CORONA — When Officer Mike Anderson ordered a pair of drug suspects to halt last week, one fled and the other fought, punching him wildly and splashing him with a potentially dangerous drug, Anderson said.
Anderson, a two-year veteran Corona officer, has shown no ill effects of the drug phencyclidine, a highly toxic, psychoactive anesthetic better known as PCP or "angel dust," Corona Police Lt. Fred Biggs said.
However, a Riverside County deputy district attorney Tuesday filed an unusual, if not unique, charge of assaulting a police officer with a deadly weapon in connection with the drug attack.
PCP "is very dangerous. . . . It's absorbed through the skin," said Stuart Glickman, who filed the charge against 19-year-old Jose Diaz Sandoval. "He threw it on the officer's face. I don't know what effects that will have on (Anderson)."
Assaulting a police officer with a deadly weapon is a felony, carrying a maximum penalty of five years' imprisonment. Filing such a charge for throwing PCP "is certainly different," said a deputy district attorney who specializes in drug prosecutions in neighboring Orange County.
The Corona case is "the first time I've heard of it," said Carl Armbrust, deputy in charge of the Orange County district attorney's narcotics task force.
"I think they've probably got a good thing. All they need is somebody to testify (that the PCP attack) could cause great bodily harm."
Other legal experts also said the Corona case is the first they have heard of in which a prosecutor is trying to classify PCP as a deadly weapon. California case law, from the 1880s to the present, has included everything from guns to automobiles and fists to fence posts among possible deadly weapons.
A jury can decide that an object not usually considered likely to cause death or "great bodily harm" is a deadly weapon, based on its nature, the manner in which it is used and the injuries it inflicts, courts have held.
Sandoval, a Corona resident, is held in lieu of $25,000 bail at the Riverside County Jail, a spokeswoman there said.
Officer Anderson said he watched Sandoval and another man exchange a small, brown bottle, then "shuffle" out of a central Corona alley in opposite directions last Thursday. The men were staggering and having a difficult time keeping their feet, he wrote in his report.
When Anderson ordered the pair to stop, one ignored him and continued to leave. The other stopped, holding the brown vial in both hands. Anderson said he smelled "a strong odor" associated with PCP use.
As Anderson approached the man, he wrote in his report, "he turned and threw the contents of the bottle, with his right hand, on me. (The) contents landed on my uniform shirt, both arms and my face."
Authorities handle PCP with extreme caution because, unlike other common street drugs, it can be absorbed through the skin. The chemical also can collect in fatty tissues and cause unexpected flashbacks when the fat is burned.
A Potent Drug
The chemical was once used as an animal tranquilizer but is no longer legal for any purpose. Because it is simple to make, with relatively inexpensive materials, PCP is widely available and widely used. A small amount--a single, PCP-laced cigarette, for example--is enough for more than a dozen users.
PCP is one of the most common illicit drugs in the Corona area, said Lt. Bob Martin, commander of detectives for the city's Police Department. It is used most often by young people, between the ages of 14 and 25, he said.
The drug can have a wide range of effects, producing paranoid hallucinations, inducing motionless stupors or allowing users to perform seemingly superhuman feats of strength because they feel little or no pain.
It took a bite on the buttock from Anderson's partner--a police dog named Axle--to bring down the alleged attacker last Thursday. Even then, the suspect continued to punch and kick at the dog until Anderson was able to handcuff him, about the time other officers arrived.
Sandoval was taken to Riverside General Hospital, where he received three stitches in his left buttock before being booked.
The suspect was also charged Tuesday with battery on a police officer, resisting arrest, possessing PCP and being under the influence of PCP. Glickman said he also plans to charge Sandoval with battery on a police dog.
Also charged Tuesday--with possessing PCP and being under the influence of the drug--was Frank Harvey Sanchez of Corona, whom Anderson arrested shortly after last week's scuffle. Sanchez, 20, allegedly was the second man Anderson observed in the alley, Biggs said.
He is being held on $2,500 bail, a Riverside County Jail spokeswoman said.