Initiator of drug strike force calls for even stiffer penalties

December 07, 1992

FREDERICK -- Tired of shuffling convictions through the courts, Assistant State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes decided more needed to be done to dam the river of crack cocaine flowing from New York to Maryland.

Mr. Barnes called the Maryland State Police in late 1991 to complain that New York drug dealers had infiltrated Frederick County, providing the impetus for setting up the Interstate Drug Traffickers Strike Force.

"Barnes was one of the first, if not the first, to see the trend of out-of-state drug traffickers coming down to Maryland," said Scott McCauley, a former spokesman for the Maryland State Police, which gave Mr. Barnes a certificate of recognition in August.

"We were seeing an increase in arrests, but he was the first one to bring it to the forefront."

Mr. Barnes was a senior assistant state's attorney in Carroll County for 13 years before leaving the office in late 1989 to run against his longtime friend Thomas E. Hickman.

Mr. Barnes switched parties and narrowly lost to the Republican Mr. Hickman by 600 votes in the bitter 1990 election. He was hired last year by the Frederick County State's Attorney's Office.

The 9-month-old strike force has interrupted the supply of crack in Frederick, but Mr. Barnes still isn't satisfied. The soft-spoken 44-year-old from Westminster has drafted three pieces of legislation that he hopes to get sponsored through the General Assembly.

One measure would make drug-related homicides a capital offense, punishable by death. Currently, the maximum penalty in most cases is life imprisonment without parole, Mr. Barnes said.

"I think the people in Baltimore City -- the citizenry -- are outraged," Mr. Barnes said. "It's impossible for these people to lead a normal life. I think the public is fed up, and I think people want stiff penalties. If this was on a state referendum, it would pass with flying colors."

Mr. Barnes, however, knows his proposal could be met with opposition.

"I think defense attorneys might resist it, and probably the law enforcement in Baltimore City might," he said. "It would create a whole new death penalty caseload, but I think it would help them and give them bargaining room."

The second proposed bill would add fentanyl, a synthetic heroin about 100 times more potent than morphine, to the state smuggling statute, and stiffen the penalties for bringing drugs into the state.

Currently, the penalty for smuggling certain quantities of phencyclidine (PCP), marijuana, LSD, methaqualone, cocaine, heroin or methamphetamine (speed) is 25 years with parole and up to a $50,000 fine.

Mr. Barnes' draft bill would add fentanyl to the list and make first-time smuggling offenders serve a mandatory 10-year sentence without parole.

"This year, the chief medical examiner identified 31 deaths resulting from the illicit use of fentanyl," Mr. Barnes said. "Twenty-five of the victims were found in Baltimore City, while three others were located in Baltimore County, and one each in Carroll, Frederick and Montgomery counties."

The third proposed bill would make it a crime to bring minors into Maryland to be used as street-level drug salesmen.

"Juveniles take cabs from New York City down to Baltimore, Frederick and the Eastern Shore," said Lt. Col. Thomas Carr, director of the Maryland State Police's Bureau of Drug Enforcement.

Colonel Carr said the juveniles were arrested and released to juvenile authorities in New York. But the juvenile system there was so overburdened, the minors would soon be back out on the street and selling drugs in Maryland or other states, he said.

Colonel Carr said Maryland authorities also were getting information from the juveniles about the distributors. New York authorities, however, were more interested in arresting the people distributing in their own city, than in Maryland, he said.

The Interstate Drug Traffickers Strike Force, formally announced March at the governor's summit on violent crime, has the job of reviewing out-of-state drug connections. Colonel Carr said the five troopers assigned to the force travel to New York and other cities to help authorities there prepare search warrants and go on raids.

"It's had an influence in Frederick thus far. The number of juvenile arrests in Frederick has declined dramatically," Colonel Carr said.

"We've had some effect in Salisbury as well."

Has the strike force affected the supply of cocaine in Baltimore?

"I can't say that, no," Colonel Carr said. "We have affected some of the trafficking patterns, though."

Last year, Frederick city police, the Frederick County Sheriff's Department and the county narcotics task force made about 1,000 crack cocaine arrests, Mr. Barnes said. About half the 350 juveniles arrested were from New York or other large cities, he said.

"The arrests this year are down maybe 40 percent from what they were, but the juveniles situation has drastically changed," he said. "Since we got the task force set up, we've arrested only a half-dozen from out-of-state."

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