Police rush in, 30 cars strong, for drug busts 5 accused of dealing arrested in raids after surveillance

May 01, 1998|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

The police rode through West Baltimore yesterday afternoon like an army on parade -- 30 cruisers in a straight line with their strobe lights flashing and sirens occasionally blaring, a public show of force in neighborhoods torn by crime.

When they got to Edmondson Avenue, the officers quickly spread, targeting rowhouses and suspected drug dealers as part of an all-out effort to knock down a rising homicide rate.

They were greeted by residents who expressed anger or joy. The officers were yelled at, thanked and told they were engaged in a futile war. "It's not that bad around here," said Lamont Johnson, at North Carey and West Lanvale streets. "All they gonna get is a few bags of weed."

Across the street, members of the Violent Crime Task Force had Russell Jones, 23, pinned against a wall. "I wasn't selling drugs to nobody," Jones shouted, as one of his friends complained: "We just came off the basketball court."

But Sgt. Ernie Wright and Officers Darryl DeSousa and Charles MiMario had Jones' photo and arrest warrant, charging him with drug distribution from an undercover operation three weeks ago. Jones didn't know it then, but a judge had preset his bail at $50,000.

Police were searching for 34 people -- seven of them juveniles -- charged with selling drugs during a monthlong investigation dubbed Operation Westside 98. They arrested five by evening.

Police are targeting suspected street dealers, hoping that will cut violent crime. Similar raids two weeks ago in the Eastern District led police to two homicide suspects. All of the suspects being sought yesterday had preset bails, ranging from $10,000 to $500,000.

"This is not a 'go in, come out and see you later' type of operation," said Col. John E. Gavrilis, chief of the Criminal Investigation Bureau. "These are very precise strikes and these individuals will be in jail until their trials."

Police commanders are concerned because homicides are increasing rapidly in the city. Two weeks ago, the city was 30 killings above last year's pace. As of yesterday, 108 people had been killed, compared with 89 at the same time last year. That puts the city on pace for 328 killings.

Officers are blanketing hard-hit streets with everything from corner sweeps to standing at intersections to disrupt drug sales.

Margaret Johnson, who lives near Carey and Lanvale streets, liked what she saw yesterday. "I'm a believer," she said as six grandchildren gathered. "Tell the police to get out of their cars. We can clean this up with cooperation."

But others disagreed. "Tell them to go to Little Italy," said one man, who wouldn't give his name. "Go to Dulaney Valley where all the drugs are coming from."

At 923 N. Carey St. -- one of only three occupied houses on the block -- they arrested Ronald Fair and Ricardo Gaskins, both 45, on drug distribution charges.

"I didn't sell any drugs," Fair repeatedly said, even when an undercover officer showed him a picture taken of him during surveillance of drug activity.

The photo, however, does not show Gaskins dealing narcotics.

Pub Date: 5/01/98

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