Man jailed in drug de­liv­ery fa­tal­ity

The Mercury (Pottstown, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Michael P. Rel­la­han mrel­la­han@21st-cen­tu­ry­ @Ch­escoCourtNews on Twit­ter

WEST CH­ESTER » The Phoenixville man who served as a lowlevel drug run­ner for a man de­scribed as a drug king­pin in the bor­ough has pleaded guilty to drug traf­fick­ing charges that in­volved the pres­ence of a pow­er­ful syn­thetic opi­oid that led to the death of a 34-year-old man.

Ch­ester County Com­mon Pleas Court Judge Al­li­son Bell Royer sen­tenced de­fen­dant Da­mon Eskridge to four to eight years in state prison, plus an ad­di­tional five years of pro­ba­tion, on two counts of pos­ses­sion with in­tent

to de­liver a con­trolled sub­stance, crim­i­nal con­spir­acy, and crim­i­nal use of a com­mu­ni­ca­tions fa­cil­ity.

Royer said she took into ac­count Eskridge’s age and lack of a prior record in fash­ion­ing her sen­tence, which fell just short of the 4½ to nine year term that the pros­e­cu­tion had sought. But she said she could not ig­nore the harm that Eskridge’s drug deal­ing had caused.

“Some­body died as a direct re­sult of your ac­tions,” the judge told Eskridge, who had pleaded guilty to the charges pre­vi­ously. “It is just such a waste here.”

Eskridge, 21, told Royer that he had grad­u­ated from Phoenixville Area High School in 2016, had a son, but had mostly been “run­ning the streets” since he grad­u­ated. Ac­com­pa­nied by his at­tor­ney, Melissa McCaf­ferty of Coatesville, Eskridge had asked for le­niency in his state­ment to the judge be­fore she handed down her sen­tence. McCaf­ferty asked Royer to top her sen­tence off at 1½ to three years.

“I wish I could take it all back, but I can’t,” said Eskridge, who au­thor­i­ties say was sell­ing drugs in the bor­ough at the di­rec­tion of Ma­lik Omar “Buck” Grasty, a largescale heroin and co­caine dealer who ran a street level drug op­er­a­tion in late 2016 and early 2017 be­fore he was ar­rested as part of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the fa­tal over­dose of the 34-year-old man. “I am sorry for the fam­ily, the vic­tims.”

As­sis­tant District At­tor­ney Kevin Pierce of the D.A.’s Drug Unit, who pros­e­cuted the case, said the charge of drug de­liv­ery re­sult­ing in death had been with­drawn against Eskridge in re­turn for his guilty plea, and ow­ing to the level of cul­pa­bil­ity in the drug traf­fick­ing op­er­a­tion run by Grasty. Es­sen­tially, Eskridge sold the drugs to the vic­tim in the case on Grasty’s or­ders.

Gratsy pleaded guilty to sep­a­rate drug de­liv­ery charges ear­lier this year and is now serv­ing an eight to 16 year sen­tence in state prison.

The vic­tim was found dead of an ap­par­ent heroin over­dose in an apart­ment on Sec­ond Av­enue in Phoenixville on July 4, 2017. Tox­i­col­ogy tests done dur­ing an au­topsy by the Ch­ester County Coro­ner’s Of­fice dis­cov­ered the pres­ence of car­fen­tanil, an ex­tremely potent drug used to boost the po­tency of heroin. It is nor­mally used as a tran­quil­izer for large an­i­mals, such as ele­phants.

The pres­ence of the car­fen­tanil was marked as the first ap­pear­ance of the opi­oid in Ch­ester County. The drug is known by the street name “gray death” be­cause of its po­tency. Ac­cord­ing to au­thor­i­ties, the drug can of­ten cause al­most in­stan­ta­neous car­dio­vas­cu­lar col­lapse and death.

In the case that re­sulted in Eskridge’s ar­rest, po­lice found sev­eral empty heroin bags stamped with dif­fer­ent phrases in­clud­ing “Chapo,” “Wells Fargo” and “New Ar­rival” in the apart­ment where the man died. Po­lice searched through a phone be­long­ing to the de­ceased and found con­ver­sa­tions they be­lieved to be re­lated to a drug deal. Po­lice said text mes­sages were with a con­tact la­beled “Kevin D” and in­cluded a meet­ing lo­ca­tion and price for the al­leged pur­chase.

On July 5, an un­der­cover of­fi­cer ar­ranged a drug trans­ac­tion with “Kevin D” us­ing the de­ceased’s phone. Po­lice ar­ranged for “Kevin D” to de­liver 12 bags of heroin in the area of St. Mary’s Street and South Street, po­lice said. Po­lice re­quested that “Kevin D” de­liver the drugs to their ve­hi­cle and he was taken into cus­tody by of­fi­cers once he ar­rived.

“Kevin D,” later iden­ti­fied as Eskridge, had been in pos­ses­sion of 12 bags of heroin stamped with the words, “New Ar­rival.”

An in­ves­ti­ga­tion led by vet­eran Phoenixville nar­cotics of­fi­cer Thomas Hy­land was able to make a con­nec­tion be­tween Eskridge and Gratsy, a known drug dealer who had been on state pa­role at the time of the over­dose.

Hy­land had been told by a con­fi­den­tial source that Grasty, also known as “Leek” or “Buck,” was sell­ing be­tween $1,000 and $2,000 worth of heroin and co­caine a week in the Phoenixville area, mostly from a “stash” house in the 200 block of Mar­shall Street in the bor­ough. The source said that Grasty would of­ten stay at a sec­ond house on Sec­ond Street, and use the Mar­shall Street prop­erty to store his drugs and para­pher­na­lia in or­der to sep­a­rate him­self from the on­go­ing op­er­a­tion.

In taped calls be­tween Eskridge and Grassy that Hy­land ob­tained from Ch­ester County Prison, he learned that Eskridge was an­gry with Grasty for not pay­ing for an at­tor­ney to help him with the charges that stemmed from his July ar­rest. A search of Eskridge’s phone also showed a con­tact, Thomas J. “T.J.” Hy­den, who he was later able to con­nect with Grasty in drug traf­fick­ing deals.

On Aug. 22, Hy­land and oth­ers raided the homes on Mar­shall and South streets. At the South Street home, they found Grasty smok­ing mar­i­juana, and took him into cus­tody af­ter a brief chase. In­side the house, they found more than 50 cell­phones and drug para­pher­na­lia, in­clud­ing thou­sands of un­used heroin pack­ets. Later, more con­fi­den­tial sources told them they had pur­chased “New Ar­rival” heroin di­rectly from Grasty.

In the cell­phone they con­fis­cated when they ar­rested Grasty, po­lice found a se­ries of mes­sages that in­di­cated that Grasty had bragged about the size of his op­er­a­tion and how he would avoid go­ing back to prison.

“I’m run­ning the show on both these blocks,” one of the mes­sages read, ac­cord­ing to the ar­rest af­fi­davit, ap­par­ently re­fer­ring to South and Mar­shall streets. “You think I’m try­ing (to) go back?”

Da­mon Eskridge

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