unusual because the ransom demand was made to relatives, who maintain that Morrisey was not involved in drugs.
But the demand for drugs and money is not new.
"This happens in the District at least twice a week, and we never hear about it. They handle it among themselves," said a detective who has investigated three drug-related kidnappings this year. "That's how they make their money, and it's relatively easy money."
In the street, drug booty is sometimes called the "bank," and it is this that the kidnappers are after. Court documents suggest some people specialize in robberies of dealers, often in dramatic nighttime heists.
Two men charged in the Morrisey killing, Reginald "New York" Douglas and Darrell "Poochie" Salters, also are facing kidnapping charges from a December incident involving two men abducted at gunpoint.
In that case, Salters tried to elude capture by crashing into a police car in Prince George's County.
Trapped in the wreck, Salters was punching out a window with a gun when police caught him, court documents say.
In a case earlier this year, a man was abducted by five people outside a Southeast Washington club as he was getting into his car. Driven to a playground, the man was asked to produce money. Court documents said he was either let go or tried to escape. His abductors fired at least nine times, wounding him twice.
One suspect, Marquette Witherspoon, 17, was arrested in connection with the abduction.
Court records show that Witherspoon was out on bond in an unrelated homicide at the time of the abduction. In that case, Witherspoon and three others are accused of killing Lloyd Wagsdale Thomas II, 35, during an apparent robbery in November 1989, police said.
The killing of Thomas was also vicious, court documents show.
He was hauled into a bedroom in a Southeast Washington building, where captors -- with heads covered by sweaters or hoods -- demanded money. One shot Thomas in the neck. His body was thrown out a second-floor window.
Law enforcement professionals debate what is driving this crime. Police and prosecutors say it is a direct result of the "drying up" of the cocaine market.
James Fyfe, an American University criminology professor, said the such "stickup" violence among dealers may be a reflection of how disorganized the trade is here.
Unlike other cities, the District has a drug market run by amateurs, and it is more prone to violence, he said. Police Chief Isaac Fulwood Jr., responding to a weekend killing rampage that claimed nine lives, on Monday said there were 13 drug organizations here.
Police have since declined to elaborate, but other officials put the number at six to 10.
"The markets are fluid right now," said one investigator. "I don't think that many people are controlling an area . . . . The scene is very disorganized. Part of the reason is that the kids are younger."
Staff writers Carlos Sanchez, Nancy Lewis, Barton Gellman, Debbie Price and Ruben Castaneda contributed to this report.