After hundreds of local and federal police fanned out across Baltimore at dawn yesterday, hauling suspects out of homes and off the streets, authorities announced at day's end that they had shut down one of the city's major sources of illicit drugs and violence.
In all, they charged 63 suspects with federal and state drug conspiracy counts — among them Felicia "Snoop" Pearson, whose arrest on heroin-related and aiding and abetting charges echoed the street lifestyle she portrayed as a character in HBO's series "The Wire" and sought to overcome in her personal life.
Though her role in the conspiracy was said to be relatively small, her arrest at a downtown high-rise brought increased visibility to a case officials believe will strike a blow to a major drug operation. Dubbed Operation Usual Suspects, the case targeted repeat offenders who authorities say might be responsible for recent violence emanating from their base in East Baltimore.
"Our goal was to totally dismantle this organization from head to toe and everything in between," said Carl J. Kotowski, the Drug Enforcement Administration's assistant special agent in charge, as hundreds of officers assembled before dawn at M&T Bank Stadium to prepare for the raids.
The arrests were the culmination of an intensive five-month investigation by the DEA and Baltimore police, acting on intelligence that started flowing in about the Latrobe Homes-based organization in 2008, authorities said at an afternoon news conference.
A federal indictment against 15 suspects says they had ties to New York and California, and alleges that conspirators "would engage in acts of violence against members of the conspiracy who failed to perform required tasks."
"This is truly a heavy-lifting case that goes back to 2008," said Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III. "It should be a reminder to every bad guy in the city that we have a pretty good team coming to get you."
Officials declined to elaborate on what they termed one of the largest cases to be brought in the city.
The DEA invited two reporters to accompany officers carrying out raids on warrants issued at the state level. About 450 officers from various law enforcement agencies met before 4:30 a.m. at the Baltimore Ravens' stadium, gathering in groups of eight to 10 before heading out to execute search warrants in a persistent rain.
Sitting in the passenger seat of a vehicle seized earlier from drug dealers, Kotowski explained the planning involved in the far-reaching operation. As he spoke, a car being driven by agents pulled ahead at intersections, flashing emergency lights to block traffic.
"SWAT's already hit one [location]," Kotowski said. "They wanted to do it for safety. It was a high risk, and the earlier, the better."
DEA agent Edward Marcinko, also the agency's spokesman, drove through the early morning stillness of a business district along West Baltimore Street, then to the 1200 block of W. Lombard St., where he pulled into an alley.
Baltimore police and agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms took positions around the front and back of a home, guns drawn, and waited for a sign. In an instant, officers had forced open the front door, and flashlights could be seen flickering near the back upstairs window.
Inside, officials say, they found the man they were searching for. He was wearing turquoise pajama pants and sitting on the floor of the home, which was apparently being remodeled, as evidenced by a makeshift table on paint cans and power tools. A young woman sat beside him, near a new stainless-steel refrigerator. The front door was damaged, the front steps covered with glass from the broken double-pane window.
Neighbors stuck their heads out of windows and into the rain, trying to figure out what was going on.
"All I heard was pounding, and, 'Kick it in, kick it in, get it in!'" said Priscilla Reed, 47. "We opened the door and they were like, 'Close the door back!' and we saw them in the street with guns."
From there, agents drove to The Redwood apartment building on South Eutaw Street, where just before 7 a.m., Pearson was taken into custody. Kotowski said he and Pearson chatted briefly.
"I asked, 'What are you doing now?' She said, 'I'm an actress,'" Kotowski said. "We're lucky. She just got back from Michigan, or Minnesota, where she was doing something else. If we came a few days earlier, we would have missed her."
Pearson looked downward as she was led out of the apartment building and into a police van.
Previously, she spent six years at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women in Jessup for fatally shooting a girl at age 14. In 2005, she was arrested after failing to cooperate in a trial in a killing she witnessed on The Block, Baltimore's red-light district. While serving the warrant, police found a small amount of marijuana in her home and charged her with drug possession — a charge of which she was later acquitted. After she vowed to invoke her Fifth Amendment right not to testify, prosecutors offered the murder suspect, Steven James Lashley, a plea deal, with a 30-year sentence and half the term suspended.
And while she has not appeared in an acting role since "The Wire" ended its run in 2008, she secured a role in a movie called "Criminal Empire for Dummies," with a cast that includes Gary Oldman and Harvey Keitel, set to be released this year.
Also charged in the federal indictment and taken into custody Thursday is Gerard Mungo, father of the young boy arrested for sitting on a dirt bike in 2007. Then-Mayor Sheila Dixon apologized to the family at the time. The elder Mungo faced first-degree murder charges last year, which were dropped by city prosecutors in June, court records show.
By daybreak, officers were finishing up at another target, a house in the 1600 block of N. Regester St. in East Baltimore. There, in a strip of mostly vacant properties north of Johns Hopkins Hospital, officers led Tabitha Williams and Donovan Sterling out in handcuffs, with a blue sweat shirt over Williams' head.
"Bye, baby," she told Sterling as they were separated.
"All right," he muttered. To the officers, he said, "Make sure my house gets secured up."
Some of those indicted remained at large Thursday night, authorities said.
Officers executing 40 search warrants confiscated four guns, 5 pounds of marijuana and 5 grams of raw heroin, according to Bealefeld.
"I'm confident we've made a section of Baltimore much safer," the commissioner said.