Shane Owens spent years on the front lines of the K2 epidemic. A Dallas police officer, he’s watched as downtown has been overrun by K2 users and sellers.
On an average day, he and his partner would make multiple K2 arrests. Three men have died of suspected K2 overdoses in downtown in just the last three months. The cheap synthetic marijuana delivers a quick, intense high that often puts people in zombie-like state.
“K2 is the majority of our calls downtown,” he says. “I felt like I was doing groundhog day all day, every day.”
Owens is speaking out now because his last day on the city payroll is Friday. The ten-year veteran is leaving the ailing department without having another job lined up. He’s one of about 400 officers to quit or retire this year.
To him, ground zero of the K2 problem is a tiny street in downtown named Park Avenue. And no, it’s nothing like the glitz and glamour Park Avenue of New York City.
It’s grungy stretch of street that’s home to the Stewpot. Park Avenue is a favored hangout of the homeless. You’ll often see people feeding and distributing items to the homeless. Homeless people line the buildings, pass out on the sidewalks and use the area as a public restroom.
“If you see somebody passed out on K2, within a three-block radius, it came from here most likely,” Owens said.
During the day, Stewpot security keeps a close eye and shoos people away. It’s the wild west in the evening and overnight.
According to Dallas police records, 911 calls to Park Avenue have increased by 60 percent from the first six months of this year compared to last year. The department recorded 594 calls there in the first six months of 2017.
“You don't want to come down here,” he says. “We've had assaults here. We’ve had murders. We've had rapes. We've had numerous offenses and it's all involving these K2 addicts.”
An admitted K2 dealer
Meet Anthony Pierre, an admitted K2 dealer. “Basically I do it to survive. I'm out here hustling trying to get money,” he says in a jail interview. “Wherever a customer is at, I'm willing to come near you.”
Pierre has been arrested three times since May. His last arrest was on Park Avenue in late July. He said he feels no responsibility for those that overdose on the drug.
“It’s their choice to buy that drug,” he says. Pierre declined to discuss the prices of his product.
“I can’t put my prices out there,” he says. “My connection would be mad at me.”
Pierre was confident his felonies would be dropped to misdemeanors.
Owens says he’s probably right. He says far too often the people he arrests get off with little to no jail time.
“Dallas County is not taking it seriously,” he says.
Owens foresees catastrophe as the department’s manpower continues to fall.
“It's going to blow up,” he says. “We don't have the manpower to arrest the people that are dealing and to arrest the people who are falling out on K2 for public intoxication as it is.”
Thus far, most of the violence has been homeless on homeless. He fears, though, the problems will eventually spill out on to the general public.
“You been doing K2?”
Behind the downtown library is another favorite hangout of K2 users. There Owens encounters a man who he says was clearly high on K2.
The man initially rocks back and forth, looking like he’s about to fall over. Owens call it the “K2 lean.” He lays down on one of the concrete walls as we approach.
Owens notices the man drops what appeared to be a K2 blunt.
“Hey there, you ok?” Owens asks. “Do you need medical assistance?”
The man, his eyes glazed over and unfocused, says he’s fine and tells us it’s a cigarette.
“Cigarettes don't normally do this to people, right?” Owens tells the man.
Owens leans down, picks up the blunt and confirms that it’s K2.
“You been doing K2?” he asks the man.
“No, I haven’t,” he says, slurring his words. “I don’t even know what that is.”
Owens says he’s arrested the man before. Owens asks the man if he can get up and walk.
He struggles to his feet and staggers away – a living, breathing representation of the K2 epidemic downtown.
Suspected K2 overdose deaths
May 15: Jeffrey Wayne Stansell, 45, was found passed out at the St. Paul Station on Bryan Street. An autopsy has concluded that he died of the toxics effects of synthetic marijuana, better known as K2.
June 9: Howard Pickens, 54, was found overdosed at Park Avenue and Young Street, which is ground zero of the K2 epidemic. His autopsy results are pending.
Aug. 1: Thomas Raymond, 45, was found unresponsive holding a K2 joint in the 1300 block of Ross Avenue.