Two Arrested In Project Sweep

August 21, 1992|By Richard Irwinand Michael James | Richard Irwinand Michael James,Staff Writers Staff writers Joe Nawrozki and Alan J. Craver contributed to this story.

A heavily armed federal assault team early today raided a high-rise housing project where a sniper yesterday pinned down 10 police officers who had to be rescued in an armored car.

Lacent Raymond Swittenberg, 23, of the 100 block of S. Exeter St., and his cousin, Jeaneen Weddington, 18, were arrested and charged with narcotics conspiracy. They were expected to be charged with possession of drugs and guns today.

Mr. Swittenberg was questioned at Southeastern District about the sniping attack. He was described by city police as a "prime suspect" in the incident that apparently was precipitated by a drug arrest outside the Flag House Courts in the 100 block of S. Exeter St.

Two other unidentified men were being sought, authorities said.

Today's raid, in which more than two dozen city and Housing Authority police, FBI agents and a special weapons team from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms participated, turned up more than the suspect and his cousin.

Agent Doug Price, a spokesman for city police, said the department was not directly involved in the raid, except that city officers provided extra security.

After a team of black-clad ATF agents broke down the fourth-floor apartment door with a battering ram, police found in a safe concealed under a bed more than 400 glassine bags and vials of heroin packaged for street sales. The narcotics were valued at about $4,000.

The raiders, armed with a search and seizure warrant, also confiscated two .38-caliber revolvers and another handgun.

Two of Ms. Weddington's children, both believed under 5, were in a bedroom where two of the weapons were found. They were placed in the custody of the woman's grandmother who lives in the building.

Yesterday's incident marked another chapter of violence at the city's public high-rise housing projects.

A week earlier, Ebony Scott, 9, was murdered and left in a trash bin at George B. Murphy Homes, another city-owned housing project in West Baltimore. And a week before that, a drug user was shot to death in a robbery at the same building.

This year, at least six people have been slain at city high-rise projects. Murphy Homes residents marched to City Hall Wednesday to demand better security.

But for housing officials, who say they are trying to battle rampant crime, it seems to be a losing cause.

"What can we do? When you have police officers pinned down by snipers, and it takes a tank to rescue them, what the hell do you do?" said one city housing official, who asked not to be identified.

When police made it inside Flag House Courts yesterday, along the 100 block of Albemarle St., the snipers had fled -- almost

surely to their apartments, police said.

Police said they believe about a half-dozen shots were fired from two of the Flag House Courts buildings, apparently in protest of officers who made a minor drug arrest at 1:30 a.m. on the street below.

An armored vehicle from the Prince George's County Police Department was brought in to help rescue the officers, eight from the city Police Department and two from the city Housing Authority, during a standoff that lasted about five hours.

Police said today the snipers probably were armed with handguns and not rifles. No one was injured.

Bill Toohey, a city Housing Authority spokesman, said crime problems have reached a serious level at the city-owned high rises: Flag House and Lafayette Courts in East Baltimore, and Murphy Homes and Lexington Terrace in West Baltimore.

At Murphy Homes, housing officials are planning new security measures in response to residents' requests, including turnstiles the doors, an intercom system and resident security patrols.

But those measures, officials said, are not going to stop the crime.

New strategies aren't unusual for dealing with crime at the projects. On May 28, Housing Authority police officers armed with semiautomatic weapons arrested 10 people in a sweep of 109 units at Lafayette Courts. The sweep was designed to find drug dealers who were "holing up" in vacant apartments there.

Mr. Toohey said the "sweep" has resulted in a noticeable decline in drug activity at the complex -- but it is probable that the activity has merely shifted to Flag House, he said.

Many of the high-rises have vacancies despite the large demand -- about 30,000 people in Baltimore -- for public housing. People ,, cite fear and the complexes' bad reputations as their main reasons for refusing to accept apartments.

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