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No impunity for rioters who committed crimes, authorities say

"Sense of urgency" in finding rioters who looted, destroyed property

More than two months after Baltimore erupted in rioting, teams of police and federal investigators are still combing evidence in a hunt for those responsible for the destruction and looting.

The Baltimore Police Department has formed a task force to identify suspects, while the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Drug Enforcement Administration have called in additional agents to handle the work.

"The cases are particularly important because many of the people who were involved in committing these crimes acted with the assumption that they had impunity," said Rod J. Rosenstein, the U.S. attorney for Maryland. "There is a sense of urgency."

The investigative push is part of the legal fallout from Freddie Gray's death after suffering a spinal injury in police custody. On another front, prosecutors are working through dozens of cases from April 27, the day his funeral was held and a number of Baltimore neighborhoods burst into violence.

Authorities say the investigations are paying off.

Last week, they announced federal charges against a man accused of setting fire to a CVS drugstore near the intersection of North and Pennsylvania avenues — a blaze that was replayed time and again in news broadcasts of the riots. Police said 19 adults and juveniles have been arrested on state charges that include assault, burglary and destruction of property as a result of the task force's work, and another eight warrants are outstanding.

"We're going to run this out until we've identified everyone who's committed crimes," said Deputy Police Commissioner Kevin Davis.

The DEA, meanwhile, has identified 13 suspects in the looting of more than two dozen city pharmacies by posting surveillance pictures on billboards around Baltimore and asking residents to come forward with tips. The agency plans to repeat the campaign in the coming weeks, DEA spokesman Todd Edwards said. No arrests have been made.

Gray, 25, was arrested April 12 in the Gilmor Homes area of West Baltimore. He suffered a severe spinal cord injury while in police custody and died a week later, setting off protests and demonstrations across the city. Six Baltimore officers have been charged in Gray's death; all have pleaded not guilty.

More than 200 people were taken into custody and held in jail for close to two days under an emergency rule imposed by the governor, but half had to be let go because police had not filed charging papers. They joined 35 who were arrested when protests downtown became violent April 25.

Even as the suspects were being released, Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts promised to bring charges when possible. "We're not giving up on them," he said in April. Many in the community were concerned about making sure that people who destroyed property and businesses would be held accountable.

Overall, police said, there were 546 arrests between April 25 and May 3 that were related to the unrest.

The police task force, which consists of six detectives and their superiors, is working with two prosecutors in the state's attorney's office. Investigators have started by combing through hours of video footage captured by the network of city-owned surveillance cameras and those installed at business.

"It doesn't go away," Rosenstein said of the video evidence. He said the public has also been forthcoming with information about the riots, frustrated to have seen neighborhood stores damaged and forced to close their doors.

The cases are carefully reviewed within the department, Davis said, to ensure that identifications are solid and that suspects were involved in violence and destruction rather than just protesting.

Police are tracking the cases as they move through the courts so they can tell the public — as well as officers and firefighters who were harmed — how rioters are being held accountable.

"There's no free pass and there's no free ride for people who committed crimes during these riots," Davis said.

City Councilman Brandon M. Scott said it might not be worthwhile for police to revisit minor cases but that it is right to pursue serious crimes.

"If it's people that have destroyed someone's property and things like that, then of course [police] should still be looking for them," Scott said. Focusing on the riot should not distract police from ongoing violence in the city, Scott said, but he's confident they can handle both.

As the investigations continue, many of those arrested amid the April unrest are already being handled in the city's courts. Their cases are giving shape to the chaotic night, but some defendants say the dispensing of justice appears random.

Among them is Wayne Gray, who said he took his 2-year-old son to a protest in April. Representing himself recently in District Court, Gray, 47, wondered aloud how he had ended up in front of a judge while many fellow protesters had gone free.

Called to testify, Officer Garfield O'Toole, a member of the Police Department's SWAT team, described a chaotic scene during the protest at Pratt and Howard streets.

A large crowd had gathered, and officers formed a long line. O'Toole's team was ordered by commanders to pull three individuals back from the crowd and they were taken to a police transport wagon.

Gray noted that there was a large crowd and asked the officer, "Why just me?"

Officer Israel Villodas, another member of a tactical extraction team, testified that many in the crowd did not move even as orders to disperse were coming from the police helicopter and officers with bullhorns on the ground.

Judge Jack I. Lesser found Gray guilty of disorderly conduct and imposed a 10-day jail sentence. Gray begged not to be taken into custody right away, saying he needed to make arrangements for his son to be picked up from day care, move the car he drove to the courthouse and get his medications.

Lesser ordered him sent straight to jail.

"I made a mistake and misinterpreted my constitutional right," Gray said as he was handcuffed by sheriff's deputies.

His trial contrasts with the more serious charges filed in two other high-profile cases.

On Thursday, 24-year-old Raymon Carter appeared in U.S. District Court in Baltimore to face arson charges in the CVS fire, which caused more than $1 million in damage, according to prosecutors.

Surveillance video from the store shows Carter repeatedly approaching the corner where the fire started, according to court documents. Investigators pinpointed the start of the fire to 6:19:57 p.m., when the video shows a bright flash.

After that, Carter reappears from behind the shelves and runs toward the exit. Minutes later, flames become visible. No one else can be seen on the video in the area of the fire, investigators wrote in the documents.

Carter made a brief appearance in federal court to hear the charges against him. As the hearing ended, Carter gazed toward the public gallery, where 10 people watched him walk away in handcuffs.

In another case, a federal grand jury indicted Robert Edward "Meech" Tucker on a gun charge that carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison — an incident that heightened tensions on West Baltimore's streets when some news crews erroneously reported that he had been shot by police.

According to court documents, a carefully planned effort to apprehend Tucker became tumultuous. Police received a tip that he was armed, and an officer called on street surveillance camera operators and a helicopter to monitor the area before officers moved in on foot. Tucker fled, tossing aside a gun, an officer wrote.

"When the handgun hit the ground it discharged one round, and the individual fell to the ground," police wrote. He screamed as though he was injured, drawing a large and raucous crowd — and the attention of the national news crews that were using the area as a backdrop for broadcasts.

Medics determined that Tucker was not hurt and he was eventually arrested. In June, he was indicted on the federal gun charge. He remains in jail and is scheduled to appear in federal court on Friday.

Greg Butler Jr., 21, a Polytechnic Institute graduate and standout athlete, is also due in court soon. Police say that when violence flared in West Baltimore, he put on a gas mask and slashed a fire hose at the CVS store blaze.

In 2014, Butler was among the high school students caught up in protests over a citywide grading policy. Students complained that the city gave less weight to grades in Advanced Placement and honors courses than any other district in the Baltimore region and said the policy hurt their chances of securing college acceptance and scholarships.

But for that quirk in the city's grading policy, Butler might have been away at college when the rioting broke out. Former city school board president Shanaysha Sauls said Butler had earned the right to be in college.

"The fact that this young man, who is incredibly bright and motivated, would find himself a year later as the face of the recent unrest is altogether poignant," she said.

Butler, who says he is innocent, is scheduled to appear in court Tuesday.

Baltimore Sun reporters Erica L. Green, Jessica Anderson and Mayah Collins contributed to this article.

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