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November 17, 2011

Man sentenced to life for killing federal witness in Westport

A 31-year-old man has been sentenced to four life prison terms for executing a federal witness who fingered a dozen suspected drug dealers in South Baltimore's Westport neighborhood. The victim, Kareem Guest, pleaded for mercy before being shot a dozen times on the street in 2009.

Guest was outed as an informant after an FBI report detailing his cooperation was leaked and posted throughout the neighborhood, where Guest and his killer lived. The shooter, Antonio "Mack" Hall, 30, was found guilty by a jury in U.S. District Court in Baltimore in August.

The Sun's court reporter, Tricia Bishop, recounts the chilling details of the case in her coverage of the trial. Testimony revealed that Hall had a history of retaliating against witnesses and so-called "snitches," and was linked to the killing of a teen-aged drug dealer, shot as he played video games, and to the shooting of a junkie who had helped police arrest one of his friends.

Guest, arrested on heroin distribution charges in 2008, had agreed to cooperate with the FBI to bring down a gang selling heroin branded "Dynasty." His help led to the convictions of eight defendants, including the ring-leader who went away for 22 years.

A defense attorney for one of those suspects was given a copy of Guest's FBI statement so he could prepare his defense. Defense attorneys are allowed to share the information with their clients, but not hand over hard copies. The attorney admitted to giving a copy to his client and to his client's mother.

Once on the street, the document became a virtual wanted poster, prosecutors said, leading to the killing of Guest. The attorney, a former federal prosecutor from Detroit, was not prosecuted, but he was later disbarred for taking on clients and pocketing fees without telling his own law firm.

Lawyers for Hall argued that Guest had many enemies and that their client was the killer, but the jury rejected the arguments. The case highlighted the troubling issue of witness intimidation and showed how dangerous it is to be an informant.

Guest's statement to the FBI was tacked to telephone poles and to a basketball hoop in Westport and a copy was even found in a jail cell in New Jersey. 

October 13, 2011

Feds indict members of Bloods gang subset

[Note: Embedded video does not appear to be a Maryland Bloods member but was linked to on a Frederick South Side Brim member's YouTube account]

Read the full indictment here.

Two years after police found a gang roster in a Frederick motel room, federal authorities announced Thursday a racketeering indictment charging 35 alleged Bloods gang members with murder, kidnapping and other crimes from Western Maryland to the Eastern Shore — a move they said had "dismantled" the gang.

Authorities say cells of the South Side Brims coordinated gang activity across the state and region, and court documents offer a tutorial on how modern criminal organizations operate, including posting photos and messages on Facebook, and uploading initiation videos on YouTube.

Those indicted are accused of at least one murder in Baltimore, an attempted murder in Wicomico County, a home invasion in Howard County, a kidnapping in Frederick, and witness intimidation in Allegany County, among a host of other alleged crimes.

"Gangs represent the most significant violent crime challenge we face throughout the state of Maryland," said U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein, flanked at a Baltimore news conference by police officials from across the state. "We hope these gang indictments send a message to gang members and prospective gang members to get out while you can."

Frederick police chief Kim C. Dine said the case was "extremely significant" for his city, which he said has been conducting gang outreach work in recent years but is not immune to the spreading of gangs. "Sixteen of these gangsters are from Frederick, and it will have a huge impact on the city of Frederick and quality of life," he said.

The alleged leader of the gang was identified as Andre Ricardo Roach, a 34-year-old Prince George's County native. Known as "Redrum," he's accused of leading the gang since 2005 from behind bars at the North Branch Correctional Institute in Cumberland, where he is serving a 50-year sentence for second-degree murder.

Here's an article from the Frederick News Post from March in which a county detective told citizens that the South Side Brims were among several active sets there. 

The list of people charged is after the jump:

Continue reading "Feds indict members of Bloods gang subset" »

August 3, 2011

Wanted posters lead to murder

It was a transcript of his interview with the FBI. In it, Kareem Kelly Guest had named named, outed a drug organization in Westport and helped put away a slew of dangerous felons. But one of their defense attorneys, who got the document as part of the discovery process, gave it to his client.

The document ended up posted all over Westport, which federal prosecutors say was akin to a death sentence. Guest was executed, shot twice in the back and four times in the head. And now his suspected killers are on trial in federal court.

The Sun's Tricia Bishop walks us through the openings of this trial, which included an admission by the now disbarred defense attorney about how he gave up the document, a violation of rules set down by prosecutors.

Here is the story.

January 26, 2011

Records: Slain Block dancer was providing info to police

A woman who was found fatally shot last month near Leakin Park was dealing drugs and providing information to police about three men who detectives believe took her from her home the morning of her death, according to court records.

Baltimore police confirmed Tuesday that they had made an arrest in the death of Cherrie Gammon, a 25-year-old mother and dancer on The Block who was shot multiple times on Dec. 12. Hassan Muhammed, 32, of the 1600 block of Guilford Ave., was arrested and charged with murder on Jan. 17.

Gammon struggled with drugs, and friends and family feared that it had played a role in her death. Court records show that not only was Gammon using drugs, she had begun selling and was providing information to police.

Anthony Guglielmi, the Baltimore Police Department's chief spokesman, said he could not confirm or deny whether Gammon was a police informant.

Witnesses told police that she was selling heroin and crack cocaine for Donte "Tay" Baker, Muhammed, who is known as "Rowland," and a man nicknamed "Miami," records show. The witnesses said the men took her from her home in the early morning hours of Dec. 12 and drove her to the area where she was shot and killed.

Posted by Justin Fenton at 3:12 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Downtown, West Baltimore, Witness intimidation
        

January 13, 2011

Stop snitching in London

"Stop Snitching" has gone overseas.

After the fatal shooting of a 17-year-old Sierra Leonian national at a south London estate last month, fliers started circulating the area that read: "No one likes a rat ... Be smart. Don't snitch."

The flyers were linked to a crude website that tells people not to trust Operation Trident, which investigates gun crime in London's black community, the BBC reports. When a reporter from one newspaper went to talk to residents, one said through her door: "These people have guns. Who will protect me?"

In November 2009, I switched places with a crime reporter from The Independent to examine comparisons being made there to Baltimore. In talking with government officials, residents, police and reporters, I found that though the country has one of the lowest murder rates in the world and even police are averse to carrying guns, gun crime was rising and as was the perception of crime. One politician likened the streets of Manchester to Baltimore as depicted in "The Wire."

Not surprisingly, I found there was little credibility to that comparison, but the fear was real. While intimidation against cooperating with police is nothing new in either place, it's causing great alarm that the anti-snitching sentiment in London has now been crystallized into a formal campaign much like Baltimore saw with the circulation of the "Stop Snitching" video in 2004.

Posted by Justin Fenton at 10:13 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Crime elsewhere, Witness intimidation
        

July 12, 2010

Documents show slain Cherry Hill youth leader may have been killed for cooperating with authorities

UPDATE, July 22, 4:30 p.m.: BPD spokesman Anthony Guglielmi told the CityPaper that the original affidavit was filed with false information due to "a miscommunication between police and prosecutors," and adds that Dangerfield "was never an informant for the police." A corrected affidavit has since been filed in court.

Dangerfield, his mother told CityPaper's Van Smith, spoke of being fearful that he'd been labeled a snitch in the weeks before his murder, even though he hadn't helped the police. She says Dangerfield told her of a recent visit by the police to a Cherry Hill house being gutted by Dangerfield and a crew of fellow city workers. The police had asked them for information about anything they'd noticed going on at a house across the street, and Dangerfield and the other workers had no information to offer. Later the same day, the police raided the suspicious house, and she recalls Dangerfield saying that shortly thereafter he was being a called a snitch by people around the neighborhood.

"We thought he was just being paranoid," the mother said, "but he said, 'I know what I'm talking about.'"

When police made an arrest in the killing of Cherry Hill youth leader Angelo Dangerfield, they explained in charging documents a heat-of-moment confrontation: Dangerfield, walking his pit bull Princess, startled two men, who told Dangerfield to keep the dog away from them. Two shots later, Dangerfield was dead.

But documents obtained by the CityPaper and published last week show that police were working off another theory that was never revealed in court records or provided to defense attorneys for Ronald Hall and Michael Robertson, the two men who were charged: that Dangerfield, a 21-year-old who by all accounts was on the right path in life, was killed for information he was passing on to federal authorities about Hall's drug dealing.  All charges have since been dropped against Hall and Robertson, with state prosecutors citing the problem of a single-witness in the case. But federal court records reveal a new angle.

Here's what the murder charging documents said:

Continue reading "Documents show slain Cherry Hill youth leader may have been killed for cooperating with authorities" »

Posted by Justin Fenton at 5:06 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: South Baltimore, Witness intimidation
        

June 25, 2010

Producer of Stop Snitching video sentenced

The Maryland U.S. Attorney's Office announced today the sentencings of two gang members, including the infamous Ronnie Thomas, known as Skinny Suge, the producer of the Stop Snitching videos (link goes to YouTube, video contains offensive language).

In the video, Thomas said, "I can say what I want. F--- the police. F--- Patricia Jessamy. I can't go to jail for that. This is how I feel. What y'all getting me for? Freedom of speech?"  What they got him for was racketeering conspiracy, and he got nearly the maximum sentence.

The video came to symbolize Baltimore's witness intimidation culture, and got NBA star and native Baltimorean Carmelo Anthony in hot water for a cameo. The player later apologized and said he didn't endorse its message. 

Here is the statement from federal authorities:

U.S. District Judge William D. Quarles, Jr. sentenced Sherman Pride, a/k/a Dark Black and DB, age 35, of Salisbury, Maryland, to 292 months in prison, followed by five years of supervised release; and sentenced co-defendant Ronnie Thomas, a/k/a Rodney Thomas, Skinny Suge and Tall Vialz, age 36, of Baltimore, to 235 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release, for participating in a racketeering conspiracy through the Tree Top Piru Bloods (TTP Bloods), which engaged in narcotics trafficking, conspiracy to commit murder and robbery.  Pride also was convicted of conspiring to distribute cocaine.

“Many dangerous criminals have been convicted and removed from Maryland as a result of superb work by police and prosecutors on the TTP Bloods investigation,” said U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein. “Racketeering cases often are time-consuming, but they make a dramatic contribution to public safety."

"Violent criminals are not only infiltrating our metropolitan cities, they are spreading their destruction to smaller communities,” says ATF Special Agent in Charge Joseph Riehl. “Unfortunately for the criminals, no matter where they set up shop, ATF will shut them down. We are more committed to getting them off the streets, than they are committed to being on the streets.”

For more information:

Continue reading "Producer of Stop Snitching video sentenced" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 3:15 PM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Breaking news, Gangs, Witness intimidation
        

Drug informant killed after name leaks

Witness intimidation is a big problem in Baltimore, and many high-profile cases have been prosecuted -- from the firebombing of a city house that killed an entire family to the murder of a man in Baltimore County who saw a man killed in a city alley.

But the killiing of Kareem Guest in Westport in 2009 sets a new standard. A year earlier, the 39-year-old sat down with FBI agents and outlined drug dealing in the community. As a result, the feds busted eight people. Six pleaded guilty -- the ringleader went to prison for 22 years -- but two others held out for trials.

That meant prosecutors had to give two attorney's copies of Guest's statement to the FBI because was was a potential witness. Federal prosecutors say one of those lawyers gave a copy to his client and to his client's mother, who distributed it throughout Westport.

Guest was killed three months later.

And now a woman authorities saw Guest get shot is refusing to cooperate and lied to a grand jury about seeing the shooting. Prosecutors charged her with perjury. Here is a stunning court document filed by the lead prosecutor arguing that the worman should be incarcerated until her trial. It details this horrific killing and highlights the problems police face in solving many of the city's killings:

 

Continue reading "Drug informant killed after name leaks" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 10:23 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Confronting crime, South Baltimore, Witness intimidation
        

June 9, 2010

Was Westport man's 2008 death retaliation for cooperation?

Twenty months after Kareem Kelly Guest sat down with federal agents to talk about drug dealing in his neighborhood, documents proving Guest's cooperation started showing up on the streets of Westport last summer, and Guest was shot dead, reports the CityPaper's Van Smith. Who shot him and why remain unknown, though aspects of law enforcers' efforts to answer those questions surfaced on June 1, when an obstruction-of-justice indictment was unsealed in U.S. District Court against Raine Zircon Curtis, an alleged witness to Guest's murder, Smith reports. 

The documents resulting from Guest's interview with police - a form 302 - were not the only ones that ended up on the streets, a violation of the discovery agreements with defense attorneys. One of the attorneys denied leaking the documents when contacted by the CityPaper; the other did not return calls.

"The 14-page Curtis indictment illustrates the pitfalls and dangers of seeking justice in Baltimore, where anti-snitching culture is rooted deep and wide. It also provides a glimpse into the frailties of criminal prosecutions built on cooperating witnesses," Smith wrote.

Posted by Justin Fenton at 11:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Witness intimidation
        

June 3, 2010

Another witness slain

The Sun's police reporter Justin Fenton reports today that another witness to a Baltimore killing has been killed.

Michael Pryor, 32, was a witness to a fatal stabbing last March at a bar on Clipper Mill Road near Hampden. He had chased the victim's attackers, Justin wrote, and was himself stabbed. The suspect is scheduled for trial June 22.

Prosecutors say they will still move foward with the trial and will try to present Pryor's testimony using a 2005 law that allows them to present "out of court" testimony if they can prove that the behavior of the defendant caused the witness to be absent.

"We will not be deterred," said Margaret T. Burns, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore State's Attorney's Office.

May 10, 2010

More twists and turns in the killing of Gerrod Finch

The stabbing death of 21-year-old Gerrod Finch last year in West Baltimore may be a perfect example of how a case is far from closed after police make an arrest.

When police got to the scene June 30, 2009, they found a blood trail leading from a vehicle and Finch lying in a supine position. Girlfriend Tanaya Salter, 21, said the pair got into an argument in the 600 block of Wheeler Ave. that caught the attention of some nearby men, who surrounded Finch and stabbed him.

But detectives noticed inconsistencies between Salter's account and that of other witnesses. Salter waived her rights and signed a taped statement, confessing that she stabbed Finch as he struck her during an alcohol-fueled argument inside the vehicle.

Authorities weren't sure at first if the new account — involving allegations of domestic violence and self-defense — merited criminal charges at all. But they would charge Salter with manslaughter, saying she had an opportunity to leave the argument but instead escalated it, "which inevitably caused the death of Mr. Finch," Detective Michael Moran wrote in charging documents.

Now, there's been another twist in the case. Salter has been cleared. And three men, at least one who police say has ties to the Bloods gang, have been indicted in the killing.

The current account is more similar to the original: Police say Derrean "Dizzy" Mills, 17, Montell "Cannibal" Mills, 17, and Mishael Belcher, 20, approached Finch's vehicle while he and Salter were arguing and assaulted him. Belcher is accused of stabbing Finch after he climbed out of the vehicle.

Follow the link for an account of witness intimidation related to the case that police say occurred at a downtown bus stop. 

[This entry has been updated since it was originally posted]

Posted by Justin Fenton at 11:35 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Downtown, Gangs, West Baltimore, Witness intimidation
        

March 3, 2010

Prison, gang reform and other crime news

With the South Baltimore pub crawl stabbing dominating the Internet, just wanted to point out a few other important crime stories of the day:

Julie Bykowicz write about testimony in Annapolis seeking tougher gang laws. Complaining that legislation passed two years ago has resulted in only one conviction (a guilty plea), law enforcement officials including Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy are urging changes to better define gangs and stiffen penalties. (At left, Jessamy testifies in Annapolis on Tuesday in a photo taken by The Sun's Barbara Haddock Taylor).

Continue reading "Prison, gang reform and other crime news" »

March 2, 2010

Frederick man sentenced in witness-tampering murder

Federal prosecutors announced today that a 25-year-old Frederick man has been sentenced to 292 months in prison (that's more than 24 years), followed by five years supervised release, for conspiracy to commit witness tampering and possession of a firearm connected to the death of a man he suspected of cooperating with authorities against him.

According to the guilty plea, from 2004 through July 2005, Steven Stone and co-conspirators David Lee, Jesse Dorsz, 28, Eric Campbell, 20, obtained cocaine, marijuana and ecstasy from sources in New York and Maryland, which they distributed in and around frederick. They called themselves B-6, which stood for "Bottom of Sixth Street" in Frederick. Prosecutors said Stone was arrested several times with drugs and guns, and law enforcement recovered a radio frequency detector that allowed Stone to detect undercover law enforcement agents wearing recording devices (!).

In the spring of 2005, Stone and others began to suspect that Lee was providing information about their crimes to authorities. Campbell and other conspirators learned in the summer of 2005 that Lee had been served with two grand jury subpoenas, which prosecutors said reinforced their concern.

Continue reading "Frederick man sentenced in witness-tampering murder" »

February 17, 2010

Governor helps test cell phone jamming at prisons

Gov. Martin O'Malley will be on hand at a federal prison in Western Maryland today to watch the first test of a prison cell phone jamming device. Calls to block cell phone signals in prisons to thwart inmates from ordering hits on witnesses and running drug networks from behind bars is meeting stiff resistance.

Many cell phone companies view the initiative as unnecessary and say it could jam cell phones of legitimate customers outside the prison walls. In additions, some have said it would make the job of corrections officers more dangerous because they too would be unable to use the phones. Above is a picture of confiscated cell phones from a Maryland prison, taken by The Sun's Barbara Haddock Taylor.

In September, Maryland prison officials spent a day testing similar equipment. The U.S. Congress is considering lifting a federal ban on blocking cell phone signals to allow limited deployment at prisons. Maryland authorities say that cell phones are among the items most confiscated from cells.

Here is a statement form O'Malley:

Continue reading "Governor helps test cell phone jamming at prisons" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 8:14 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Confronting crime, Gangs, Prisons, Witness intimidation
        

February 3, 2010

Shooting victim ID'd

The shooting victim from this morning has been identified as Juan Tucker, 34. Tucker was found in the 2100 block of Edmondson Ave. at about 8:40 a.m. suffering from gunshot wounds to the head and body. Police said they had no suspects and no motives.

A check of court records and Sun archives shows that Tucker pleaded guilty in 2005 to witness intimidation, handgun and assault charges. Erik Johnson and Tucker, then 29, made the threats in retaliation after the witness testified against Tucker, and the men tried to persuade the witness not to testify at a murder trial. Another man received probation for taking the same witness to  Tucker's bail review hearing in an effort to scare him into recanting his identification of Tucker.

Posted by Justin Fenton at 6:58 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: West Baltimore, Witness intimidation
        

January 26, 2010

Witness intimidation case recalled in drug arrest

News that a woman convicted of playing a role in a horrific witness intimidation case in 2005 is now suspected in a drug and money conterfeiting case only revives years-old pain.

Shakia Watkins played a small role in trying to drive Harwood community activist Edna McAbier from her home by making fraudulent 911 calls to divert police from the area so her associates could firebomb the house. They were angry with McAbier for refusing to back down in repeatedly calling police on drug dealers.

Many people went to federal prison for long periods of time, but Watkins served four years from a federal judge and got released on three years supervised probation. Then on Friday she was one of 10 people busted by city police in connection with a drug investigation that led to the discovery of $15,000 in counterfeit money.

In 2006, Baltimore Sun reporter Matthew Dolan interviewed Edna McAbier and wrote about her plight. She had done everything right, testified against everybody, but saddes of all, even with all the people who had attacked her in prison, she could not reclaim the home she had fought so hard to protect. Friends of her attackers made that impossible.

Here is just a part of Dolan's story (full story here):

Continue reading "Witness intimidation case recalled in drug arrest" »

January 13, 2010

Jessamy to Annapolis to push gang legislation

Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy is heading to the General Assembly session to push for tougher gang laws. In the past, legislators have weakened her efforts to tighten laws and penalties to go after witness intimidation cases.

Here is a brief statement from her office, followed by a more detailed list of her legislative priorities:

STATE’S ATTORNEY JESSAMY TO ATTEND OPENING OF GENERAL ASSEMBLY’S 2010 SESSION

 

 

Baltimore, MD – January 13, 2010 – State’s Attorney Jessamy is scheduled to attend the opening of the Maryland General Assembly’s 2010 Legislative session today.  Of critical importance to Baltimore is to gain support for revising the 2007 gang statute.  Specifically:

 

            °           Removing complex language from the current gang definition

            °           Establishing a statewide gang member validation criteria

            °           Adding additional gang related offenses to the list of underlying crimes

            °          Making the penalty for a violation of the statute a true enhancement     sentence. 

Continue reading "Jessamy to Annapolis to push gang legislation" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 10:26 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Confronting crime, Gangs, Witness intimidation
        
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About Peter Hermann
Peter Hermann started covering news for The Baltimore Sun in 1990, first in Anne Arundel County and, starting in 1994, reporting on the Baltimore Police Department. In 2001, he was assigned to Jerusalem as the Baltimore Sun's Middle East correspondent. He returned in 2005 as an assistant city editor overseeing crime coverage. In 2008, Peter returned to the beat as a daily reporter and blogger. A recent BBC report featured him in a segment on the harsh realities of covering crime in Baltimore.

Coverage will focus on crime trends, problems in neighborhoods in the city and elsewhere, profiles of victims and police officers and try to offer readers a fresh perspective on one of the most vexing issues facing Baltimore and its future.



Contributing to this blog is Justin Fenton, who joined The Sun in 2005 and has covered the Baltimore City Police Department and the criminal justice system since 2008. His work includes an investigation into Cal Ripken Jr.’s minor league baseball stadium deal with his hometown of Aberdeen, a three-part series chronicling a ruthless con woman, coverage of the killing of five Amish children at a schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pa., and a job swap with a British crime reporter to explore differences in crime-fighting. A special report looking into how city police handle rape cases led to sweeping reforms that changed the way sexual assaults are investigated in Baltimore. He was recognized as the best reporter in Baltimore by the City Paper in 2010 and by Baltimore Magazine in 2011.
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