City, housing police with federal agents raid eight apartments in Latrobe Homes Undercover officers target suspected drug dealers

August 18, 1998|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

More than 50 police officers and federal agents -- some armed with assault rifles -- raided an East Baltimore public housing complex yesterday to arrest suspected drug dealers who had fled law enforcement crackdowns elsewhere.

Police said many of the targets in the raids at Latrobe Homes live in East Baltimore and allegedly were doing business in Latrobe because of saturation patrols aimed at curtailing homicides in their neighborhood.

Housing Authority Police Lt. David Adams said suspected drug dealers were paying some residents $40 a day to set up shop at Latrobe, a complex of 45 low-rise apartment buildings built in 1941 between Madison and Eager streets, near Oldtown Mall.

Adams said officers searched eight apartments and arrested 12 people on drug charges. "These are just little gangsters who were pushed off the corners by city police and have set up here," he said.

The arrest and search warrants -- executed by housing police, city police and members of a joint drug task force made up of agents from the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms -- were based on a three-week undercover operation in which officers posing as addicts said they bought cocaine, heroine and PCP out of apartments.

Weapons, drugs seized

Police seized a small amount of suspected drugs, three rifles and an assortment of knives and machetes. They said they were responding to complaints from residents.

"They should arrest them all," said Deborah Chestnut, 41, who lives two doors from one of the raided apartments, on Hillman Court. "These people doing this aren't even from the community. They bring in all this trouble."

Chestnut said she moved from Westport to Latrobe in 1989, when the federal government spent millions to revitalize the 701 residences on 18 acres.

"It was a nice community," she said, shaking her head as she looked at a debris-strewn courtyard.

"We had brand-new screens on all the doors," Chestnut continued. "Now hardly anyone has got any. People don't know how to take care of their place. That's not the city's fault. That's your own fault."

Three suspects arrested inside a nearby apartment on Hillman Court denied selling or using drugs as they sat handcuffed at a kitchen table watching officers search the apartment.

'That's baking soda'

"We weren't doing nothing," said Evelyn Jones, 39, who lives in the apartment. Pointing to a 10-ounce bag of what police suspected was PCP on the kitchen counter, she told a reporter: "That's baking soda."

Sitting next to her was Kenneth Richardson, 37, of the 2500 block of E. Oliver St.

"I was just sitting here smoking a cigarette," he said. "I just came over to say hello. I didn't do nothing."

Richardson and Tiffany Newton, 26, of the 900 block of Wilmot Court, three blocks away, were charged with drug possession. Jones, who faces eviction, was charged with drug distribution.

"We have bought drugs out of this house repeatedly for the past 30 days," an undercover police sergeant told Jones. "The best thing you can do is keep your mouth shut. You can voice your opinions some other time."

Housing agency plans

Starting today, the Housing Authority of Baltimore City is scheduled to begin its second phase of Operation Restore Latrobe.

City work crews will blanket the community to clean alleys of trash and rats, trim trees, paint over graffiti, replace burned-out streetlights, capture stray animals and visit each apartment to note and make repairs.

Chestnut and other residents said they were grateful for the attention, but not optimistic.

"It will help a little bit," she said. "The drug dealers will calm down for a while, but give them a few days and they will be back."

Pub Date: 8/18/98

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