A paroled New York drug dealer has been arrested in the slaying of Tauris Johnson, the 10-year-old East Baltimore boy whose Nov. 4 death in a cross-fire of bullets symbolized the victimization of innocent people by heavily armed drug dealers warring for turf.
During Wednesday's arrest of Nathaniel Dawson, 24, at a Bronx apartment, police and federal agents seized 3 pounds each of cocaine and marijuana, as well as an arsenal of weapons -- including 11 handguns, a sawed-off shotgun and 3,000 rounds of ammunition, Baltimore police reported.
"I'm glad they got this guy off the street. These drug dealers just don't care if they kill our children anymore," said Juanita Belle who took care of Tauris after his mother died. Tauris was gunned down in front of his home in the 1700 block of E. Oliver St. while playing football.
Among the other items confiscated from Dawson's apartment were a Taurus 9 mm automatic pistol with laser sight, more than 1,000 empty crack vials, and a plastic "Freddy Krueger" horror movie mask that authorities believe was used in an undisclosed crime.
Dawson was arrested by New York City's "Redrum" -- murder spelled backward -- task force of federal, state and local officers assigned to investigate drug-related murders, said Agent John Dowd of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's New York field office.
Agent Dowd said Dawson used the apartment as the business address of his work-release job, supposedly an electronics repair business. Dawson was on parole for a 1992 conviction on narcotics distribution charges in the Bronx, charging documents show.
He was charged with first-degree murder in the Johnson killing as well as conspiracy to distribute cocaine. New York authorities are investigating whether he was running a drug business by himself or was affiliated with a larger operation.
"It's likely he had some help. If he was handling all these weapons and drugs by himself, he would have been a very busy man," Agent Dowd said.
Dawson is being held in New York pending a bail hearing.
Baltimore authorities -- initially thwarted by few leads and a lac of cooperation from witnesses -- got a break this week when they learned Dawson's alias, Jack Steele, investigators said. The alias, as well as neighborhood information that the killer had come to Baltimore from New York to sell drugs, led the Redrum unit to Dawson's door.
Young Tauris was playing football near his house about 5:30 p.m. when a black compact car came racing the wrong way down one-way North Regester Street. One of three men in the car fired out of the window at a drug dealer on the corner, who police believe was Dawson.
The man on the corner returned fire as the car sped off with the gunman in the car wildly firing back down the street, police said.
Investigators said the trajectory of the bullet that hit Tauris was consistent with the angle of fire from the man on the corner. The bullets fired from the car were in the opposite direction from the boy, police said.
It is believed that the men in the car -- who are still being sought -- were local drug dealers trying to kill the New York dealer because he was moving in on their drug market, investigators said.
Tauris' death prompted a move in the Baltimore City Council to enact a stricter curfew aimed at keeping children safe from violence in the streets from dusk to dawn. The legislation is still under consideration.
Ms. Belle, who is the girlfriend of Tauris' father, said the family is moving out of the neighborhood, which she said is ruled by young drug dealers with guns.
"We can't live here anymore. I still see them [the drug dealers] on the corner, and it hurts too much to see them," said Ms. Belle, 31.
She said she and the rest of her family -- including four daughters -- are relieved that an arrest has been made in Tauris' killing.
"I feel so good now. Thanksgiving had been a living hell. I couldn't stop thinking that the man who killed my baby was out there still. It's funny, I went to church this Sunday, and I had this feeling that justice would be done. Now my baby will rest in peace," she said.
Baltimore police, who are about to see the city's homicide record be broken for the second straight year, also expressed relief that the case had been solved. Tauris was one of 331 murder victims in the city this year.
"There was publicity at first that we weren't getting information from citizens. But some citizens did come forward, and that was a big help," Baltimore police spokesman Sam Ringgold said.
Baltimore detectives haven't been able to determine if Dawson was staying in Baltimore at the time of the murder.
"We're still trying to determine if he was part of a New York operation that branched out into Maryland, or if he just came down on his own," Mr. Ringgold said.
New York authorities estimate the value of the drugs seized from Dawson's apartment at well over $100,000. His 1992 Acura Legend automobile was also confiscated. Detectives are also attempting to find out how he obtained the weapons.
His 1992 narcotics conviction in the Bronx brought a sentence of 16 months to four years, according to charging documents. The date of his parole wasn't immediately available.