A month ago, Baltimore Police Maj. Zeinab Rabold sought out a suspected drug dealer in Park Heights and warned him: End the shootings or lose your freedom.
Police say he did not heed the warning.
Authorities made good on their word. Police and drug agents raided 13 houses yesterday and arrested the man that Rabold, the Northwestern District commander, had confronted, along with three alleged henchmen who police say controlled part of Park Heights with "pure fear."
The four were indicted Tuesday by a federal grand jury on drug conspiracy charges. If convicted, they could each be sentenced to life in prison.
"This group drove the violence in that area," said Col. John E. Gavrilis, who heads the department's Criminal Investigation Bureau.
The raids came a day after city, state and local law enforcement officials announced a campaign to reduce homicides in Baltimore called Operation Safe Neighborhoods. It operates on the theory that a small group of people is responsible for the bulk of the violence that has made the city one of the nation's deadliest urban centers.
Police are pinpointing the most violent individuals and warning them to lay down their guns.
If they don't, authorities said, they will hit hard using an arsenal of state and federal laws.
Police said two killings occurred in Park Heights after the warning was given, prompting an intensified investigation that led to yesterday's arrests.
Authorities would not comment on those two killings, saying they remain under investigation. Court documents filed yesterday link the group to two homicides: the shooting death May 13 of Quentin Matthews and the death April 1998 of Donale Crawford, and several shootings.
Law enforcement officials accused Stover Stockton, 28, of being the leader of the gang. Stockton was arrested at an apartment in the 2900 block of Mosher St. in West Baltimore's Rosemont community.
"Somebody framed me, that's it," he said as he was led in handcuffs to a Drug Enforcement Administration sport utility vehicle with blacked-out windows.
Stockton conceded that he had been warned about violence. "They wanted me to change my life," he told reporters. "I can't stop what other people are doing."
Magistrate Daniel E. Klein ordered that the four men in custody -- Stockton, Levi Johnson, 21, Elijah Jacobs, 27, and Antonio Hayes, 23 -- be held for a detention hearing tomorrow in U.S. District Court. Jacobs and Johnson said in court they were in the process of hiring attorneys.
Hayes and Stockton told Klein that they wished to be represented by a public defender. Stockton said he had no job, no money and no property and is the father of three children.
Hayes told Klein he works at PSINet Stadium and earns $420 a month. Asked by Klein if he understood what he is charged with, he answered: "Yes and no. I didn't do it."
Jean Yarborough, president of Park Heights Community Association, said she has complained to police about two of the houses raided yesterday -- both in the 4700 block of Park Heights Ave.
"This is going to mean some peace to me," she said, praising Rabold, the new district commander who confronted Stockton and warned him about violence. "She has compassion for the community. She believes we can help save ourselves."
The epicenter of the suspected drug organization is Park Heights and Woodland avenues, where boarded and rundown rowhouses outnumber livable dwellings.
Residents awoke to the sounds of heavily armed officers crashing battering rams into doors. "I can't believe it," said Michael Johnson, 30. "They got Stover."
Johnson said he has been friends with Stockton for 10 years and described him as a neighborhood fixture who plays basketball with his buddies.
"He treats people good," Johnson said. "I don't know what he did to anybody, or anything about drugs. He didn't mess with anybody unless they messed with him."
The area is 10 blocks north of where the Rev. Junior Lee Gamble, 73, was fatally shot during an apparent robbery outside his home July 15. Police maintain that his killing was not related to the drug violence farther up the street that has claimed five lives this year.
Police said they learned vital information about the drug group this month during Operation Double Play, a drug sweep through Park Heights in the wake of the preacher's killing that netted many low-level dealers and addicts.
Documents filed in U.S. District Court yesterday outlined a complicated organization with suspected stash houses for drugs, guns and cars all over the city.
Police said those arrested were found in homes from Park Heights to Highlandtown, where officers seized a $30,000 Ford Expedition. Police said they also seized heroin worth several thousand dollars and two guns, including a .44-caliber Ruger pistol with a scope.
The drugs came primarily from New York, but a local source was used when supplies ran low, according to the court documents.
Described as `muscle'
Most of the top lieutenants routinely carried guns, usually 9 mm or .40-caliber, said the documents, which described Stockton "as the muscle who enforced the organization's territory and handled disputes with other drug groups."
The court papers said the suspected stash houses were occupied by the key players and associates' mothers, girlfriends and friends, and were used to hide money, heroin and weapons.
Pub Date: 8/19/99