Three Baltimore gang members who pummeled an informant inside the jail cell they all shared pleaded guilty to witness intimidation in federal court yesterday.
For prosecutors, the assault on one of their witnesses was a somber reminder of the dangerous challenges involved in prosecuting one of the city's more violent drug organizations and protecting those willing to testify against its members.
The defendants were members of the North Avenue Boys, a well-armed East Baltimore street gang that distributed and sold large quantities of heroin, cocaine and crack cocaine in a few blocks around an old schoolhouse on East North Avenue and other stash houses on surrounding streets.
Shawn Henry, 29, Dante Faulkner, 26, and Tyrell Fields, 35, all of Baltimore, pleaded guilty yesterday to retaliation against a federal witness just before their trial was set to begin.
U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz immediately sentenced two of the three defendants to five years behind bars on top of their original prison sentences. Faulkner is serving a 40-year sentence for drug conspiracy in the original North Avenue Boys case; Fields received a 25-year sentence in the case.
Henry, the gang's de facto leader, will not be sentenced until April. Henry, who is serving a 30-year sentence, could face a maximum life term. The North Avenue Boys fought a turf war with a rival gang that terrorized the neighborhood. Members spent much of 2000 and 2001 looking for rivals from a gang known as the Hot Boys or the Project Boys.
The battles between the two gangs left at least five people dead. North Avenue members also mistakenly shot the wrong people. Federal prosecutors said their investigation led to convictions of more than a dozen members of both gangs, effectively shutting them down.
On Feb. 7, 2005, the three gang members were set to go on trial in U.S. District Court. That evening, they changed their pleas to guilty and returned to federal custody.
But they learned the identity of the informant during jury selection, court papers show.
Government lawyers had announced the names of their witnesses, including the victim - a common disclosure in federal court before selecting a jury.
After the pleas, Faulkner, Fields and Henry were brought by the U.S. marshal back to a state prison in Baltimore that regularly holds federal detainees.
The defendants were placed in the same group holding cell as the victim. They confronted him, and he denied planning to be a witness, court papers say.
But Faulkner, Fields and Henry knocked him to the floor anyway, punching and kicking him in the face, head and body until they were stopped by correctional officers.