Latest raid warrants show increase in child criminals 10-year-old boy is among suspects targeted in sweep

October 21, 1995|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

The boy should be sitting in an elementary school classroom learning beginning algebra and studying how Congress works. Instead, police say, the East Baltimore youth, age 10, sells crack cocaine.

The youngster is one of seven teens and pre-teens indicted recently by a grand jury on drug distribution charges and targeted yesterday during a police sweep of three neighborhoods north of Patterson Park and east of Johns Hopkins Hospital.

On one level, the operation was similar to dozens of other drug raids conducted by city police over the past 18 months, which have put hundreds of violent dealers behind bars. Yesterday, police charged 58 people in connection with a drug network linked to nearly 60 shootings and three homicides this year.

But it also reflects -- once again -- the troubling increase of child criminals.

Besides the 10-year-old, police obtained warrants for the arrests of a 12-year-old and two 15-year-olds.

And on Thursday, police jailed two Prince George's County girls, 12 and 14, for using a toy gun to hijack cars from elderly women.

"Undercover officers [in Baltimore] were shocked," said Officer Ed Bochniak, assigned to the Violent Crimes Task Force, which conducted the probe with the Southeastern District drug unit. "And in these current times, it is kind of hard to shock an undercover cop."

Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy, who accompanied police on the raid, said she was troubled by the age of some of the suspects. "Some of these kids, it's all they know," she said. "It's very unfortunate. They are adults before their time."

Last night, officers were still looking for the 10-year-old -- a 5th-grade student who is less than 5 feet tall and weighs 75 pounds. Police say he sold $10 bags of cocaine near East Fayette and Rose streets.

The 12-year-old was taken into custody for selling drugs. Police said the seventh-grader worked near East Monument and Rose streets. Both youths, police said, sold cocaine with a trademark strawberry stamped on the packaging.

Officer Bochniak has traced patterns of drugs and shootings for years on the city's east side. He said that typically, young children involved in the drug trade act as lookouts to warn of police. Sometimes they conceal contraband for dealers -- who are generally older and face stiff, adult sentences if caught.

More risks

Selling to customers is a step up in the hierarchy of the drug business, police said, earning the youngsters more money but carrying additional risks.

"It's kind of upsetting to see someone so young and involved in a dangerous type of activity," Officer Bochniak said. "You wonder how long they can last out here."

In Baltimore, Maj. John E. Gavrilis, commander of the Southeastern District, said that detectives first noticed in August that younger children were acting as drug dealers. The evidence came during a sweep through the Fayette Street corridor where police seized a dozen shotguns and 20 pounds of cocaine.

They began an 8-week investigation that culminated yesterday afternoon and targeted 15 houses and nearly 60 people, many of whom were indicted and given preset bails ranging up to $400,000.

The houses raided were in the communities of Baltimore-Linwood, McElderry-Decker and Madison East. By yesterday evening, police had arrested dozens, including 15 of those wanted on warrants.

Police said that most of the drugs were found in a rowhouse in the 100 block of N. Montford Ave, described as an active stash house.

Officer Bochniak said officers recovered 143 small bags of crack cocaine. In another house, they seized $13,000 in cash.

Many residents came out to watch the officers as they streamed through the houses about 1 p.m. "I don't know what goes on over there," said an 81-year-old man who has lived in the 2500 block of McElderry St. for 40 years. "I mind my own business. I just want the drugs to stop."

Added a delighted Rose Street resident who lives next door to a raided house: "Now I can sleep tonight."

'Southeast Safeguard'

Major Gavrilis said the raids were timed to avoid the time when schools let out, so the heavily armed officers would not be running around streets filled with children.

The operation was dubbed "Southeast Safeguard."

"We want the community to know that we won't tolerate it," Major Gavrilis said. The arrested teens were taken to the Northern District's Youth Detention Center, where they could be held until they see a Juvenile Court judge or are released to their parents.

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