For years, as the Maryland prison gang Dead Man Inc. grew in numbers and influence, law enforcement authorities watched anxiously as the scheduled release of the gang's reputed leader drew closer, wondering what his return would mean for the violent group's burgeoning street presence.
The climax was expected to come Tuesday — the day Perry Roark was scheduled to complete his 25-year term and exit a free man.
But before his scheduled release, state police and Anne Arundel County prosecutors effectively turned back the clock by resurrecting a 17-year-old murder charge, ensuring that Roark, who is believed to have founded the gang in a Maryland prison, will remain locked away for now.
Law enforcement officials say it is a temporary solution to dealing with the growing influence of the gang, whose membership is expanding beyond prison walls. Authorities estimate it may have thousands of members across the country, with some linked to violence in Baltimore and surrounding counties.
For the past decade, Dead Man Inc. has been quietly gaining members in prisons in Maryland and across the country, recruiting white inmates who call themselves "Dawgs" and espouse an anti-government philosophy.
Compared with the nation's more notorious gangs, such as the Bloods, the Crips and the Black Guerrilla Family, Dead Man Inc. is relatively unknown. Still, it is linked to some high-profile incidents.
•In Anne Arundel County, after a 14-year-old died in a gang-related incident, authorities say a member of Dead Man Inc. firebombed the Odenton home of someone he suspected in the killing.
•When federal authorities charged members of the Black Guerrilla Family in 2009 in a wide-ranging racketeering conspiracy, prosecutors said the gang offered $10,000 to Dead Man Inc. to carry out hits on corrections officers and anyone else believed to be cooperating.
• After a string of shootings, Baltimore's police commissioner said in 2009 that he was concerned about the gang operating in South Baltimore and Baltimore County. "If we don't figure out what's going on … with DMI, we'll be chasing these things for while," said Frederick H. Bealefeld III.
At a recent community meeting at the Southern District police station, gang members' pictures were flashed on a flat-screen television in the room where daily roll calls are held. Two of the district's Top 10 offenders are labeled as DMI members, including one whose neck is heavily tattooed and has the words "Dead" and "Man" tattooed on his eyebrows.
'The house he built'
Roark, a muscle-bound power lifter who turned 42 this month, has achieved godlike status among his followers, said Ryan Shifflet, Western Region director for the Mid-Atlantic Regional Gang Investigation Network. Shifflet, who met with Roark six months ago, describes him as influential, though somewhat reluctantly so at this point.
"Whether he likes it or not, it's the house he built," Shifflet said. "It's his baby, and he's going to hold that role to guys that have never even met him before. You've got tons of inmates who've never laid eyes on the man, but they know who he is and have heard he's 10 feet tall and bulletproof."
Roark has been behind bars since 1991, convicted in a bumbling caper that contrasts sharply with the savvy gang impresario authorities say he has become.
Detectives investigating a March 1991 robbery at an 84 Lumber store in Dundalk received a tip that Roark, who went by the nickname "Rocky," had been involved in the crime. Police were later called to a domestic disturbance in Middle River, where Roark's accomplice, Scott Davis, and his girlfriend were arguing, according to court records.
Davis' girlfriend directed police to the trunk of Davis' car, where he had stashed two sawed-off shotguns, one of which was missing a trigger guard just like a weapon used in the lumber store robbery, records show.
Police didn't have to look far to find Roark, who was asleep in a guest room at the home, according to court records. Next to his bed were his wallet and a stocking containing two shotgun shells. A local newspaper clipping about the lumber store robbery was found in the billfold.
He was sentenced to 15 years in prison, and a probation violation added 10 years to his sentence.
His sentence was to end Tuesday. But three law enforcement sources with knowledge of the situation, who were not allowed to discuss the charges because they remain sealed, say Roark has been served with a warrant charging him in the killing of inmate George Hartman, who was beaten to death in a dormitory of the now-closed Maryland House of Correction in February 1994.
Roark will likely be transferred to the Anne Arundel County Detention Center to be held pending trial, which one law enforcement source likened to putting a lion in a cage with kittens.
Through a spokeswoman, Anne Arundel County prosecutors declined to comment on the case. Roark, who has been incarcerated in Cumberland, could not be reached for comment on the charges or his role in the gang.
Dead Man's tale
Little is known about the killing that Roark is now being charged with. There were no media reports about the death at the time and the state prison system said its records don't go back that far. But the state medical examiner's office confirmed last week that Hartman died from blunt force trauma to the head and abdomen, with the manner of death determined to be homicide.
Roark has been credited, along with two other men, with starting the gang in the late 1990s. Among the sources that attribute the founding of DMI to Roark are a Facebook page purportedly for the gang and a 2009 History Channel documentary. Corrections officials, an Anne Arundel County gang investigator and current and former members were interviewed for that report.
Roark was reportedly close with members of the Black Guerrilla Family, law enforcement officials say, but that gang's rules prohibited him from joining because he is white. With their blessing, he formed a new gang at the Jessup prison that would become an umbrella organization of sorts for other white gangs.
Experts say that before DMI, white supremacist organizations or biker gangs were the only option for white inmates, even if they did not subscribe to such philosophies. DMI united those inmates. There was a careful recruitment and screening process, with a top-down militarized structure that placed commanders in each facility, officials say. Their aim, they say, is brotherhood.
However, Dead Man Inc. quickly earned a reputation for violence, and for a willingness to carry out attacks for drugs or money.
"They have gained their notoriety by becoming a murder-for-hire group, or doing hits or attacking other inmates in the prison system for money or contraband," Shifflet said.
But they've since become a group with broader goals, said Michael Stouffer, commissioner for the state's Division of Correction. "They were connected to the BGF and doing their dirty work, but they've evolved into more of an entity of their own," he said.
Corrections officials say they have confirmed more than 500 DMI members in state prison facilities, about half the number of Bloods and seven times the number of members of MS-13, a Hispanic gang. One estimate put DMI's total membership in the thousands, in states that include New York, Delaware, Virginia, Florida and Louisiana. Police believe the gang has attempted to recruitin such far-flung areas as Roanoke, Va., where investigators in 2006 gathered correspondence from alleged members.
Documents provided by the Roanoke Police Department under a Freedom of Information Act request include an application form, recovered during an investigation into the gang, that reads like a standard job application:
"Who referred you to Dead Man? Why do you want to be a part of Dead Man, and how do you feel you will be benificial [sic] to the growth and development of our empire? Explain in your own words what love and loyalty is and what keeping it real means to you."
The application instructs the applicant to send a photo, which will be returned once "all Dead Men get to see who you are."
"This is going to be the first unit put together out there [in Virginia]," a member wrote in a letter sent from prison and seized by police. "It has to be done right, it's the future of Dead on the bricks [outside prison], you dig. We've done this in-house [stuff], time to move on to our overall goals."
Police Lt. R.C. Mason said no criminal charges were filed in Roanoke. "DMI disappeared from view in our area soon after the search warrants were executed here, for whatever reason," Mason said.
On the outside
In Baltimore, police are aware of a growing number of men who claim DMI affiliation outside prison, but say the gang doesn't operate on the same scale as better-known organizations.
Pictures of known gang members flash on a TV screen in the Southern District police station. The names of gangs such as Purple City, South Baltimore Soldiers and PDL Bloods are displayed but not DMI, aside from two men on the district's most-wanted list.
"It's more like we have troublemakers in the community, and they come out of prison and all of a sudden they're DMI. But they're not a presence like the [other gangs]," said one official.
With rapid growth, authorities say, DMI has also become fractured. Some factions within the gang were said to have wanted to shift to a more white supremacist ideology, while the overall number of members and those claiming affiliation became unmanageable.
"DMI originally had ground rules, where you had to be brought in, or joined within the state prison system," Shifflet said. "Over time, you've seen people being made on the street and in county detention centers, and it's become so widespread and dysfunctional."
Leadership was said to have marked April 13, 2009 — or 4/13/09 — as a day to purge its ranks. The date was significant, with the numbers corresponding to the letters D, M, and I in the alphabet.
Shifflet said the group has grown unmanageable for its founders. "Even [Roark] would admit that it's gotten way out of control," he said.
Still, authorities were concerned about what Roark's release might mean for the future of the group.
Shifflet met with Roark at the North Branch Correctional Institute last year, and the reputed gang leader said he was looking forward to his release.
"He admittedly was anxious to get out — he was adamant about that," Shifflet said. "He's been trying to stay on the good path, according to his words, and do what he can to get himself out."
"The million-dollar question is, where is he going in the state and what role will he even take?" Shifflet said in an interview this month, before the news of the new charges that will keep Roark behind bars. "Will he stay in the backseat and let them go as they are or will he try to become more orderly and try to get more organization" on the streets?
The number of confirmed gang members by group, according to the Division of Correction as of Feb. 17:
Black Guerrilla Family: 965
Dead Man Inc.: 540