Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein, joined by representatives from several other law enforcement agencies, announced Wednesday the indictments of 14 members of the Black Guerilla Family gang. (Algerina Perna/Baltimore Sun)
As top law enforcement officials focused Wednesday on the indictment of alleged gang members to underscore cooperative efforts to crack down on violence, a starkly different narrative of increased killings and decreased arrests continued to play out in Baltimore.
The leader of Baltimore's most notorious gang and more than a dozen underlings were indicted as part of a 11/2-year wiretap investigation that further revealed the pervasive influence of the Black Guerrilla Family on city crime, officials said. In announcing the case, Baltimore officials lined up to claim victory.
"We're committed to making sure that this crime wave we've experienced over the past month and a half is a spike and not a trend," Rod J. Rosenstein, the U.S. attorney for Maryland, said during a news briefing Wednesday at which he was flanked by the city's top cop and prosecutor.
Police union officials, meanwhile, complained about a lingering uneasiness among rank-and-file officers about doing their jobs amid an atmosphere of increased scrutiny and confusion over what they can and cannot do during interactions with suspects.
Since the rioting and looting after the death April 19 of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who suffered severe spinal injuries while in police custody, crime rates have spiked. In May there were 42 homicides in Baltimore, the most in a month since 1990.
Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts said the rise in killings is "backlogging" investigators, just as the community has become less engaged with police, providing fewer tips.
The Police Department's homicide clearance rate for the year stood at 40 percent Wednesday, a spokeswoman said. That includes cases in which charges have been brought in homicides from previous years and represents a 7.6 percentage-point decline from the department's average for the previous four years.
Police reported that there have been 237 shootings in the city this year, including two late Tuesday night and three Wednesday. There were 129 shootings in the city by this time last year.
Arrests, meanwhile, have plummeted in recent weeks, from 2,677 in April to 1,531 in May.
In Sandtown-Winchester — where Gray was arrested — there were 63 arrests in April and 28 in May, a 55 percent decline. Similar declines were recorded in neighborhoods across the city.
Gene Ryan, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, which represents police officers in the city, said Wednesday that the union is concerned about comments Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby made in front of officers May 29. He contends Mosby said officers "can no longer use handcuffs to detain suspects without probable cause to arrest."
Concerns have been expressed about police being second-guessed since Mosby charged six officers in Gray's death, including the three who detained and handcuffed him before finding a knife and arresting him. Witnesses have said officers handled Gray roughly.
The officers' attorneys have said the arresting officers were within their rights; Mosby has called the arrest illegal and charged the officers with assault.
Ryan said last month that officers are now more afraid of being arrested for doing their jobs than of being shot. He sent a letter to Mosby on June 4 asking for clarification on her comments.
Mosby declined to answer questions about the issue at the news conference to announce the Black Guerrilla Family indictments, repeatedly referring to her prosecutorial role in the indictments of the officers.
"I don't have the same liberties that the defense attorneys do," she said.
"We have made it clear that we are not going to litigate this case in the media, we will litigate this case in the courtroom," said Rochelle Ritchie, a Mosby spokeswoman. At one point during the news conference, she cut off questions being posed to Mosby by reporters.
In his statement, Ryan said Batts had "clarified the confusion" during his own news conference Tuesday night. At that event in Northwest Baltimore, Batts offered a "point of clarification" in what he described as a debate between the union and the state's attorney.
"I don't think the state's attorney ever said that you can't use handcuffs. They said if you had the opportunity to chase someone, No. 1, you have to articulate the reasonable suspicion for chasing someone, and then if you catch them and you choose to put them in handcuffs, that you have to articulate why you took that action," Batts said. "Not that you can't do it, but you have to articulate why."
Officer safety is "always paramount," Batts said.
On Wednesday, Batts responded to a question about whether officers are afraid to do their jobs because of the charges brought by Mosby.
"My guys are good. They've endured a lot of trauma," Batts said. He said officers "have an ethical responsibility to this city, to the babies, to the kids, to the mothers, to the weak ones that are out there, to protect this city as a whole and keep their job going in that direction."
With the drop in the homicide clearance rate, Batts said Tuesday that he had asked his command staff to come up with "creative solutions" to solve the killings, address the heavy workload and overcome a hesitancy among community members to cooperate with police.
"We don't expect the community to reach out to us," he said. "We have to go out to the community and we have to start engaging and talking to them, much like we're doing right now."
He said he also is looking for ways to address understaffing, with 350 patrol positions vacant, including from suspensions, injuries and long-term leaves.
"This community needs us, deserves the good service that they pay for, and we will respond to the necessary needs of this community," Batts said.
On Wednesday, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake reiterated her support for Batts and said he is committed to working in one accord with Mosby's office.
The impact of the Black Guerrilla Family indictments on city crime was unclear Wednesday, though Batts said "cutting off the head" of the gang was a major step forward. "We remain aggressive and focused in our crime fight.
"I told them from day one that we would grind on them until we grinded them out of existence," Batts said of the gang.
"All too often, this vindictive gang has been the common denominator in the bloodshed in our streets," Mosby said. "Members of this gang are seemingly relentless, but today we've proven so are we."
Half of the 14 alleged BGF members indicted Wednesday were already locked up on other charges. Timothy Michael "Uncle Mike" Gray, 47 — who the indictment calls "the 'citywide' commander of BGF" since 2013 — was arrested Wednesday morning in North Carolina, Rosenstein said.
The two homicides outlined in the case, to which all of the defendants were tied under federal conspiracy statutes, have already been prosecuted in two separate murder cases in state court.
Gray did not have an attorney listed in online court records and could not be reached for comment.
The indictment charges all 14 alleged gang members with conspiring to conduct BGF business, including narcotics trafficking, murder, extortion, robbery and witness intimidation — with the drug distribution reaching into Howard County. All are charged with a conspiracy to distribute drugs.
Two face charges of conspiracy to commit murder and attempted murder. Some of the defendants also face other drug and gun charges.
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Officials said there were no clear links between the BGF operations described in the indictment Wednesday and the well-documented case in 2013 in which BGF operatives essentially took control of the Baltimore City Detention Center. The jail case resulted in a sweeping investigation of dozens of alleged gang members and corrections officers.
A total of 118 BGF members and their associates have been indicted in federal court since April 2009, officials said.
Baltimore Sun reporters Yvonne Wenger, Doug Donovan, Talia Richman and Patrick Maynard contributed to this article.