Baltimore Police said yesterday that their discovery of a cache of homemade DVDs featuring young men smoking marijuana and spewing violent threats, as well as appearances by homegrown NBA star Carmelo Anthony, has provided them with a trove of criminal intelligence.
The set of at least seven DVDs, one of which became public on Thursday, was apparently made by a group of Baltimore men in an effort to intimidate police informants. The videos are sold on the black market and were discovered about two months ago by police, who used informants to purchase some of them.
The self-aggrandizing video series has shocked police and demonstrated how technological advances have extended the city's stubborn problem of witness intimidation to a new realm. The cameos by Anthony threaten to taint the image of the former Towson Catholic star.
The two-hour video from which snippets made their way onto television this week is a collection of expletive-laden diatribes against police informants, referred to as "rats" and "snitches." In other scenes on the video, which was released by police yesterday, men display expensive cars, diamond watches, wads of money and guns.
It's titled Stop Snitching.
'Not involved' in crime
Anthony, 20, said last night that he had been home visiting friends, and didn't think the video being made would be widely distributed.
"I'm just on there. ... I understand that everybody is on there talking about killing and doing this and that, but it's not like I'm on there with guns," Anthony said.
"I was back on my block, chillin'. I was going back to show love to everybody, thinking it was just going to be on the little local DVD, that it was just one of my homeboys recording," he said.
His agent, Calvin Andrews, said yesterday, "There's no culpability in our minds about this. ... He's not involved in any sort of activity or committing any sort of crime."
But in a city struggling with violence, officials said they fear that Anthony's appearance on the video lends local star power to the "us vs. them" mentality pushed by city street criminals.
"It's unfortunate," said City Councilman Robert W. Curran. "That's certainly not the message we want portrayed, especially in this town."
The videos have, however, led to one arrest, police said. After recognizing a West Baltimore bar in the video, police started surveillance. Last month, they arrested Aaron Winfield "Charlie Brown" Scott III when his car was spotted near that bar.
He had been sought by police for more than a month, and he has been charged with two counts of attempted murder, said Anthony Barksdale, acting chief of the Police Department's organized crime division.
"I know the city sees it in a bad light, but this is bad guys identifying themselves, telling us where they hang out and who they're hanging with," Barksdale said. "I want them to keep making these DVDs. Go to volume 50 because we're making cases off these."
Barksdale said his detectives have identified many of the people in the videos - which police say are being sold in a small number of shops, but not to officers. It is not known how many had been distributed.
Police said many of the recorded diatribes, which reference "Tyree," are aimed at Tyree Stewart. Accused of leading a major marijuana distribution ring, Stewart was arrested last year.
"They're concerned he's going to break and give them all up," Barksdale said.
The videos feature dozens of people in scenes recorded inside a bar, on the streets and in cars. One of the most prominently portrayed is a man who calls himself Skinny Suge and professes to being a hustler.
He is on the cover of the DVD, as does the label "Skinny Suge Records."
Anthony appears on screen for about six minutes of the video. No guns or drugs are displayed in the scenes with Anthony.
In both scenes in which Anthony appears, he is standing with a group in front of a Baltimore home. For much of his time on camera he laughs as others poke fun at his Olympic basketball coach, Larry Brown, and his rival star, LeBron James.
But when talking about a person named "Black," Anthony is heard saying: "I'd put some money on his motherf-- brains."
The 6-foot-8 star's comment draws quite a reaction from the assembled group, some of whom say that Anthony is only kidding.
Of the two videos Barksdale has reviewed, Anthony appears in both, the chief said. Police did not release the other video, but the chief said Anthony is seen at a party.
Anthony grew up in West Baltimore, played at Towson Catholic, led Syracuse University to a national championship and then turned professional last year.
Brian McIntyre, the NBA's senior vice president for basketball communications, declined to comment on what, if any action, the league might take against Anthony regarding the DVDs.
Michael Millemann, a professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, who specializes in criminal law, said the DVD did not appear to form a basis for criminal charges against Anthony. It's unclear whether his comment or the ones made in his presence are jokes or threats, Millemann said.
For Baltimore, the fight against violence has increasingly become a battle against perception. Two years ago, seven members of the Dawson family were killed in an arson fire. The fire was designed to be their punishment for reporting neighborhood drug dealing to police. Since the fire, police have struggled to make residents feel that they can safely call police. They have made renewed efforts to promote anonymous tip lines.
"This DVD should not be considered entertainment because it's reality that we see every day in courtrooms in Baltimore City and confirms the fears we've expressed about the level of intimidation that exists in Baltimore," said Margaret T. Burns, a spokeswoman for the city State's Attorney's Office.
Both Mayor Martin O'Malley and a police spokesman said the police are prevailing over drug dealers.
"We are engaged in a very important and dangerous struggle," O'Malley said in a written statement. "Drug dealers have been trying to kill our city for years. We're turning the tide against them finally."
Police spokesman Matt Jablow said efforts to scare informants, such as the DVDs, show the department is becoming more successful at connecting within neighborhoods.
"It's terribly unfortunate Carmelo Anthony appears in that DVD," Jablow said. "I think most reasonable people will see this for what it is, two hours worth of rambling monologue by stoned drug dealers."
The Rev. Willie E. Ray, a West Baltimore activist and pastor who began his ministry 35 years ago in the troubled Murphy Homes project where Anthony grew up, was too busy with a project yesterday to give the DVD flap much thought.
Ray was trying to recruit local celebrities to speak to neighborhood children as part of a program he calls "Artists and Athletes Against Violence." Ray runs an after-school program meant to keep young people on the straight and narrow.
But getting celebrities to lend their voice to the message is important, Ray said, because they have a strong influence on youth - "whether we like it or not."
Sun staff writers Milton Kent, David Steele, Laura Vozzella, Lem Satterfield, Don Markus and Doug Donovan and the Associated Press contributed to this article.