A self-described former Black Guerrilla Family commander returned to Baltimore from federal witness protection and testified against a man who he said shot him last May.

Ronnie Johnson, 34, said he turned cooperator last April after deciding he wanted to change his life, fearing he was going to be killed or locked up. The next month, he said he came face to face with a masked man holding a gun, who fired seven shots into his leg, breaking his femur.


"I seen the fire come out the gun," Johnson testified. "He was trying to gun me down."

Johnson's testimony came with a state immunity agreement, allowing him to speak freely about crimes he committed in the past. Johnson admitted he was involved in "several" kidnappings — including one where the victim who was held for $250,000 ransom would later be fatally shot — and "multiple" robberies.

But his testimony against alleged shooter Cedric Catchings was not enough — a jury acquitted Catchings of all charges on Monday.

Catchings' defense attorney, Stephen Patrick Beatty, said after the trial that the state's case was flawed beyond the admitted criminal activities of its star witness. He noted that 10 days after the shooting, someone else was arrested with the gun used in the shooting. And he said his client was also shot in the incident, and was tested for gunshot residue on his hands that came back negative.

"The only witness against my client was a man whose past actions read like a Quentin Tarantino script," Beatty said. "Shootings, kidnappings and giving orders to kill. And the feds as well as the state of Maryland gave him immunity, a free pass on all of it, just to try and convict a young man in a case where the only physical evidence pointed to my client's innocence."

Johnson's current whereabouts are unknown. Assistant State's Attorney Justin Dickman said he moved out of the city under federal relocation, and has "limited contact with anyone in the city." Johnson said he has a job, working 25 to 35 hours a week, and the federal government pays for his food.

Johnson testified that he joined the Black Guerrilla Family gang when he was 18, well before it was the prominent gang it has grown to become. He said he rose to the rank of "Minister of Justice," a role that involves meting out punishment within the gang, and became a "C", or a commander.

"I set the structure of the agenda," Johnson testified.

Johnson said he voluntarily contacted police last April in an attempt to start over his life. He remained in the city, keeping his cooperation a secret, but on May 24, 2016 he was shot as he exited a corner store. Johnson told a federal grand jury that he believed Catchings had killed his friend, and Johnson and his associates rode around the city with guns looking for Catchings.

"Then him and [another person] pops up, and shot me," Johnson told the federal grand jury. Catchings has not been charged with a murder, and the alleged motive was not introduced at Catchings' trial.

Johnson said after the shooting, federal authorities first put him a hotel, then moved him out of the city. Twice in the fall, Johnson testified before the federal grand jury about his activities with the BGF, attorneys said in court.

The federal government disclosed his testimony to the state, which disclosed it to Catchings' defense under rules requiring that possible impeachment material about a witness be provided to the defense.

Among the accounts Johnson gave the federal grand jury as part of his testimony was that he was once approached about carrying out a hit. Because he was preoccupied with a cocaine transaction, he passed on the job, but told someone else where to find the gun. Worried that he could still be implicated in the killing, he said he went to a convenience store and stood under a surveillance camera so he would have an alibi.

Johnson pulled up the target's Instagram page, refreshing it until he saw someone post "R.I.P." Beatty said the anecdote showed Johnson's "deviousness" in keeping himself out of trouble.


During a pretrial hearing, Dickman found himself in the position of defending Johnson's past crimes in an attempt to limit the defense's ability to attack Johnson's credibility. In discussing the proposed hit that Johnson declined to accept, Dickman said the defense shouldn't be able to bring up that Johnson was buying cocaine instead.

"There's no bad act here. ... other than buying cocaine, which I don't think that in and of itself is a bad act," Dickman said.

"I'm going to remember that," Beatty, the defense attorney, cracked.

The attorneys read a passage from Johnson's grand jury testimony where he discussed a kidnapping and said the attackers kept pushing the victim down, saying, "Hey b----, better chill out before we kill you. We was joking about it." Dickman argued that Johnson had jumped out of a moving van that was carrying the victim, because he believed he heard on a police scanner that police were in pursuit of the vehicle. He wasn't present when the victim was later killed, and Dickman argued the killing shouldn't be mentioned.

"I have to ask if you enjoy defending this guy," Judge Edward Hargadon asked Dickman.

"It's quite interesting. New to me," Dickman said.

Catchings faced charges of attempted first-degree murder, assault, reckless endangerment, and multiple firearms-related crimes. He was found not guilty on all counts by the jury.

Catchings is not in the clear just yet: The arrest triggered a violation of his 2014 probation for second-degree assault on a law enforcement officer, a crime for which he had received a sentence of 10 years with all but three years suspended. The probation violation is pending.