Figure in DVD sent to prison

'Snitching' cameraman sentenced to 30 years on gun, drug offenses

August 21, 2008|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,Sun Reporter

The cameraman for the underground Stop Snitching DVD that cast a national eye on witness intimidation in Baltimore was sentenced yesterday to 30 years in federal prison after a jury convicted him on drug and gun charges.

Shortly before receiving his sentence, Akiba Matthews-Bey, 35, of West Baltimore, told a federal judge that he was being singled out by authorities because of his involvement with the DVD.

Matthews-Bey said that the creators of Stop Snitching never thought it would become as significant as it did when it hit the streets four years ago and that because of its popularity, he became a target of law enforcement.

During an impassioned five-minute address to the court, Matthews-Bey denied owning the gun authorities say they found in his vehicle in November along with 58 gel caps of heroin. In May, a federal jury convicted Matthews-Bey of possession with intent to distribute heroin and possession of a firearm during a drug trafficking crime.

With his parents, fiancee and 4-month-old daughter in the courtroom, Matthews-Bey said prosecutors have painted him as being violent even though he has never committed a brutal act.

"It's not like I killed somebody; I never did anything like that," he said. "Why attack me? That got news media in courtroom. That paints a picture like I'm a monster."

U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake dismissed Matthews-Bey's argument during her ruling, saying that she found no evidence that the defendant was singled out because of the DVD. But Blake did say that the movie played a role in her decision not to go below federal sentencing guidelines and that the DVD perpetuates the worst aspects of Baltimore's criminal element.

"That video is contrary to any notion as to how people should approach [dealing with]- law enforcement," Blake said.

Matthews-Bey's lawyer said his client was expressing his artistry when he held the camera for the two-hour ode to Baltimore's criminal culture.

Creators of the DVD have said that it is for the "urban hip-hop" set familiar with the true definition of a "snitch." But the word's meaning was lost in translation as the original DVD - fueled by the appearance of NBA star Carmelo Anthony - gained mainstream attention, they have said.

Snitches are not "the little old lady on the block" who calls police about a drug deal, the video's stars have said. Instead, a snitch is someone who profits from illegal activities but, after getting arrested, gives information on everyone else to save himself.

Matthews-Bey, of the 100 block of N. Monroe St., spoke for about two minutes during the DVD and said in court that he was simply reading what was written for him.

In one scene in Stop Snitching, Matthews-Bey is shown in a baggy white T-shirt, his hair in cornrows, threatening to hurt people who get in the way of the drug trade.

And in a later appearance, he and another drug dealer make fun of people who don't sell drugs, laughing at them because they work at Burger King and don't make enough money to entertain women or buy nice clothes.

Police said that Matthews-Bey's neighborhood serves as a backdrop for at least one scene in the DVD.

"I was reading a script and holding a camera and basically laughing through the whole DVD," Matthews-Bey said in court. "If I'm wrong for reading a script, then all of Hollywood is wrong."

Although its creators play down the video's importance, police say it uses threats of violence to intimidate people from helping police or testifying in court. A sequel was released in December 2007. Matthews-Bey was in jail by the time of the second video and had no involvement with it.

Matthews-Bey was arrested Nov. 15 after an anonymous tip from a city resident, who complained to police that a man in a white van was selling drugs on Frederick Avenue. Baltimore police officers responded to that location and saw Matthews-Bey involved in a drug transaction.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Gallagher said Matthews-Bey was reaching for a loaded gun when officers approached him.

Matthews-Bey had been convicted of dealing drugs in 1991 and 1999 but had never served more than three months in prison, his lawyer said in court.

In March 2005, Baltimore police said they found 198 bags of raw heroin in his bedroom after tracking him down from the video. He was charged with a variety of drug possession crimes but was acquitted by a jury on all counts in October of that year.

"Mr. Matthews is the epitome of a career offender," Gallagher said.

Matthews-Bey loudly told the court that he would appeal the sentence and that he was going to start filing the paperwork.

His father, who identified himself only as Brother Matthews-Bey, said afterward that the ruling was a farce.

"The involvement in the DVD should have never been brought up," the father said. "It wasn't meant for witness intimidation. It was a street-level DVD."

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