Two faces of Annapolis' 'Robin Hood' Accused drug leader aided and intimidated residents, police say

March 05, 1998|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

To some in Annapolis, Curtis Allan Spencer was a modern-day Robin Hood.

He kept strong ties to the people he grew up with in a neighborhood near the State House. He coached a summer league basketball team called the Funk Force. He was the leader of a political group called the Friends of Black Annapolitans, which made a name for itself by criticizing the city Police Department.

But city police countered yesterday with a portrait of a man who they said served as the shrewd leader of an elusive drug ring that controlled the city's public housing communities for decades.

Spencer's public persona, which had captivated children and adults, was shattered late Monday when officers burst through an Annapolis Woods apartment door and found him with "a good quantity of marijuana on him and crack cocaine on the premises," sources close to a joint city and federal drug investigation said.

Spencer, 48, the alleged ringleader, was arrested on federal charges of crack cocaine distribution along with his top two Black Annapolitan leaders and two other associates. They would face a mandatory minimum of 10 years in jail if convicted. More than 13 others arrested Tuesday face similar state drug charges.

"I've never felt better," said Lt. Stan M. Malm yesterday, commander of the city police criminal investigative unit. "I really feel good for the community, and I feel really good for the officers, because a number of these individuals have evaded us for so long."

Spencer and two alleged lieutenants -- John David Lane, 41, Black Annapolitan treasurer, and Theodore Lee Brown, 44, the president -- await a federal magistrate judge's decision today on whether they will remain in jail until trial.

The two others charged under federal laws -- Harold Lovell Johnson and Kevin Ronald Adams, both 33 -- were ordered detained until trial yesterday.

Police say they hope the arrests end of a reign of terror in Annapolis' public housing projects where Spencer's alleged ring operated. Yet residents of Robinwood and Newtown still are afraid to publicly rejoice. Most of those contacted refused to comment or asked not to be identified.

"They should have gotten him a long time ago," said a 20-year resident of the Robinwood community, "He's been getting away with it for too long. A lot of people turned the other way, but a lot were scared, too. People are really glad around here."

It was that fear, combined with Spencer's reputation as a community activist, that confounded police investigations.

"To many in the community, especially the children, he took from the rich and gave to the poor," Sgt. Robert E. Beans, community relations officer and a former leader of an elite drug unit in the department. "He was their Robin Hood. They didn't see his other side."

That other side allegedly ran a drug ring that was responsible for almost 80 percent of the crack sales in Annapolis, moving about $20,000 worth of drugs per week, police said.

Many who know Spencer describe him as respectful, intelligent and helpful.

The worst he ever did was sneak some cigarettes or a bottle of Thunderbird wine behind his parents backs, they said.

But in 1969, he was convicted for assault with intent to murder Thomas H. Wolfe, a 43-year-old private policeman wounded in a shooting after a dance at the E. Leslie Medford Armory on Hudson Street in Annapolis. Another police officer, Raymond E. Carroll, 22, died of gunshot wounds in the incident.

Spencer, who was 19 at the time, served 17 months in state prison.

This was the incident, many said, that helped Spencer gain his reputation.

When he got out of jail, he sold drugs, police sources said, and as his power grew, so did his business. Like a good retail manager, Spencer relied on his workers to take care of the sales, sources said. And to attract new customers, his ring offered people drugs on credit.

At the same time, Spencer lent people money for rent and paid for the funerals of community residents. He bought athletic shoes for children, sponsored sports teams in city recreation leagues and coached a basketball team.

In the 1980s, Spencer became political. When then-Mayor Dennis Callahan announced his war on drugs and suspended the summer basketball leagues that were riddled with drug dealing, Spencer retaliated by going on a hunger strike. He filed an unsuccessful lawsuit against the city when Callahan demanded players and coaches sign a drug-free agreement.

In 1987, Spencer created the Friends of Black Annapolitans. They battled the housing authority's zero tolerance policy for drugs in the neighborhoods, showed up in court to appeal evictions of residents they befriended and staged protest marches.

In 1996, Spencer and his cohorts proclaimed themselves community leaders and accused the city Police Department of racism after an officer fatally shot an 18-year-old black man and critically wounded another in Robinwood while trying to stop them from beating another man.

In the end, however, it was the very residents Spencer had intimidated and befriended who turned him in.

City police said their investigation began in earnest when they began getting tips from community residents. Federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents, with the help of an informant, bought more than 100 grams of crack from the ring at various locations, leading to the arrests.

"We couldn't have done this without the many anonymous people in the community who called in with tips and information on Spencer and his gang," Malm said. "I guess they were just tired of living that way."

Pub Date: 3/05/98

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