Police burst in to bust drug deals

Coordinated raids on city homes uncover drugs, guns and squalor

November 04, 2006|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,Sun reporter

The officers strapped on body armor, grabbed a few battering rams and jumped into a dozen unmarked cars shortly after noon yesterday. Using a handheld radio, a sergeant issued crisp orders to the plainclothes officers in the cars, commanding them to line up in the Northern District station house's parking lot on Coldspring Lane.

Then they rolled out, west along Coldspring, and then north, heading into the city's Park Heights neighborhood. Their cars separated into small groups and abruptly stopped before three rowhouses on or near Oakley Avenue.

Timed almost perfectly, officers ran up the stairs of the houses and pounded on doors. At one house, an officer yelled: "Police Department! Search warrant! Police Department! Search warrant!"

But the officers didn't have to bust down the door because it was unlocked. They walked inside, detained a man and two women for about 45 minutes, and searched the house. Nothing was found, so no one was arrested.

So it went during an all-day operation police called "Rolling Thunder." Sometimes, police found drugs and guns; other times, they came up empty. The initiative was the culmination of a monthlong surveillance operation by the department's Organized Crime Division, which targeted drug dealers in East and Northwest Baltimore.

As part of the operation, police officials said, they obtained 25 indictments for suspected drug dealers in those two districts -- areas that have been beset by spikes in violent crime this year. So far, they've arrested five people and are seeking the rest. Yesterday, they conducted searches at 26 houses, using warrants that were separate from the earlier indictments. They said they found three guns, 15 ounces of crack cocaine and 7 ounces of marijuana.

In an early-morning raid, detectives arrested a man they said was a major crack cocaine dealer who was involved in distributing drugs to smaller "stash" houses in the city, said Maj. John Hess Jr. of the Organized Crime Division.

Hess said the man's case is expected to be taken by federal prosecutors because of prior convictions for violent offenses. Police said they seized 12 ounces of crack cocaine, 7 ounces of marijuana, a Colt .45-caliber handgun, drug packaging and a 1998 Infiniti sedan in the raid. The suspect, Daniel Laurey, was charged with drug distribution and illegal possession of a firearm, police said.

"This is just a roundup and icing on the cake," Hess said about yesterday's overall effort.

After spending more than an hour in Park Heights, the officers migrated to the city's east side, where dozens of plainclothes officers gathered in a large parking lot near the Eastern District station house. Some officers tossed a football to stay loose while sergeants plotted the next series of raids.

At 2:19 p.m., a sergeant called out on the radio: "10-4. Unless there's any objections, we're gonna start rolling." And a caravan of about a dozen unmarked cars headed south on Edison Highway, turning right on East Oliver Street. Within three minutes, they were jumping out of their cars.

This time, they hit three houses in the 2300 and 2400 blocks of E. Oliver St.

In one house, they arrested a young man as he was running into the basement. They recovered a .38-caliber handgun that they believe the man stashed in the basement ceiling as police were coming in the front door.

Police officers involved in the searches said they do these types of searches routinely, day in and day out. Hess said detectives try to focus on violent criminals and they use drug and gun arrests as a way of locking them up before they can commit more violent acts.

Sometimes they don't find the drugs or the guns. But they almost always encounter poverty and squalor. In house after house searched yesterday, police officers tromped through filthy living rooms, mice- and roach-infested bedrooms and kitchens, houses with crumbling ceilings and walls.

"Damn, there's a whole colony of roaches up here, man!" one officer yelled out during a search of a rowhouse on Oliver. In the kitchen, Detective Mark A. Walrath held a handgun that was placed in a plastic bag for evidence as a mouse scurried across the kitchen floor.

"Every day, this is what we do," Walrath said about the division's battle against drug dealing in Baltimore. "Running in and out of homes. Every day."

gus.sentementes@baltsun.com

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