As a group of young men stood on a Pimlico street corner yesterday peering into a bag containing nearly $1 million worth of cocaine, they were apparently so impressed with their merchandise they failed to notice who was looking over their shoulders.
Three men -- wearing dress shirts, ties and jackets -- with an equal interest in the contents of the bag listened for a while at the corner of Woodland and Delaware avenues as the group of about 20 young men admired their cocaine stash.
When they had heard enough, the three men identified themselves as police officers.
Several yelled "knockers" -- a street slang for narcotic officers -- then "took off like a bullet," said Sgt. James G. Cappuccino, of the Northwestern District major crimes unit.
The suspect carrying the bag with nearly 4 pounds of cocaine turned to the sergeant, handed it to him and ran. Before the sergeant or Officer Ronald D. Willis could grab him, he managed to escape. An arrest warrant was being processed last night.
Officer Louis H. Hopson said he grabbed a second suspect, Patrick C. Eppes, 19, of the 2900 block of Woodland Avenue, who was arrested with a bag containing an electronic scale and packing material.
Officer Hopson said Mr. Eppes was charged with possession of cocaine with the intent to distribute, possession of cocaine and possession of narcotics paraphernalia.
Sergeant Cappuccino said the arrest was made just after noon, as and Officers Hopson and Willis were cruising in the area looking for a robbery suspect.
Most people wouldn't have given a second thought to a bunch of young people looking into a brown shopping bag, Sergeant Cappuccino said. But, the sergeant, who had until recently worked in the district drug enforcement unit, said he suspected the topic of discussion might be drugs, in part, because police consider the corner one of the city's worst for narcotics trafficking.
He said they pulled to the curb in front of the group and walked right up to them. "It's like they didn't even notice us. A couple of them looked at us, but they didn't say a word," the sergeant said. "The car didn't look like a cop car. It's just a plain, old, four-door, blue Ford Tempo."
The sergeant said a neighborhood resident told him afterward that some of the men thought the officers were bill collectors.
Police said they believe the suspects were distributors who were moving the cocaine and materials to a "safer location" for higher level dealers when they decided to show it off to some of their street runners.
Sergeant Cappuccino said, "It was probably one of the easiest [drug] cases I've had."