Drug sweep's legacy: quiet in East Baltimore

March 26, 1994|By Jay Apperson and Scott Higham | Jay Apperson and Scott Higham,Sun Staff Writers Sun staff writers Robert Hilson Jr. and Michael James contributed to this article.

Manacled at the wrists and ankles and chained together in lines of seven, they filed into the courtroom, hoping for bails that would return them to the streets of East Baltimore.

There was Edward Tolson, 50 and graying, with five previous drug convictions and one for burglary. His bail: $2 million.

In the same line: Allen Burton, 26, with several drug convictions and one for assault with intent to murder.

His bail: $100,000.

Next: Clifton Pope, a 22-year-old heroin addict who took a bullet in November from someone he knows but won't identify. He said he was about to enter drug rehabilitation when, "somehow, I got mixed up in this drug thing."

His bail: $100,000.

One week after the "Operation Midway" drug sweep, all three men remain behind bars, along with dozens of drug suspects unable to make the unusually stiff bails set in the high-profile case.

With most of the suspects behind bars, the Barclay and East Baltimore Midway neighborhoods are quieter than they have been in years, and residents no longer worry about drug dealers or stumbling into the cross-fire of gunbattles on the streets.

"Now you can go to the store without hearing people saying 'Boy, Girl, Red Top, Blue Top, Green Top,' " said Brenda Corsey, 36, referring to the street names drug dealers use around her Greenmount Avenue house.

Of the 40 men and women arrested on drug or weapons charges last week, at least 30 remain behind bars, held in lieu of bails as high as Mr. Tolson's $2 million, court and jail records show.

"This isn't just a cheap drug rip on the corner where the guy will be back out by the time we finish our paperwork," Baltimore Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier told a community group this week.

"We arrested all those people on warrants, and they're going to ** stay in jail."

The sweep and the neighborhood cleanup that followed were trumpeted as a new way of doing business, a bid to reclaim a drug-infested 22-square-block hunk of East Baltimore.

The police went after the lookouts and "touters," the addicts and foot soldiers.

Moreover, they went after the well-armed dealers working inside the neighborhood's stash houses, most of them in the 700 block of E. 21st St. and along Greenmount Avenue.

In the past, frustration

Past sweeps produced little more than frustration for the law-abiding people of Baltimore's drug- and crime-beset neighborhoods -- not to mention the police -- because the suspects would be arrested one day and back on the street the next.

This time, with most of those arrested behind bars, the neighborhood has remained quiet.

"It's been a ghost town since Saturday," said Raymond Turner, ** 38, who has lived in the 2000 block of Boone St. for 30 years. "Before, you had to be careful which corner you turned when you walked around here."

Still, signs of drug activity remain.

Used syringes are scattered throughout the area. Foot patrol Officer Kate V. Wood said people are still seeking drugs in the neighborhood and that some have been arrested.

The groundwork for the raid was laid about seven weeks ago. Undercover officers bought drugs, and many of the hand-to-hand buys were videotaped.

On March 14, city narcotics prosecutors obtained indictments involving 43 suspects.

Three days later, Baltimore Circuit Judge Andre M. Davis signed a stack of arrest warrants for those who had been indicted and set high bails for suspects with long and violent records.

More than 100 officers fanned out through the neighborhood Saturday, raiding 14 houses, including four in the 700 block of E. 21st St., and reporting the confiscation of eight handguns, police scanners and $50,000 worth of drugs, mostly cocaine.

In one house, where the raiding officers said they saw pistols tossed from a house, police found Anthony Willis, 30, standing by the window. By his side, they said, they found a scale, a police radio scanner and a magazine of ammunition for one of the pistols that had been tossed.

They arrested Willis on gun charges and found that he was on parole for a murder conviction. Willis, who told police he strangled someone in 1982, was paroled three years ago after serving a nine-year sentence.

His bail: $50,000.

Sparring over bail

During the raids, 10 of the 43 adults who had been indicted were arrested.

Close to two dozen more were caught inside raided homes or carrying drugs on the street.

An additional 15 were named in warrants and arrested in the days after the raid. Two more suspects were already behind bars in unrelated cases, police said.

The suspects came to court for their bail reviews this week. Some of the courtroom exchanges were comedy of the saddest sort.

Jeffrey White, 19, said he quit dealing when he turned 18 because of the harsher penalties handed to adults. A moment later, Judge Davis asked him how he was supporting himself.

"I'm selling -- oops," he said.

"Oops," echoed Judge Davis, as the others in court doubled over laughter.

The judge kept the man's bail at $250,000.

Rufus Smith complained about his $500,000 bail.

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