Assault charges dismissed for man accused of throwing fentanyl at law enforcement

Assault charges dismissed for man accused of throwing fentanyl at law enforcement
Published: Jun. 7, 2023 at 6:03 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Prosecutors have dropped charges against a man accused of throwing fentanyl at law enforcement after a detective told investigators his side of the story.

The New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office arrested Lewis Rudolph Drayton in January in an incident that shut down part of I-40 for several hours. Prosecutors said during Drayton’s first appearance that he intentionally opened a bag of drugs and threw fentanyl at two detectives and a deputy.

According to the sheriff’s office, one detective fell unconscious, was administered Narcan, and all three were taken to the hospital and later released.

In addition to several charges for drug possession and trafficking, Drayton was also initially charged with three counts of assault with a deadly weapon on a government official and one count of assault with assault with a deadly weapon with the intent to kill and inflicting serious injury.

According to New Hanover County court records, the four assault charges against Drayton were dismissed on April 18 after investigators spoke to one of the detectives involved.

“These assaultive charges were taken out on the belief that the defendant threw the drugs in question in a targeted manner at an officer who therefore had to be taken to the emergency room. However, once that officer was able to be interviewed, that officer told investigators that the defendant had appeared to NOT be aiming the drugs in question at that officer (and also that the reaction that sent him to the emergency room could have as easily been a reaction to the circumstance of his being administered naloxone),” the document states.

Law enforcement agencies across the country have promoted the idea that even a small exposure to fentanyl can be dangerous and even deadly.

“New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office is shocked and appalled after a drug dealer exposed a Detective and two Deputies to a dangerous opioid drug,” the office said in a release the day after Drayton’s arrest. A spokesperson later confirmed it was two detectives and a deputy who were involved.

Dr. Lewis Nelson, professor and chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine and chief of the Division of Medical Toxicology at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, says a small exposure to fentanyl is not likely to cause an overdose.

“It has to be given to you in a dose and by a route that would lead to poisoning,” said Nelson. “So, a little powder thrown in your face isn’t going to absorb enough of a dose that’s going to cause you to be opioid intoxicated, that’s going to poison you.”

Nelson says there is no question that fentanyl is deadly and dangerous, but he says the messaging from law enforcement agencies can create feelings in officers that trigger certain reactions during even small exposures.

“By the exposures we’ve seen, we know people die,” said Nelson. “We know people put fentanyl up their nose and die. It definitely happens, but the amount they put up has to be significant. And the amount you can be exposed to, in almost all of the situations we’ve seen, literally people that just open up the trunk of a car and get symptomatic as they see a white powder. That can’t cause poisoning.”

Drayton is still in jail on the other charges related to this investigation.