12 arrested in undercover drug probe

Officers captured deals on video as investigation targeted `street players'

April 23, 2008|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,Sun reporter

A months-long undercover drug operation in Annapolis has brought the arrests of a dozen people suspected as street-level dealers, which police believe will have a significant impact on the local drug trade.

The arrests last week followed operations going back to last fall, when undercover officers from Anne Arundel County and Annapolis as well as confidential informants began buying drugs from the suspects and officers began recording a number of the transactions on audio and video.

The investigation, announced Monday, came on the heels of several recent warrant sweeps through some of the city's more troubled communities and as officials gain more traction with a multi-jurisdictional effort called Capital City Safe Streets, which brings together federal, state and local resources to fight crime in Annapolis.

Officer Hal Dalton, a city police spokesman, said yesterday that police hope that the arrests serve as a warning to drug dealers and violent criminals.

"We have to think that taking that many dealers off the street at one time will make a difference," Dalton said. "They'll be out of operation, and some [other] people may think twice about doing what they're doing."

To give the public an inside view of how the undercover operations take place, county police posted videos on the Internet showing real drug buys in progress.

The tapes, initially described as footage from the recent investigations, were from a now-closed investigation from a year or two ago. But county police say it is revealing nonetheless.

"It's easy for us to say we've done buys and we're doing a roundup, but in this instance we've been targeting the street players, the ones that are the ones behind most of the violence recently," said Lt. Timothy Altomare, commander of the Anne Arundel County Police Department's special enforcement section, which oversees narcotics investigations. "It was important for us to let [the public see this footage] to illustrate what type of work we're doing."

On the black-and-white videos posted late Monday on the city police Web site, you can't see the county narcotics officer, whose anonymity is crucial to the dangerous undercover work. The camera is perched right by his head and his face is blurred and his voice is scrambled.

The stars of these shows are the dealers who climb into the passenger seat of the undercover officer's car in the Freetown community in Pasadena and Severn.

The men are shown chatting, then exchanging money. The dealers, who Altomare said have been convicted, tell the undercover officer how to catch up with them next time, even giving a cell phone number.

"It's one thing for a judge or jury to hear an officer's testimony as to what happened, but if pictures are worth a thousand words, video and audio are worth a million," Altomare said.

In the most recent investigation, 12 people were taken into custody and booked on various drug-related charges. Many of them had been indicted by a county grand jury March 28.

Four of the suspects are accused of operating in the Robinwood community in Annapolis: Damion McGowan, 29, of the 100 block of Clay St. in Annapolis; Tracey Parker, 39, of the 200 block of Woodhill Drive in Glen Burnie; Vanessa McGowan, 54, of the 1300 block of Tyler Ave. in Annapolis; and Percy Harrod, 40, of the 4100 block of Old Muddy Creek Road in Edgewater.

Four other suspects are accused of operating in the Eastport area: Jessica Moore, 19, of the 1000 block of President St. in Annapolis; Shanae Johnson, 21, of the 1200 block of Graff Court in Annapolis; Roderick Simms, 25, of the 100 block of Obery Court in Annapolis; and Larry Adams, 23, of the 100 block of Browns Woods Road in Annapolis.

Four others are accused of being involved with drug dealing in various areas in the county and Annapolis: Joseph White, 36, of the 1800 block of Sparrow Court in Severn; Sherman Branford, 42, of the 1600 block of Clay Hill Road in Annapolis; Lawrence Branch III, 21, of the 1200 block of Graff Court in Annapolis; and Charles Pritchett, 32, of the first block of Heritage Court in Annapolis.

Five other suspects remain at large, according to police.

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

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