The mother of an 11-year-old boy accused of cocaine dealin said she had suspicions about his activities weeks before he was arrested Thursday in East Baltimore with five vials of cocaine and $160 stuffed in his sweat pants.
"I had a feeling he was involved for all this month," said the 34-year-old unemployed mother, who claimed that heavy drug trafficking prompted her to move from East Baltimore 10 days ago and place her three children, ages 17, 11 and 17 months, with a friend in Pimlico.
"I had a feeling from the time he was coming in. He usually comes in about 9 p.m., but then it was 10 p.m. and it started getting later and later," said the mother, now living in a church shelter for homeless women.
The mother insisted that she was surprised by the arrest.
But the police said they were not.
"It's not unusual," said Sgt. John Seriacki, head of the Eastern District narcotics unit. "We see it every day. We're locking up 9-year-olds, 11-year-olds and 13-year-olds on up. The worst part of this is that we're seeing more and more of it."
Sergeant Seriacki said the boy was like many other juveniles who police believe are being recruited by street dealers to hold drugs and money -- sometimes for $50 a day -- in
case they were stopped and searched for drugs by police officers.
Teen-agers have been involved not only in drug trafficking but also in stealing weapons that are often used to rob other dealers of drugs, jewelry and money, police say.
Last week, Eastern District officers questioned several parents and teen-agers while searching for a sawed-off shotgun. The weapon was believed to be circulating among a group of 14- and 15-year-olds after another youth, 16, shot off three fingers on his left hand while allegedly trying to rob a street dealer.
Officer Essex Weaver, head of Eastern's youth services unit, noted that 60 percent of the district's juvenile arrests in April were for cocaine possession.
"We're losing the young kids," said Officer Weaver. "We don't have anything else to offer them. Fifteen years ago, there were programs you could put these kids into to teach them the work ethic. Now, we have nothing to offer them in lieu of drugs."
The 11-year-old's mother said she began noticing her son coming home with new clothing, like the expensive tennis shoes and $20 T-shirt depicting NBA star David Robinson the boy was wearing when he was arrested Thursday afternoon at Federal and Regester streets -- a block away from the old Rutland Elementary School recreation center that he frequented and where police believe he also sold drugs.
Friday afternoon, a 13-year-old boy was arrested at Federal and Regester with two vials of cocaine and $173. Yesterday, his 14-year-old brother was arrested there with 39 vials of crack, a vial of cocaine and $39.
"He would come in with all this new stuff," said the 11-year-old's mother. "He said he was borrowing it. These kids want so much and we have so little. Maybe, if I get a low-income place, I can get some money and get the things we want. Then we'll have everything we need."
The mother said she had grown so concerned about her son's behavior that she had arranged for counseling sessions with his teacher at Elmer A. Henderson Elementary School in the 1700 JTC block of East Chase Street, where he is repeating the fourth grade.
The boy, who sat across from his mother in the friend's house, admitted he had been dealing drugs but declined to say who had supplied him with the vials of cocaine he claimed to be selling for $10 each.
"I knew it was wrong, but I did it for the money," said the boy -- the youngest person among 33 people arrested during the Eastern police district's three-day "Operation Clean Sweep" drug crackdown.
L The boy said he grew up idolizing neighborhood drug dealers.
"I used to like their fancy clothes and their nice cars," said the boy. "I thought it would be easy. I thought if I grew up, I would get things like that."
It was because of this that his mother had moved her family from Garrison Boulevard a year ago, and why she moved her family again out of East Baltimore 10 days ago.
"It's very easy for kids to get involved in drugs," she said. "They are sold all up and down Washington Street, Chapel Street, Regester Street and Federal Street.
"I'm transferring him from school there Monday, so he has no reason to go over to East Baltimore."
The site of the boy's arrest was one of 40 targets picked out by the Eastern District for the sweep and was under constant patrol by uniformed and plainclothes officers.
Thursday afternoon, police patrols had stopped several people in the area, but searches turned up no drugs. Finally, a police spotter radioed to two uniformed officers and one plainclothes detective that the boy had been seen making a sale in the 1700 block of Federal Street.
The police converged on the 11-year-old, who walking up the street in a group of other young children. As a police car rode partially up the curb, the crowd of children drifted away, leaving only the 11-year-old suspect -- his mouth opened slightly in surprise, shuffling a few steps backward before putting his hands in the air.
Two officers searched the boy, finding $160 and a bag with five vials of cocaine in a toilet paper roll in the waistband of his sweat pants. The boy, who remained silent, was handcuffed and taken to the Eastern District to be charged as a juvenile.
Even before the arrest, the mother -- who spoke on the condition that her name would not be used -- said, she was having a difficult time keeping up with her son.
The day before the arrest, she said, she stopped a police squad car and asked officers to help find him.
"I told police that I thought he was dealing drugs and where they could find him," she said, adding that the police found him at Federal and Regester, a few blocks from their apartment in the 1400 block of North Washington Street -- at 5 a.m. The police had no written report of that incident.
The mother said there was not enough room at her friend's Pimlico home for her and the children and their belongings, so she was staying each night at the women's shelter nearby until she could find a place for the family to move.
She said that since leaving Washington Street, she had been taking her son across town by bus and would return to pick him up later. On Thursday, she took him by bus to school but went downtown to apply for housing with social services, leaving her son to make the return bus ride alone.
Despite her suspicions, the mother said, she was surprised when police brought the boy back Thursday night and told her he had been busted for selling drugs.
"He's a good person; he's got a very good heart. Somewhere along the line, he became unmanageable. Somewhere along the the line, [his heart] has been destroyed."
The mother turned toward her son and demanded to know who provided the drugs he had been selling.
"Those people don't care about anything," she told him. "They're laughing at you. They're using you."
"I found them [the drugs] in the alley," the boy replied, shrugging his shoulders and avoiding eye contact with his mother.
"OK, sure," she said.
"I needed to have the money in my pocket, for food, pants and shirts," he insisted.
"You already have those things, but you just want more, don't you?"
Turning away from her son, the mother said she had noticed the disturbing trend that Eastern District narcotics officers confirmed.
"It's not the big kids that are selling [drugs]," she said. "It's the little ones. They're selling them in the recreation center.
"The kids here have nothing to do," said the mother. "There aren't enough playgrounds and recreation centers. The best thing you can do is hope and pray when your child goes out that door is that they'll come back safe and sound.
Despite the repeated scoldings she and others had given to her son since his arrest, the 11-year-old was not openly repentant. He sat impassively, stretching his arms in front of his bare chest on the table.
Asked if he would still be out on the East Baltimore streets selling drugs if police had not arrested him, the boy replied, "Yeah, I probably would."