- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 4, 2000

District of Columbia police officers yesterday testified that an open-air drug market in Southwest became a "ghost town" every time Officer Andrew James McGill used a telephone as they prepared to raid the area.

"He would punch a few keys, put the cell phone to his ear and wouldn't say anything," Officer James J. Johnson said of Officer McGill's actions as they prepared to raid the notorious drug market in the unit block of Forrester Street SW.

Minutes later as the 14 officers of Operation Ring arrived at Forrester Street, "it was like a ghost town," Officer Johnson told the U.S. District Court jury in Greenbelt.

Officer McGill is charged with conspiracy to distribute drugs, auto theft and perjury. If convicted, he could be sentenced to life in prison, depending on the particular application of federal sentencing guidelines.

Ten co-defendants have pleaded guilty to various drug charges. Several, including gang leader Erskine "Pee Wee" Hartwell, have agreed to testify against Officer McGill. Hartwell and Officer McGill were friends from childhood.

Another officer, Kevin Webster, testified about a failed raid after Officer McGill used a telephone.

As Operation Ring was leaving the station, Officer McGill said he "had to get something," got on a phone, then rejoined the squad for the raid, Officer Webster said.

The usually busy drug market was vacant when police arrived. "It was clear," Officer Webster said. "Nothing happening."

"When I wasn't with Officer McGill, there was a lot of drug activity," said Officer Johnson, explaining, as did other officers, that Forrester Street was busy night and day despite a focus by police to close down drug dealing.

Officer McGill discouraged the raids, Officer Webster said. "Why do we keep going up there and hitting on them? They're not doing anything," he quoted Officer McGill as saying.

Fellow officers also accused Officer McGill of not participating in "jump-outs" when several squad cars converged on Forrester Street from all directions and officers would jump out and chase people suspected of buying or selling drugs.

Officer Webster said Officer McGill would get out of the patrol car and stand beside it while other officers would grab suspects. Once, Officer Johnson said, he looked back, and Officer McGill was just standing there, his hands in his pockets.

Officer Linda Lewis recalled seeing Officer McGill once give some money to Hartwell. She and other officers told their superior about it.

"You have no idea what that was about, do you?" defense attorney William C. Brennan said.

"Correct," said Officer Lewis.

Mr. Brennan has said Officer McGill was a friend of Hartwell and others, and was roundly criticized by others of the "police culture" who contended police should not socialize with bad guys.

Under cross examination by Mr. Brennan, the officers confirmed that they never were called to court to testify against suspects they had arrested on Forrester Street.

But under questioning by Assistant U.S. Attorney Stuart A. Berman, the officers said they did not know if the suspects had pleaded guilty, which would not have required officers' presence in court.

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