Source: Daily Record, The (NJ)
Copyright: 1998 Gannett Satellite Information Network Inc.
Pubdate: 28 Sep 1998
Author: Fred Snowflack and Peggy Wright Daily Record
Note: Item number 9 of 26 in the series "Heroin: A Clear and Present Danger"


Prosecutor crusades against a `cancer'

Dangler: I'd turn in my own kids if they had a problem

[PHOTO CAPTION] Prosecutor John Dangler visits schools with teens from the
Daytop Village drug treatment center, warning children about the dangers of
drugs.  Photo by Chris Pedota

MENDHAM TWP. -- John Dangler has just wrapped up a meeting with teenage
drug addicts at Daytop Village, a substance abuse center.

Reflecting upon the past hour as he stands in Daytop's courtyard, absorbing
the warm air and green trees of a splendid September afternoon, Dangler
compares drugs to cancer.

"This is the crime of today," he said. Then, after a pause: "If we got rid
of drugs, I'd have to lay people off."

A cancer. A menace so great that its elimination from the planet would mean
fewer police jobs.

It's this attitude that Dangler brings to the Morris County drug war.

"It's cheaper to buy a bag of heroin -- for 10 bucks! -- than it is to buy
a CD," Dangler said a few hours later, relaxing at a nearby restaurant over
a pasta and chicken dinner.

Dangler said he was surprised to learn how widespread drugs, especially
heroin, were in Morris County when he became the county's top law
enforcement official with an annual salary of $115,000 in December 1995.

There are no easy answers

He's not surprised anymore. There have been 29 fatal drug overdoses in
Morris County since January 1997 in which heroin was the only or primary

Dangler publicly announces each death, something his predecessors did not do.

"How else can I get home the problem?" he explained.

Last school year, Dangler visited about 25 county high schools accompanied
by Daytop teens who told their peers about the allure and devastation of
drug addiction.

Dangler also spends time talking to young addicts and sometimes their
parents. He's looking for clues as to why drug use starts.

At Daytop, Dangler struggles to build a substantive rapport with about
eight teens who surround him in a semi-circle. His suit jacket is off,
revealing a white shirt and a brightly colored tie.

"Take my job," he says to the youths. "What would you do to stop drug use?"

Some of the teens in baggy jeans, T-shirts and sneakers just shrug. One
says stronger laws are needed. But there are no easy answers.

Dangler doesn't really fit the image of a crusader; the fire he has stays
well concealed. At least most of the time.

While he does not typically visit scenes of fatal overdoses, he talks about
a photo of heroin addict John Wayne Healy, who died in an abandoned
Parsippany building.

"It's an empty pump house and here was a young kid lying there surrounded
by drug paraphernalia," Dangler said. "Boy, if that doesn't hit home."

Dangler, who turns 49 in December, projects a stern image.

He's up most days by 5:30 a.m. and works out at a Morristown health club
before heading to his office a few blocks away on the third floor of the
county administration building on Court Street. He said he takes few
vacation days -- no more than four or five a year.

However, one event he never misses is the annual Army-Navy college football
game. He doesn't golf, but likes to read and has a preference for Tom
Clancy novels.

"Maybe a boring life, but what you see is what you get," he said.

There were 1,775 narcotic arrests in Morris County in 1997, up 14 percent
from the 1996 total of 1,560. The prosecutor's office disposed of 575 drug
cases last year, up from 515 in 1996.

"You give me another 10 people, I'll increase the drug arrests," said
Dangler, who has 155 on staff full time. The comment is largely rhetorical.
Dangler, who occasionally butts heads with the county's governing body over
staffing, knows that a staff increase of that size is unrealistic.

Of last year's 575 drug cases, 195 -- or 33.9 percent -- were assigned to a
program called pre-trial intervention, or PTI. When offenders enter PTI,
they undergo counseling, avoid a trial or guilty plea and upon successful
completion of probation ranging from one to three years, the charges are

Morris sends more cases to PTI than any other county in the state, where
the average is 7 percent.

Dangler said the figures are misleading. Rather than send a case to PTI,
many counties remand a minor drug case to municipal court for a conditional
discharge. That proceeding is similar to PTI in that it enables an offender
to have his record wiped clean if he stays away from drugs for a prescribed
period, usually a year.

While PTI gives offenders a break, Dangler said it's only offered to minor
drug users: "Somebody with a little bit of marijuana."

"You're not going to see PTI for heroin and cocaine," he said.

Of the 380 Morris cases not disposed of through PTI last year, 315
defendants pleaded guilty and five were found guilty at trial. Of the
remaining 60, 48 were dismissed, 10 were downgraded into disorderly persons
offenses and two defendants were found not guilty.

What happened to the 320 defendants guilty of drug offenses last year?

Generalities are hard to make since sentencing guidelines in New Jersey are
often complex.

While the leaders of narcotic trafficking networks -- so-called drug
kingpins -- face life in prison upon conviction, most other drug
distributors are more likely to serve only two years before being paroled.

(The only person in Morris County convicted under the kingpin statute was
James H. Jackson in 1993, two years before Dangler took office. His
conviction was overturned two years later and Dangler's office is expected
to retry Jackson later this year.)

High on Dangler's wish list is the elimination of parole, but he knows that
is unrealistic. To eliminate parole would overcrowd jails and clog the
court system because defendants would be less likely to plead guilty if
they were faced with hard time, Dangler said.

So, Dangler tries to attack the demand for drugs, to persuade children not
to use it.

That's why he visits schools with the Daytop teens.

That approach is buttressed by paying anyone -- including minors -- to
inform on those who sell drugs. Under a program that began six months ago,
the prosecutor's office pays up to $500 for anonymous tips leading to the
arrest and indictment of drug dealers. There have been about 110 calls, but
because indictments take time, no cash has been paid out yet.

Dangler was born in Orange but grew up in New Milford, Conn., where his
father worked in a factory. Dangler played high school football and ran
track. Off the field, Dangler was an Eagle Scout by the eighth grade, about
two years earlier than the norm, and junior class president in high school.

He wanted to attend the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., but earned
only a nomination as an alternate. So, Dangler enrolled at Seton Hall
University in South Orange in the fall of 1968.

Anti-war rallies were common during that time and Dangler, now a staunch
Republican from suburbia, was there. Or at least on the periphery.

"I might show up and I did listen to the rhetoric, but I was never a flag
burner," he said. He did eventually begin to question the war in Vietnam.

Marijuana, the drug of choice during the 1960s, was plentiful on campus in
Dangler's time, but the county's top cop said he never used any drug.

Dangler originally wanted to be a pediatrician but changed his mind and
became a lawyer, joining the New Jersey Bar in 1975. After his first
marriage ended in divorce, Dangler married his current wife, Patricia. They
live in Morristown.

Dangler has three children, ranging in age from 16 to 20, from his previous
marriage. The two oldest attend college and the youngest, Gregory, lives
with his former wife and is a junior at Mendham High School.

Dangler said he's talked to all his children about drugs and is not
hesitant about his plans if one of them slipped up: "If I knew (one) had a
serious problem, I would call the police."

Until his appointment to replace Democrat W. Michael Murphy Jr. as
prosecutor, Dangler worked for the Morristown law firm of Mills and Doyle
(now Mills and Mills). He also served as Mendham Township prosecutor, where
he got some ink for successfully prosecuting two farmers for fatally
shooting two Samoyed dogs. The defendants erroneously thought the dogs had
killed three of their sheep.

As Dangler dines with two reporters, at least three others in the crowded
restaurant come over to say hello. One visitor is a Daytop volunteer;
another jokes about the recent bust by Dangler's office of an alleged
bordello in Morris Township.

"Keep my name off the list (of customers)," the man says.

Dangler laughs, but he's soon back to business.

"It's never been this bad," he said of drugs in Morris County. "What is
going to happen in 20 years?"

By "bad," Dangler means the quality of drugs today. Or as Jeff Paul, a
narcotics detective in the prosecutor's office with 16 years in the field,
puts it, "It's not your father's marijuana."

Dangler said one of his problems is convincing today's parents, many of
whom grew up using drugs in the 1960s and 1970s, that things have changed.
He said marijuana, long a staple of recreational drug users, is far more
potent today, partly because it is often mixed with heroin. And heroin
itself, once limited to ghetto alleys, now is likely to appear in upper
class suburbia.

`Almost like saying we condone it'

That view is accepted at least among those whose children are addicts.

"It's not the marijuana that I smoked," a fortyish woman said of today's
grass, as she and other parents of Daytop teens joined Dangler for an
informal chat one evening last month.

Of the eight parents in the dimly-lit Daytop chapel, most admitted using a
variety of drugs while growing up. A reporter was allowed to sit in on the
group on condition that the parents were not identified.

"Remember Quaaludes?" said one parent, almost laughing at the memory.

One woman, whose teenage son abandoned his love of tennis and contemplated
suicide after becoming addicted to heroin, said some parental tales from
another era encourage drug use.

"Kids hear us talking about spending three days at Woodstock, rolling
around in the mud and trying all types of drugs," she said. "It's almost
like saying we condone it."

Noting that history can't be changed, Dangler said that parents cannot be
friends to their children sometimes.

"Sometimes?" the parent shot back. "All the time." 
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Checked-by: Mike Gogulski