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Saturday, November 19, 2011

Parking Officer Back Writing Tickets After Drug Arrests

D.C. parking officer at work after PCP arrests
The Washington Times by Andrea Noble - November 17, 2011

On two nights a month apart this year, Takia Johnson drew the attention of D.C. law-enforcement officers, who pulled over her car and took her into custody on charges she was driving under the influence of PCP. But despite the arrests, Ms. Johnson by day continued in her city job — enforcing the laws of the District as a parking officer. During the first incident in February, Ms. Johnson was pulled over for driving erratically, police said. She appeared to be in a drug-induced stupor, according to court records. A charge of driving under the influence from that incident is pending in D.C. Superior Court, but a month after the arrest, she was stopped again while driving and found with two PCP-dipped cigarettes in her car. She pleaded guilty to a possession charge from that incident. The charges are related to a hallucinatory drug formally called Phencyclidine. Users engage in delusional and sometimes violent or behavior, which calls into question whether Ms. Johnson should have been on the job at all after the arrests — and whether her employer, the D.C. government, should have known about them. A spokeswoman for the Department of Public Works, which employed Ms. Johnson, said the agency is investigating the arrests but declined to say whether she remains on duty as a parking enforcement officer. "Once that investigation is concluded, the department will take the appropriate action," DPW spokeswoman Linda Grant said in an email. Attempts to reach Ms. Johnson through the agency, union officials and a lawyer representing her in the open case were unsuccessful. Public employment records indicate that Ms. Johnson, 31, has worked since 2003 as one of about 200 parking enforcement officers with the agency, which enforces D.C. laws related to parking, most notably by writing tickets.

Since 2003, Ms. Johnson has pleaded guilty to three other criminal charges: driving under the influence of alcohol, possession of PCP in the District in 2005, and carrying a concealed handgun in Prince George's County, where she now lives, in 2007. Only certain "safety-sensitive" positions with the D.C. government require random drug testing, and employment can be terminated if an employee tests positive, said Charles Tucker, general counsel for the District's Department of Human Resources. Ms. Grant said parking officers are not among those subjected to random drug testing. The rest of the District's employees are governed by city personnel regulations, which do not specifically prohibit drug use but state that employees should not engage in an interest "which is in violation of federal or District law" or "which might impair an employee's mental or physical capacity to such an extent that he or she can no longer carry out his or her duties and responsibilities." Criminal defense lawyer David Benowitz, who has no connection to the case, said Ms. Johnson's prior guilty pleas raise difficult questions for the agency to answer. "It certainly doesn't speak well to the credibility of any tickets she has written," he said. According to court documents from the two arrests this year, Ms. Johnson was stopped by the same pair of police officers in the same Northeast block after the officers noticed a moving Dodge Charger without its headlights activated. In the Feb. 1 incident, officers watched the Dodge make an illegal U-turn in the 6000 block of Clay Street Northeast, then drive at about 2 mph for a block. When they pulled over Ms. Johnson, she was "staring blankly forward" and "only able to repeat the word 'yes ... yes ... yes,' " say state charging documents filed in D.C. Superior Court. She later told officers that she had smoked a cigarette dipped in PCP about 15 minutes before she was pulled over. During the March 1 arrest, the same officers saw the Dodge going east on Clay Street with its headlights dark and pulled over the vehicle. When they approached the car, the officers noted a strong chemical smell that they suspected was PCP, which prompted them to search the car, charging documents state. Two cups of alcohol and two cigarettes dipped in PCP were found inside the car. Ms. Johnson and a passenger bickered over who owned the PCP-laced cigarettes, but the officers charged both with possession. In July, Ms. Johnson pleaded guilty to the possession charge and was sentenced to one year of supervised probation. A non-jury trial is scheduled in January on the DUI charge.

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