A 10-year-old boy who said two 15-year-old dealers forced him to hold drugs was arrested yesterday afternoon at an East Baltimore playground -- less than a week after an 11-year-old boy was arrested in the same district for allegedly dealing cocaine.
The boy, a fourth-grader, was arrested by police at a playground onHoffman and Holbrook streets while he was playing on a swing set. Four pink-topped vials of cocaine and a small amount of cash were recovered from his socks, police said.
Two 15-year-olds nearby were arrested and charged with dealing cocaine.
Eastern District narcotics detectives said yesterday's arrests show that local drug organizations are recruiting and conscripting children intheir efforts to avoid police attempts to stifle the city's booming cocaine and heroin trade.
"If you were a policeman, who would you check? Would you check a child playing on a swing? Or would you check a 15- or a 19-year-old dressed in nice clothes hanging out on the corner?" said Sgt. John Sieracki, who heads the Eastern District's narcotics unit.
"These drug dealers are smart. As soon as we find out how their distribution system works, they come up with a countermeasure. Until we can cut the source off of drugs to the community, this kind of stuff is going to continue.
"We know they're using [children] . . . . ," he said. "This is the truth. This is the real thing out here. This is reality."
The 10-year-old told police that he was playing when he was approached at the playground about 3:15 p.m. and physically threatened by one of the 15-year-olds, who said he might pay the boy some money if he stashed cocaine and money in his socks.
"I was just playing," said the slightly built boy, his small voice cracking. "I tried to run home, but the older boy grabbed me. I'm still scared."
Police said the two 15-year-olds were selling vials for $10 each to a steady flow of customers in the area, going periodically to a row house to deposit money and get more vials. They stashed the drugs with the 10-year-old before returning to the street corner to sell two to three vials per customer, police said.
Detectives said such "walking stashes" are used by dealers not only to elude police but to protect drugs and money from robbery, which police believe is the cause of a recent rash of local street shootings. Officers likened the practice to fast-food restaurants periodically dumping cash in drop safes to reduce the amount of cash on hand in the event of shotgun robberies such as those that struck several local businesses earlier this year.
In the playground case, an unmarked police unit watching the area moved in to arrest the three youths at 3:45 p.m.
In a squad room at the Eastern District, the 10-year-old slouched into a broken-down chair -- tears streaming down onto his chest -- waiting to be released to his mother.
"They do this all the time on the playgrounds," the boy said. He said he and his friends had recently been approached by 15-year-olds and 18-year-olds to act as movable stashes and lookouts.
"If you don't do it, they might beat you up," he said.
When the boy's mother came to the station, she sat across from her son with a drained expression, looking at her son intently but not saying anything. She said that she and other parents in her neighborhood had been talking about young children in the local drug trade.
"I just can't get over it," she said. "We heard about it all the time, butyou never think it's going to be your son. He's a person who is swayed and persuaded very easily. I told him not to take anything from anyone or nothing."
The woman said she had heard that younger and younger children were being recruited by older youths into the drug trade for the past few months, but she said she had warned her son several times to be careful.
"It's outrageous," she said.
Sergeant Sieracki said that the only solution to stemming the supply of drugs in the city and the country was for President Bush to order the bombing of cocaine-producing areas in Colombia and South America.
"Until we do that," he added, "all the social programs and everything else aren't worth a damn as long as that stuff keeps coming in by the ton."
The two 15-year-olds lost their impassive demeanors when their own parents were called to the station.
One of the youths began crying silently into his handcuffed hands, holding them tightly against his face as he doubled over, rocking back and forth.
When he raised his head, a pained expression appeared on his face, tears welling up in his eyes.
The three boys were charged with one count each of possession of cocaine, distribution and possession with intent to distribute.
The 15-year-old who allegedly coerced the 10-year-old into stashing drugs and cash also was charged as an adult with using a minor to aid in the sale of a controlled and dangerous substance -- a crime that carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
The same 15-year-old admitted selling several vials of cocaine, police said. When arrested, he had five vials of cocaine and $70, they said. He said he got the vials from an 18-year-old and took 40 percent of any sale he made.
"I did it for the money," said the 15-year-old, who said he had looked for a job recently at several fast-food restaurants. "I needed the money. I got a kid on the way. I don't want no kids. I needed it for an abortion for my girlfriend."
The youth said his pregnant girlfriend was 14 years old.