By Justin Fenton, The Baltimore Sun
3:57 PM EST, November 16, 2012
Hoping to get leads in a series of violent incidents that have occurred in West Baltimore, federal and local authorities announced the arrests of 24 people on drug-related charges after a months-long operation that included undercover work.
Police said the operation was launched after a wave of violence in the area around the Franklin Square and Penrose neighborhoods, including the fatal shooting of a 32-year-old man at a barber shop and 10 non-fatal shootings.
With agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and city prosecutors, police worked to build charges against those they believed were involved, including using undercover drug buys — which Deputy Commissioner John Skinner described as “one of the riskiest types of operations” police can use.
In all, 24 people have been indicted in the case — Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts described them as “24 criminals that impacted the city of Baltimore, and will not do that any further.”
As of Friday afternoon, only 10 had been arrested, and most had been released on bail. All of those whose names were released have faced drug charges before, with few cases resulting in significant sentences.
Among those identified by police as being charged in the drug case was Luther Wagner, 40. Records show he was also arrested on multiple handgun offenses on Oct. 31. His prior record includes dropped armed robbery, drug, and assault cases, and a drug conviction that resulted in a suspended sentence.
Baltimore State’s Attorney Gregg Bernstein said there was a longer-range goal in mind, and expressed confidence in prosecutors working the case, including attorneys from the newly-formed major investigations and community prosecution units.
“Our hope is that the arrest of these individuals not only gets bad guys off the street and makes our city safer, but will hopefully lead to intelligence gathering in other cases, other unsolved crimes, and our hope is that we will be able to continue that investigation,” Bernstein said.
Skinner agreed. “Although these individuals haven’t been charged directly with the violence down there, they’re absolutely contributing to the violence in that neighborhood and are a driving force to the violence,” he said.
“Most of these guys are really, really bad guys. Their records really reflect a long history of violence, and drug work within those neighborhoods. Extracting them is really going to bring some immediate stabilization and allows us to build these other investigations.”
Those being held without bond included Erica Kutcherman, a 27-year-old woman whose last known address was in the 600 block of N. Carrollton Ave. Charged in a sealed indictment on Oct. 25, she was picked up on additional drug charges on Nov. 8 after a street arrest, and was freed on $50,000 bond. She was taken into custody Thursday, and has only one prior conviction on her record – a 2006 drug conviction for which she received a five-year suspended sentence.
Arthur Snowden, 32, of the 200 block of N. Carey St., was also being held without bond. His prior record includes a 15-year sentence for drugs in 2007, with five years suspended. Those convicted of non-violent offenses tend to serve less than half of their sentence.
Also charged: Wardell Ellen, a 47-year-old charged in two heroin distribution cases and released on $50,000 bail; Devine Talley, a 19-year-old charged with cocaine distribution and held on $75,000 bond; Stephon Matthews, a 28-year-old charged in two cocaine distribution cases and held on $200,000 bond; as well as Thomas Ratliff, 24, Darius Walker, 19, Willie Jones, and Dante Laws, 29.
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