City authorities initiate two raids

Aberdeen police, mayor help county task force tackle drugs

May 14, 2006|By JUSTIN FENTON | JUSTIN FENTON,SUN REPORTER

The mailman strolled from doorstep to doorstep in the Aberdeen townhouse community when a van drove up and parked across the street. Gun-toting men in green jumpsuits leapt from the back.

They crept down the sidewalk and shuffled up to the front door of a house. With two swings of a battering ram, the door had been knocked in, and the men yelled as they rushed upstairs to a bedroom.

All the while, the mailman kept delivering.

On one level, the drug sting, carried out simultaneously at two locations by the Aberdeen Police Department with members of the Harford County Task Force, was a flop. No arrests, and just some paraphernalia was recovered - razor blades, baggies, gloves.

But to the people in those homes who police said sold drugs to undercover officers a day earlier, officials said a message was sent loud and clear - the complaints of neighbors will not go unheeded. If that means Aberdeen police embark on a raid without the full participation of the county's drug task force, so be it.

"The county drug task force - so much is on their plate that their rapid response issues are limited unless it's a huge, huge deal," said Aberdeen Police Chief Randy Rudy. "But we're getting beat up on these places. The community is not going to stand for it."

Mayor S. Fred Simmons has pledged to form a "flex squad" by November, consisting of six officers who will deal directly with the drug activity in the city. And if Thursday's raids were any indication, Simmons could be considered an honorary seventh member.

At 11:30 a.m. Thursday, members of the Harford County Sheriff's Office and Maryland State Police joined Aberdeen officers in a meeting room to discuss the plan for the raids. Near large signs displaying the names and photos of gang members - broken down by "Bloods" and "Crips" - Sgt. Kirk Bane scribbled the addresses on a dry-erase board - one in the first block of Pritchard Ave., the other in the 200 block of Center Deen Ave.

"You're going to be the first one out," Bane said, pointing to Officer Todd Fanning, who nodded in agreement. "According to our info, they're storing stuff in the back. They claim there's guns in the house, so be aware of that possibility."

After the briefing, the officers who will first enter the houses strapped on the rest of their gear - ski masks, helmets and guns attached to a belt wrapped around their thighs.

Simmons, meanwhile, took off his sport coat and tie, and an officer slipped a flak jacket over the mayor's white dress shirt. He'll ride to the site in a van with the officers and stand watch outside with Officer First Class Mike Palmer.

It was Simmons' first raid, but since he was elected in November to lead this city of 11,000, he has made a point to visit some of Aberdeen's most troubled areas and make contact with neighbors. Sometimes, he goes armed.

"You preaching today?" Rudy asked Simmons, looking at a leather case on the mayor's desk.

"I've got my Bible right here," Simmons said, tapping on the case.

Though it looked like a day-planner, Simmons unzipped the case to reveal an M1911 Colt automatic pistol.

The targets of the sting were located not far from the old Washington Park apartment complex, where a teen was shot last month in what police say was a gang-related incident. But unlike the decaying apartments there, the townhouses on Center Deen Avenue have crisp, pleasant exteriors and were built within the past two years.

Still, neighbors have complained that people go into the homes to buy and use drugs, and an undercover officer was able to gather enough information to obtain a search warrant for both houses.

Instead of passing that intelligence on to the Harford County Task Force, a multijurisdictional team that investigates narcotics cases, Aberdeen officials decided to move in quickly. The backlog facing the county means the case could have taken weeks for the task force to investigate, and Simmons and Rudy wanted to move.

A more deliberate investigation might have also resulted in a more fruitful raid, police say.

Those inside the two residences were clearly caught off-guard. On Center Deen Avenue, a deadbolt flew across the room when the door was busted open and had barely landed before officers located a couple in an upstairs bedroom.

Though police recovered paraphernalia and could eventually produce an arrest, the drugs they expected to be stashed in back rooms were not there.

A woman at the Pritchard Avenue apartment said she was a recovering crack user who had relapsed and smoked the night before, but she denied that selling was taking place.

Establishing a stronger and more consistent presence in the community is the bigger picture, Rudy said.

"This'll be known all over the east side," he said as he drove back to headquarters. "Right now, there's probably people dumping dope out into their trash cans."

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

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