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Monday, July 14, 2008

Sarasota Police Storm McDonald's To Catch Drug Suspect

SARASOTA — Undercover police officers stormed a McDonald's restaurant and ordered diners and employees to the ground as they tried to catch a suspected cocaine dealer Thursday.

The Sarasota police officers were dressed in black, carried rifles and wore masks when they ran into the restaurant on the corner of Beneva and Fruitville roads. They burst through the door at dinner time, yelled for patrons to hide under tables and chased a 24-year-old man who hid in a bathroom.

It was a drug sting that went bad because of a milkshake.

Police say the arrest would have gone smoother if the suspect, Juan T. Dixon, had not stopped at the door of the restaurant to go back and grab his shake from the counter.

It was supposed to work like this:

A confidential informant and an undercover detective waited inside the restaurant to sell Dixon an ounce of cocaine and 100 Ecstasy pills for $950.

More than a dozen officers waited outside, including Lt. Steve Breakstone, who organized the operation. His role was to radio for squad cars to drive up for the arrest once the deal was complete.

The uniformed officers were supposed to swoop in and arrest Dixon in the parking lot. The deal, according to reports, went as planned -- with Breakstone calling for the squad cars when Dixon was about to leave.

Then, the milkshake.

With the squad cars zooming into the parking lot, Dixon turned around to get his drink from the counter.

When he got back to the door, he saw the cars waiting for him and, realizing he was about to be arrested, he ran for the bathroom.

He shoved a boy out of the way and hid inside.

The police officers burst through the door and yelled for everyone to get down. A customer, a woman who did not want her name used, ducked under a table and worried that the masked men were robbers, not police.

"I thought it was a gang," she said. "I mean, they had masks and guns and I never heard anyone say, 'police.' I thought these guys were coming to rob us."

Undercover officers routinely wear masks during drug buys to conceal their identities.

Breakstone and Sarasota Police Chief Peter Abbott say officers had no choice but to rush into the restaurant because they thought Dixon was armed and might flush the drugs down a toilet or barricade himself in the restroom.

"We had to go get him, or this thing could have been much worse," Breakstone said.

Breakstone and Abbott would not say whether detectives or the suspect chose the McDonald's as the location for the deal.

There were no injuries. Dixon was arrested and jailed on drug trafficking charges.

According to police reports, he still had the drugs on him when he was arrested. He was held without bail on Friday in the Sarasota County jail.

Abbott said it is common for undercover detectives to conduct stings and drug surveillance in public places because they do not want to raise a suspect's suspicions and place officers in greater jeopardy by requesting more remote locations.

"We don't want these guys to get their hackles up and do something stupid," Abbott said.

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Huge Towering Bag of Vaporized Marijuana

Police halt 'mooning' of trains in Laguna Niguel after a crowd of 8,000 gathers

Police were called out to break up the annual "mooning" of Amtrak trains in Laguna Niguel on Saturday when the crowd grew to 8,000 and many began baring more than just their behinds.

"We had some mooners and some female flashers and some people who were nude altogether," said Jim Amormino, a spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff's Department. "There was also lots of drinking. We felt that it was in the public's interest to shut it down."

Mooners, flashers and others dispersed peacefully about 3 p.m. and there were no arrests, Amormino said. More than 50 officers responded from several police agencies, backed up by helicopters.

Some participants were angered by the police response.

"What was the point of stopping people from enjoying themselves when they were under control?" asked Robert Zoellner, 47, a first-time mooner from Mission Viejo. "Everybody was getting along."

Some participants returned to a mile-long stretch of festivities after police left, and newcomers arrived throughout the afternoon. Into the evening, revelers continued to moon the trains that passed about every 20 minutes.

The crowd, which included children with their parents as well as middle-aged adults -- stood on the shoulder of a road parallel to the tracks to show themselves. The sideshow included barbecues, T-shirt sales and RV parties.

"It's so liberating it's contagious," said Steve Bartolo, 39, of Costa Mesa. "You just wait until that next train goes by . . . I can't stop."

The 29-year-old event is said to have started when a patron at the nearby Mugs Away Saloon in the 27000 block of Camino Capistrano offered to buy drinks for any of his buddies who would run out to the tracks and bare their bottoms for the next passing train. Many did, and the tradition was born.

Usually held the second Saturday in July, the event begins early in the morning and continues into the night.

Though it has no official sponsors and free beer is no longer provided, it does have a website.

"The truth is I never heard of it until today," Amormino said. "This is probably the first time it's gotten out of hand."

"It's a good thing they were mooning trains," Amormino said, "because if it were cars I'm sure it would cause" an accident. "I guess a few people wrecked it for everybody."

david.haldane@latimes.com
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