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Residents voice doubt, hope after drug raid


A caption in Friday's paper incorrectly reported the first name of city police Sgt. William Ritmiller, a participant in Thursday night's police raids in the city's Middle East neighborhood.

The Evening Sun regrets the errors.

Residents and storekeepers of the drug-ridden East Baltimore neighborhood raided by more than 200 city police officers last night were uncertain today about the raid's lasting impact.

"They're [the drug dealers] smarter than the police around here," said Gerald Horton, 24, of the 1000 block of N. Washington St.

Cheri Wilkerson, 14, of the 1400 block of Gay St., agreed that the calm won't last. "People will come back around here. Their funds might bail them out of jail."

But others said they were already feeling more comfortable following the raid, the second phase of a crackdown on the city's deadliest neighborhoods. It resulted in 36 arrests.

Frances Young, 79, who lives in the neighborhood, said that before the raid she often would stay in her house. "I'd go in and not come back out," she said. "They usually prey on old people."

City workers also observed less commotion in the vicinity. Richard Smith, an equipment operator with Action Concrete, has been reconstructing an alley in the 1000 block of N. Wolfe St. for the past week. This morning, he said, "it seems a little quieter, a little different."

Operation Mid-East -- similar to but involving twice as many officers and arrest warrants as Operation Midway, in which 42 people were arrested in March -- brought officers to the area around the 1800 block of E. Eager St. with battering rams and arrest warrants for 104 people. Among those arrested were four charged with murder.

Investigators, slowed by lightning and heavy rain that accompanied the 7 p.m. raid in the Middle East neighborhood, walked through the neighborhood with note pads containing names of alleged drug dealers.

The area, just north of Johns Hopkins Hospital, is the second-deadliest area of the city -- behind the Midway-Barclay neighborhood that was raided in March -- having accounted for 39 shootings and six homicides this year.

"Next to Midway, this was the most violent area in the city. The next place we hit will be the next most violent," said Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier, adding that the raids are part of his effort to drive down the Eastern District's high homicide rate.

The district led all others in the city last year, with 83 homicides and more than 500 shootings. Mr. Frazier, who took over the Police Department in January and vowed to reduce violent crime, said the goal of the raids is "to take the drugs off the street and let the community catch its breath."

As was the case in Operation Midway, undercover officers obtained grand jury indictments and arrest warrants in the weeks preceding the raid, using videotapes of drug buys.

Those arrested have been given preset bail -- also the same method that was used in the earlier raid -- ranging from $25,000 to $2 million, police officials said. Charges included murder, attempted murder, drug distribution and handgun violations.

Twenty houses were raided, mainly in the 1700 and 1800 blocks of E. Eager St., but also as far away as the 900 block of N. Rose St. At some locations, police used battering rams to gain entry because drug dealers had barricaded the doors with wooden blocks, police said.

One of the raided houses, in the 2100 block of Jefferson St., was reputed to be a "shooting gallery" where neighborhood junkies went to inject drugs intravenously, police said. In that home, police said, they found numerous hypodermic needles and a dead cat in the refuse.

At another house, police said, they confiscated two police scanners tuned to the same frequency used by the department's Eastern District, seeming to indicate that drug traffickers were monitoring officers' radio communications, investigators said.

No shots were fired during the raid and no one was injured, police said.

"It was like a rush. They [the police] came in so fast. It was like one of those action-packed cops-and-robbers shows," said George Johnson, 31, who was visiting his girlfriend in the 1800 block of E. Eager St. when the raid began.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke toured the area with Mr. Frazier about 8 p.m., at times stopping to tell residents about the operation and even to sign an autograph for 11-year-old Lakesha Johnson.

"We want to get all the drug dealers off the streets," Mr. Schmoke told her.

Afterward, Lakesha said she wanted the mayor's autograph "because I wanted to get proof that I met Kurt Schmoke.

"I think it's good," she said of the raids. "We need to get the drugs off the street. There are a lot of people carrying guns, running down the alleys and through the yards. It makes it hard for children to play. I have seen four people shot in front of my face."

Mr. Schmoke said last night's raid was an effective follow-up to the Operation Midway raid because the two neighborhoods are not far apart.

"This wasn't just a random sweep. It got a lot hotter in this neighborhood after [Barclay-Midway] because a lot of the people who were pushed out of there came in this direction," Mr. Schmoke said.

"You're going to see more of this in a very targeted way. We're going to give district commanders the ability to do this kind of raid themselves, with their own troops. They're going to have the video and surveillance equipment they need to do this."

Mr. Frazier said the drug activity in the Middle East neighborhood is primarily controlled by two narcotics gangs, one with connections to New York City. Last night's operation, which was the culmination of three months of undercover work, was aimed at smashing those rings, he said.

More than 100 municipal workers will converge on the area today and -- as they did in the Barclay-Midway neighborhood -- will haul away trash and debris as part of a community cleanup.

"It will help the area a whole lot," said Bobby Redfern, 28, who lives on Chester Street, a few blocks from the raided Eager Street houses. "This is a mighty tough neighborhood."

Police said they will continue to send officers to the neighborhood for several weeks as they attempt to keep drug dealers out of the area and to try to find those named in warrants but not arrested last night.

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