Big Guns: When Cops Use Steroids

Amid the furor over steroid use by superstar athletes like baseball's Jose Canseco and Jason Giambi, another story is quietly unfolding in small towns and big cities across America -- cops on steroids.

From New York City to Norman, Okla., police departments are investigating a growing number of incidents involving uniformed police officers who are using steroids to build beefy, muscular physiques.

Police departments are concerned because it is illegal in the United States to possess steroids without a prescription. They are listed by the Drug Enforcement Agency as a Schedule III substance, like morphine, opium, barbiturates and other prescription drugs.

But there is an even greater problem: violent, aggressive behavior, a common side effect of steroids, can contribute to police brutality -- even murder.

When Police Commit Murder

James Batsel IV was a police officer in Riverdale, a suburb of Atlanta. In 1993, he joined a group of police officers who, in addition to bulking up on steroids, burglarized stores and nightclubs in the Atlanta area.

During one of those burglaries, Batsel shot and killed a nightclub owner. In his defense, Batsel blamed the murder on the steroids he was using.

Batsel, now serving a life sentence for murder at Hays State Prison in Georgia, refused an interview request from ABCNews.com. But his father, James Batsel III, said, "The police force that he was on was rampant with it."

Maj. Greg Barney of the Riverdale Police Department declined to offer comment on the 12-year-old incident.

Batsel also described the effect steroids had on his son's disposition, causing him to fly into a violent rage for no reason. This side effect of steroids is known as "'roid rage."

"He had a temper you would not believe," Batsel's father said. "He had a dog that he just loved -- and he took that dog out and shot it."

A Nationwide Epidemic of Abuse

Batsel's use of steroids is not a rare case. In precinct houses and sheriff's departments nationwide, officers are being investigated, disciplined, discharged or arrested for possessing or using steroids:

Michael Tweedy, a former police officer in Petersburg, Va., was sentenced in April for repeatedly stomping a man in the head while he lay on the ground choking on his own blood. In court testimony, steroid use was cited as a contributing factor to his violent behavior.

Thomas Lahey, a third-generation police sergeant in Denver, was charged in 2003 with possession of steroids. In addition to steroids, his home also contained syringes, a steroid-use schedule and 15 guns. The case was eventually dismissed.

Matthew Campbell, a former police officer in Tampa, pleaded guilty to trading Ecstasy tablets -- stolen from an impounded car -- for steroids. The exchange took place in 2000 while Campbell and a fellow officer were in uniform and on duty.

Two police officers in Tampa are under investigation as customers of a man arrested for selling steroids. The case is still under review by the police department.

Four police officers in the New York City area lost their jobs after being investigated for possession of steroids and cocaine in 2002. Two of the officers pleaded guilty; the other two cases are still pending.

Eight sheriff's deputies in Broward County, Fla., are currently under investigation after their names appeared on the customer list of a local company charged with distributing steroids.

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