The two houses are across the street from each other on Camrose Avenue in Brooklyn Park — a two story bungalow and a one-story ranch. The lawns are mowed, flowers fill the planters and one has a plastic toy basketball hoop.
The narrow street starts at a cemetery on busy Ritchie Highway, sandwiched between two used motorcycle shops. But it quickly becomes typically suburban, lined with small but comfortable and well-kept homes with neatly trimmed hedges.
Anne Arundel County police announced Wednesday that two weeks ago they raided the bungalow and the ranch, along with six other homes, as part of a six-month investigation into the sale of cocaine and prescription medicines. Authorities said they arrested two dozen suspected drug dealers and are looking for one more, a 20-year-old from Baltimore with ties to a city gang and linked to violence.
To the cops, the busts were a success story that deserved its own catch-phrase — Operation D.R.A.G.O.N., for Drug Runners And Gang Oppression Net. Nothing too organized, said Capt. Randy Jones of the Anne Arundel County Police, who supervised the investigation, "neighborhood thugs who dealt drugs from their homes and their neighborhood."
But to Bobby Edwards, 75, who has owned the rancher since the mid-1970s, the operation was nothing more than a show and a sham. He said police broke down his door April 13 and arrested him, his roommate and a 41-year-old homeless woman he allowed to sleep in his bed.
Edwards said the cocaine — which he described as residue on a spoon, two small baggies and a pipe — belonged to the woman.
"I don't even know what crack looks like," said Edwards, who is long retired from a paperboard box company. His roommate, Michael D. Gohl, 48, said he had a prescription for the Xanax that police found in his jacket pocket.
"[Expletive] no," Edwards said.
Jones said the busts put a dent into violence and drug dealing in the neighborhood just south of the Baltimore line "and disrupted, I'm sure, some of the activity at least for a while." The captain said undercover detectives bought drugs and seized about $3,300 worth of cocaine, $3,000 in marijuana, $1,700 in prescription medications, such as Oxycodone, and one handgun.
Jones conceded that police didn't have a lot of evidence "to make a big splash" in front of TV cameras, but said the suspects weren't dealing in supplier quantity. Even with the recent arrests, Jones said, "I wouldn't be surprised if another drug group pops up in a year or so."
Jones and other police officers joined Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold on a parking lot behind a library and near an elementary school playground to talk about the investigation. Leopold praised residents for calling in tips and said into every camera that he had added 200 lights to illuminate previously dark residential streets.
"This is a good example of citizens working collaboratively with police," Leopold said. He said county residents now understand "that drug and gang activity is right in our own backyard."
Just now, Edwards said, in his backyard.
Spying a reporter on his street, he ventured outside wearing blue work overalls and white socks, no shoes, to plead his case. Yes, he had been arrested and charged with possession of cocaine and drug paraphernalia, and, yes, it was under his bed, but it belonged to the woman in his bed, not to him.
Edwards said he certainly wasn't selling any of it. He said he had pleaded guilty five years ago to selling prescription pills and got a year's probation. Police had charged him with 37 counts of distributing and repackaging Oxycodone, and he'd pleaded guilty to one count. He said he'd sold pills to his friends to help defray the cost of his dying wife's medical care.
Edwards and Gohl were angry with police and challenged them to prove their case. Edwards said the occupants of the house across the street "gobble drugs up" but didn't sell them, and Gohl said he took his Xanax pills out of the bottle and hid them in another container to prevent theft. He said police ignored the prescription he had on his bedside table.
Both men said their neighbors couldn't possibly have snitched because most are relatives. Edwards said the occupants of the house across the street frequently come to his house to use the phone because theirs has been cut off.
"The police told me people are coming and going from my house all the time, and it looks suspicious," Edwards said.
Camrose Avenue doesn't look like the typical drug street found in Baltimore, with boarded-up rowhouses, crowded corners, dingy liquor shops and surveillance cameras with blue blinking lights. But neither do other streets that Anne Arundel police hit in these raids — Audrey Avenue (the site of two drug raids last year), Edgevale and Brookwood roads, and Patrick Henry Drive.