A former social studies teacher who taught in the city school system for nearly a quarter-century is in jail, charged in connection with an alleged heroin distribution ring that police said operated from a Bolton Hill rowhouse.
Ronald Rodgene Hutton, 48, who last worked as a department head at Lombard Middle School, was being held in the Baltimore City Detention Center yesterday in lieu of $250,000 bail.
A federal task force of FBI agents, state police troopers and city officers arrested Mr. Hutton last week at his home in the midtown enclave of tony, renovated rowhouses.
On the third floor of the house-turned apartment building in the 100 block of W. Lafayette Ave., police said they found more than 1 pound of suspected raw heroin, worth an estimated $500,000, four handguns -- including a .357 Taurus revolver -- and $14,000 in cash.
Community leaders expressed surprise that such a large drug arrest could occur in their neighborhood of middle-class professionals where the average home sells for about $150,000 -- about twice the city average.
"Bolton Hill is tolerant, but we have never expanded it to that extent," said Michael J. Flanigan, the immediate past president of the Mount Royal Improvement Association, which represents about 2,000 residents.
Law enforcement officials were tight-lipped. The FBI's Baltimore office would only confirm the arrest, and city police refused to comment on the case, which was investigated by the Safe Street Task Force, formed to target violent drug traffickers.
First Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary P. Jordan said the case will be considered for federal prosecution.
Officials were unable to say whether the suspect's teaching career coincided with his alleged drug dealing.
Donna Franks, a spokeswoman for the city school system, said Mr. Hutton began teaching in September 1970. The only records available yesterday show that he taught social studies at Lake Clifton Eastern High School in the '70s and at Patterson Park High School in the '80s.
In 1990, Mr. Hutton became the social studies department head at the Lombard School, a position he held until last year.
A city government source said Mr. Hutton was dismissed from the school system Oct. 20, 1994, for an undisclosed reason. The source said the teacher had an excellent record and good references, with no disciplinary action noted. That changed last year, however. The source said that all of a sudden, his superior ratings were reduced to satisfactory and complaints were noted in his personnel record of poor attendance.
It also is unclear how long Mr. Hutton lived at the West Lafayette address, a neatly trimmed house with flowers out front and in the windows. A "For Rent" sign hangs in the door.
The house is owned by Willistine P. Sides of Crofton.
A woman who answered the phone at the Crofton address refused to give her name, but described Mr. Hutton as an "excellent renter," who usually paid on time. She said his family claimed his belongings Monday.
The woman said she was "very surprised" at the arrest, and then abruptly ended the interview by hanging up the phone.
Deborah Diehl, president of the Mount Royal Improvement Association, said there have been rare accounts of neighborhood people dealing drugs from homes. "It usually is pretty obvious," she said, "and we're able to get rid of that pretty easily."
But several residents who live near the raided house said they saw nothing suspicious and didn't even know about the raid, which police conducted at 8:30 p.m. by simply ringing the doorbell and arresting Mr. Hutton when he answered.
Earlier that afternoon, police had arrested two other suspects after they followed a late model Pontiac Grand Am from Bolton Hill to East Baltimore, stopped it and found drug residue on the car's console. Police said they had been watching the house and its occupants.
In addition to the raw heroin, police said they seized 3,000 gelatin capsules filled with suspected heroin, worth about $30,000, boxes of cutting agent used to dilute the drugs, boxes filled with several thousand empty capsules, strainers, scales, surgical gloves and masks.