Arthur Paul Martinez said he wondered why more cars were driving by his house, but didn't give it much thought. Now that he knows why, he doesn't care for the answer.
In an August issue of The Neighborhood Communicator, a newsletter put out by the Police Department, Chief Lloyd J. Wood identified Martinez by name and street address as one of the "dope pushers" in Azusa.
Martinez, 35, was arrested in June and charged with possession for sale of less than 1 gram of heroin and less than 1 gram of cocaine. He had been arrested twice before on charges of either possession for sale or having drug paraphernalia. All those cases are pending, police said. Martinez has pleaded innocent in each case.
Martinez, who denied all the charges, said he objects to Wood branding him as a dealer.
"I think (Wood) better check himself before he has a suit," Martinez said. "He's got his information pretty screwed up. . . . I've never been convicted of anything. Isn't he jumping the gun?"
In an interview, Wood called Martinez and Ruben Gonzales, the other man identified in the newsletter, "two of the more notorious dealers in town" in explaining why he singled them out.
Gonzales, 42, while acknowledging that he uses heroin occasionally, denied that he is a dealer.
"I'm not a dealer anymore; that was long ago," he said. "I was never convicted of dealing, only personal use. . . . He (Wood) really makes it seem like I'm somebody.
Dating back to 1973, Gonzales has been arrested three times for possession of heroin, six times for being under the influence of heroin and three times for having drug paraphernalia, said Sgt. James Collins, who heads Azusa's drug task force.
Gonzales, who has served a total of more than four years for the various offenses, has never been arrested for drug dealing in Azusa. He was charged in May with possession of less than a gram of heroin and with possession of drug paraphernalia. Azusa police said they cannot release information about whether Gonzales has been arrested outside their jurisdiction.
Wood said informants working for his undercover officers have bought drugs from both men. "So I know they're dealers. When I say they do sell, that's my basis for it."
Although neither man has been charged with selling narcotics in Azusa, Wood said he considers the charge of possession for sale the same as dealing.
"Possession for sale basically means the same thing as far as I'm concerned," he said. "I don't see any difference between the two."
Unlike Martinez, Gonzales has never been arrested for possession for sale of narcotics.
"When I wrote the article, I made it somewhat general," Wood said. "My understanding is that they were dealing."
Collins said that because an undercover officer has never personally bought narcotics from either man, the police cannot arrest them for dealing.
"A lot of the times, they want to see needle marks, or for you to shoot up before you go," Collins said. "It's really difficult, so we use the other charge (possession for sale) to show they're dealers."
With a task force of only four officers, all easily recognizable by the two men, Collins said police decided not to attempt an undercover operation.
1,600 Copies Published
The policy of naming suspected drug dealers was announced in the August issue of the Communicator. About 1,600 copies of the quarterly publication are sent to Neighborhood Watch groups. After noting that the department's narcotics task force is having difficulty keeping pace with the increasing flow of drugs, Wood mentions the men and suggests they should leave the city.
"Many of you may not be aware of the dope pushers in your city," he wrote in the article. "I think you should know who they are and where they live."
After naming the two men and listing their street addresses, the article concludes: "These two people are heavy into narcotics. They have been arrested for narcotics possession, selling, and using. They help keep narcotics in the city of Azusa. I think they should leave."
As part of a get-tough policy, Wood said he will continue to publish the names and addresses of those arrested for drug trafficking within Azusa. Wood said that if the Communicator newsletter has increased scrutiny of Martinez's activities in the community, the program's objective has been achieved.
"I personally believe that these people have a tendency to remain anonymous," Wood said in an interview. "Why should that be? If I had my way, I'd put them up on posters around the city and run their pictures in all the newspapers."
Limited by Budget
Wood said a tight budget is the only constraint preventing him from expanding the program to other media with larger audiences.
Publishing the names, addresses and offenses of the subjects violates no confidentiality laws because the information is already public, Wood said. Many community newspapers have long held policies of publishing the names of those arrested for drunk driving and similar offenses.
Wood said the policy of naming drug dealers, but not the actual content of the August letter, was approved by City Atty. Peter M. Thorson.
In an interview, Thorson said neither the program, nor the newsletter, exposes the city to liability.
"I had talked to Woody about the concept, and I think it's a sound one," Thorson said. "As long as what you're saying is in the public record . . . you're on good grounds."
Although Wood labels both men drug dealers and Martinez has never been convicted of a drug-related offense in Azusa, neither is defamed if the charges are true, Thorson said.
"Before I'd say that the city was liable or Wood has done something wrong, they'd have to show that it wasn't true," he said. "As long as they have evidence that these guys are selling, that kind of factual evidence should support it."
Impeding Drug Sales
The philosophy behind the letter is to make drug dealers feel uncomfortable and impede their activities, possibly driving off their clients, Wood said.
"It's a shock to find out one of your neighbors deals," Wood said. "I'm not sure to what end this is going to go. The notoriety may say to them that they need to move out of town."
Despite Wood's letter and the pending charges, Martinez denied that he has ever been a dealer.
"I'm two months behind in my rent, with the bills," said Martinez, who is unemployed. "If I had so much money, I'd pay my rent, buy groceries."
Martinez charged that the letter may be the result of personal differences between himself and Wood. He said he twice applied for a clerical job at the police station after working briefly for the city, but his application was denied. "I think he's got something personal against me," Martinez said.
Wood denied that personal enmity had anything to do with the letter.
"I wouldn't know Martinez if I saw him," said Wood, who added that the subjects were chosen by the task force members.
Martinez's wife said she was offended and frightened by the article.
"I have kids, and I've never been involved in anything like this before," she said. "I don't want anyone attacking my children for anything that my husband has never been convicted of.
"How do I know that a crazy person isn't going to come around here and shoot my family, saying we're drug people?"
She said her family received an index card in Wednesday's mail telling them to get out of town. The card, postmarked Monday, read: "Arthur--take your narcotics and get out of Azusa--now!" Martinez said Thursday that he had moved his family from the home.
Wood said the newsletter was only meant to inform, not provoke, the public. "We don't need lynch mobs." But Wood said the risk of a vigilante taking matters into his own hands was far less than the potential harm associated with drug activities.
The chief said he would be glad to notify the public if police decide narcotics activity has ended at the Martinez home.
Gonzales, a part-time construction worker, complained about being singled out.
"It don't seem right," he said. "Why us? Why doesn't he go to the big-time dealers?"