Bruce Wazon Griffith spent the last 45 minutes of his life on a meandering joy ride through the inner city, listening to blaring soul music, stopping to buy marijuana and searching for cocaine, according to the cab driver who chauffeured him around.
The cab driver, Charles Edward Allen, 37, said in an interview yesterday that he was enjoying the ride with his boastful and seemingly carefree passenger, unaware until after Griffith's death that he was carrying around the accused murderer of a D.C. police officer and the object of one of the city's largest manhunts.
"He wants to hear the O'Jays on my tape. I don't know this is a killer. We just hit it off right away, know what I mean?" said Allen, a school janitor who drives a cab part-time to help make ends meet. "He showed me a bankroll -- I see 20s, 100s. He wants to go get some cocaine. I don't mess with cocaine," Allen said, but he wanted the fare.
Allen said he was hacking on his lunch hour last Thursday, hoping to earn some gasoline money with a couple of quick fares, when Griffith flagged him down just after 2 p.m. at the corner of North Dakota Avenue and Blair Road NW. Allen already had a passenger, a woman he had picked up earlier who was going to Providence Hospital. Griffith, telling Allen he was in no hurry and would ride along to the hospital, climbed in.
After dropping the woman off, Allen, who said he had earlier smoked a marijuana cigarette, and was "feeling good," began his adventure with Griffith.
"We go to First and Seaton streets. He wants loud music," Allen said. "I like loud music. He's looking for the coke man on Seaton Street. I stop. He walks around on First Street. He's paid me $3. The woman paid me $4 -- I've already made $7 and had a good time.
"He's gaining my confidence. I gain his. We're street dudes. He be bragging, you know, about women. I say, 'Man, you can't get no women.' He said he got so many women they be dancing on my chest."
The cocaine man wasn't at Seaton. Griffith wanted to head for Hanover Place, near North Capitol and O streets NW, about 10 blocks away.
"I tell him its hot down there, a police shootin' and all. I say all the dope places are hot," Allen recalled.
Griffith wasn't worried. "I run Hanover Street," Griffith bragged. "Police mess with me, I'll kill 'em, too," Griffith said. "I never got the inclination he was the man -- the hottest man in town," Allen said in the interview.
At Hanover, Griffith got out and talked with some men standing on the street, Allen said, and bought two $10 bags of "wacky weed" -- marijuana laced with PCB.
"Those dudes are scared of him. I'm thinking he is a big time hustler. They know who he is. They scared to death."
They continued to drive around until they got to First and S streets NW, where Griffith pointed to a car and said that was his cocaine man.
It was here that Griffith was spotted by two off-duty policemen in casual clothes, police would say later.
When Griffith slid back into the taxi up front next to Allen they continued up First Street, neither noticing a small brown car that fell in behind them.
Several blocks further, Allen said he saw the car behind him, but didn't think anything of it. Then a police cruiser pulled along side and motioned for him to pull over. Allen, afraid because his passenger just then had his marijuana out and was trying to roll a cigarette, yelled for him to hide it.
"I look out the window and the police have guns. I say I've got to stop this cab.' He said 'You'd better drive'."
"I put the car in park and jumped out. My hands are up." Allen's voice raced as he recalled the scene.
"I say, 'wait a minute' to the police. He (Griffith) tried to drive the car off. I don't know who shot first. I hit the ground. I'm low-crawlin', jumping and running. It sounded like Vietnam."
"I'm telling people to get down. I don't know what's going on. I saw them cut him down. I'm taking my coat off to let them (police) know I don't have a gun. It flashed my mind: This is the man the police are looking for. I'm only the cab driver."
As Griffith lay next to the cab, fatally wounded by six police bullets, Allen got to his feet, amazed and relieved that he was still alive after the furious gun battle.He went with homicide detectives to police headquarters, gave them a statement, and was praised by them for his cooperation.
Then his troubles began.
When police examined the cab they discovered the .22 caliber pistol Allen said he had hidden under his floorboard mat and carried around for protection. Police detectives said they had to charge him with possession of an unregistered weapon, but said they have attempted to get the U.S. attorney's office to drop the charge. No decision has yet been reached.
Then there are the problems with Allen's black and orange cab. Almost all the windows are shattered. There are bullet hole in the trunks. The right front fender is smashed. A door panel has been removed. A headlight is broken.
His insurance does not cover any damage done to his cab, but at first Allen thought that the whole incident might be a blessing in disguise. The city would compensate him for the loss, Allen believed, and he would use the money to make a down payment on a new Chrysler New Yorker he had always wanted.
Martin Grossman, an assistant Corporation Counsel attorney whose office would have to approve any claim from Allen, is not certain that the city can help.
"I'm sympathetic," Grossman said, but he recounted legal technicalities and noted that his office has about 620 active cases before it now of people who want the city to pay for something.
"A general rule is we might make an offer or pay for a claim where we feel there is potential liability," Grossman said, "neglect by some District . . . employe."
Grossman said there apparently was no neglect by the police officers. Groseman said it was his opinion that the city is not liable but his office would study the claim once Allen submits one to Mayor Marion Barry.
"He's a victim of crime, in the same sense the District doesn't pick up (costs) for damages for a person injured in a crime against them. Maybe there is some legislative action available," Grossman said.
Allen said in the interview, "I don't want no raggety . . . car. It was nice and clean except for the bullet holes. I just spent $430 to get it fixed. I want a new cab. A New Yorker with that glass thing (bullet-proof shield). I just need enough for a down payment. I'm not asking for nothing."
"I hate hacking," said Allen, the father of five. "But it's a way of life for me. I couldn't operate a car unless it was a cab.
"I'm a celebrity, a poor celebrity. The hoodlums think I was smart and the police like me, too. But it don't feed my family. I've got to take the bus now. No car. No money."