For years, city police say, the Veronica Avenue Boys held the Cherry Hill neighborhood hostage by selling crack cocaine to visiting suburban addicts and shooting people to expand their territory.
Yesterday, police said they had put an end to the terror with a series of raids that marked the first action in a new initiative aimed at curbing youth violence.
"The Veronica Avenue Boys is the most violent organization in our city," said Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier.
He said the gang was responsible for shootings that claimed four lives and left 27 others wounded last year in a community of 13,000 residents, 10,000 of whom live in public housing.
Frazier offered a stern warning to other violent groups. "The next drug distribution organization that comes to our attention because of the violence will get the same treatment as the Veronica Avenue Boys got," he said.
In a series of raids that concluded yesterday, police said, they put 29 of the group's 32 members behind bars. Many are being held in lieu of bail as high as a half-million dollars.
All of those arrested are adults, police said, and the shooting victims are mostly teen-agers who were low-level dealers and money-holders for the organization, which police said sold $10,000 worth of cocaine each day.
Frazier said 70 percent of last year's 1,200 shooting victims citywide were under 24, the age group police are targeting in their youth-violence initiative.
In raids yesterday morning, officers hit homes on several neighborhood streets, including two across the street from city schools, Carter Godwin Woodson Elementary and Westport Elementary.
Small armies of officers wearing bright yellow slickers stood outside the homes of suspected drug dealers as young children lugging book bags walked to the schools, often pausing to take in the action.
One person arrested is a security guard for a downtown state office building. Another allegedly sold drugs from a candy truck. And another lived in quiet Mount Winans on a street shaded by weeping willows and two doors from the home of a Maryland state trooper.
At one Cherry Hill Road house, neatly trimmed with yellow vinyl siding and a small flower garden, the welcome mat had officers laughing because they had raided it two weeks before. It read: "Oh no, not you again!"
At a news conference yesterday afternoon, police displayed a small cache of powerful weapons seized by officers. It included a rapid-fire 9 mm semiautomatic assault rifle with a mounted scope.
Frazier said the gun was capable of shooting four to six rounds a second and could be bought for as little as $100 at a pawnshop.
"To get that kind of fire power for so little a price is a frightening proposition," he said.
Police also displayed the photographs of the 32 suspects, many with nicknames such as Shirtman, Turk, Tee Tee, Big Will and Meatball. All had been indicted on charges ranging from drug distribution to assault to murder. All had prior arrests, and about one-third had been victims of shootings themselves.
"I am appalled, hurt and angered that people from my community could be involved in crimes of this nature," said Cleoda Walker, the public safety coordinator for Cherry Hill 2000, a neighborhood improvement group.
Five alleged leaders, all charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine, were identified as Tyrice Hall, 26, of the 500 block of Cherry Hill Road; Darryl Burks, 29, of the 2900 block of Cherry Hill Road; Dwayne Falcon, 36, of the 600 block of Cheraton Road; Clement Young, 20, of the 4000 block of Mariban Court; and William Evans, 23, of the 600 block of Cheraton Road.
Instead of targeting a single neighborhood, investigators with the Violent Crime Task Force focused on group members, following them from place to place.
For example, police said, they arrested two alleged leaders in early January in a car as they drove from Cherry Hill to Brooklyn with 121 bags of cocaine in their car -- all tagged with street names indicating locations for sales.
Other members of the group then scattered into neighboring NTC Brooklyn and Westport, both adjacent to the Anne Arundel and Baltimore County lines, where police said a bulk of the customers live.
Yesterday's raids went smoothly and with little fanfare.
Two signs welcomed police at Hall's house on Cherry Hill Road. One showed a picture of a pit bull, his teeth bared and growling, carrying this warning: "Trespassers will be eaten." The other said: "Never mind the dog, beware of the owner."
Pub Date: 3/07/98