Baltimore Police have made an arrest in the January killing of Dante Barksdale, a beloved leader of the Safe Streets anti-violence program.
Members of the warrant apprehension task force arrested Garrick L. Powell Jr., 28, without incident in East Baltimore, police said. At that time of his arrest, he already was being sought on a warrant for absconding from home monitoring after being released on a gun charge in Anne Arundel County.
Detectives wrote in charging documents that the gun he was arrested with in the county was linked to the shooting of Barksdale, and that they further identified him through witnesses and cell phone location data.
Officials did not say whether they knew of a motive in Barksdale’s killing, but said it was not a random encounter. Barksdale was seen having a conversation with Powell before Powell allegedly shot him multiple times and fled the area, detectives wrote in charging documents.
A defense attorney representing Powell in the Anne Arundel case declined to comment.
The murder rocked the city earlier this year, as Barksdale was known in the community and the halls of government as a peacekeeper.
Mayor Brandon Scott called Barksdale, a friend, the “heart and soul of Baltimore,” at a news conference Thursday. Scott reaffirmed his commitment to taking a wider public health approach to combating violence.
“We have a moral obligation to re-imagine what public safety looks like here in our city,” Scott said outside the city health department, surrounded by top officials.
Barksdale, 46, was fatally shot the morning of Jan. 17 outside of the Douglass Homes housing project. Known as “Tater,” he had been a top official with Safe Streets, which hires community members to mediate disputes, for more than a decade and was well known in Baltimore and beyond for his anti-violence work.
His death prompted an outpouring of grief, a stunning killing amid an uptick in gun violence over the city’s already-high rate of shootings. A cash reward of $7,000 was offered, but since then, months passed without any word of progress in the investigation.
Deputy Police Commissioner Michael Sullivan said detectives had continued to gather evidence and follow leads, including witness interviews and video footage.
“It was a lengthy investigation and he was developed as a suspect,” said Maj. Steve Hohman, the outgoing homicide commander. “We had to build that case along with our partners in the state’s attorney’s office to meet that threshold to get an arrest warrant.”
Shantay Jackson, director of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement, said Powell was not enrolled as a Safe Streets participant, and she was not aware of any contacts Safe Streets members had with him.
Scott said Powell “clearly should not have been on the streets,” and police said he was “no stranger to the BPD.”
Powell was charged with and cleared of murder in 2013. In 2017 he was sentenced to 11 years in prison related to a probation violation for a witness intimidation conviction, but was free following an appellate court ruling last year that overturned the sentence.
And he was arrested in Anne Arundel County just weeks after Barksdale’s killing and charged with gun and drug offenses.
Powell was among a group traveling in a vehicle searched by county police Feb. 3 following a traffic stop in the Brooklyn Park area.
County police said at the time that they recovered a Polymer80 9 mm handgun, a Sig Sauer P938 9 mm handgun, heroin, fentanyl and marijuana, and $4,400 in cash. Powell and three others were arrested, and he was released to home detention pending trial. A bench warrant was issued by a county judge for his arrest on May 4, after he turned off the monitoring device.
Before that, Powell was convicted of a charge of intimidating a juror or witness in Baltimore in 2015, and sentenced to a term of 15 years with all but four years suspended.
He was sentenced to the balance of that term — 11 years — after violating his probation in 2017, when Baltimore County police said they found cocaine on him during a traffic stop. But the Court of Special Appeals reversed that sentence in March 2020, finding that the state erred in failing to call a chemist as a witness.
“The court ruled that the State was not required to produce anyone who was involved in testing the contents of the baggie that was submitted” by police, the appellate court judges wrote. “We cannot say that foreclosing that opportunity was harmless, because the chemist’s work was an essential link in the chain of custody and, in turn, a necessary element of the State’s proof that Powell was in possession of cocaine.”
City prosecutors asked that he be held without bond while the matter was pending again, which was denied.
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Powell also was charged with first-degree murder in a shooting that occurred in October 2012. The outcome of that case is unclear — a new law passed by the General Assembly removes from online court records any cases in which a defendant was found not guilty or the charges were dropped. Powell’s case connected to the 2012 homicide shows only two counts in which a verdict was not rendered, and not the result of the other counts, which have been removed from the public database.
Barksdale had a personal connection to the culture of crime and aggression that he sought to dismantle. He had served time in prison and was the nephew of Nathan “Bodie” Barksdale, the notorious Baltimore man whose crimes and run-ins with police were among many that inspired characters and storylines in the hit HBO series “The Wire.”
In a memoir published in November 2019, “Growing Up Barksdale,” he recounted his introduction to the Safe Streets program in 2008, through mentor Leon Faruq.
“I was tired of getting locked up, of getting robbed by police, of having to keep an eye out at all times,” he wrote. “I wanted a regular job. And it seemed the universe had one in mind for me.”
Mary Beth Haller, the city’s deputy health commissioner, said Barksdale was “the best of us.” As a founding member of Safe Streets, he saved hundreds of lives while helping the program navigate through early doubts about its effectiveness, she said.
“He proved that one person’s passion to make a difference can change a community,” Haller said.
“My friend Dante turned his life around by working tirelessly to keep Baltimore neighborhoods safe from gun violence,” Scott said Thursday. “As an outreach coordinator for Safe Streets, Dante was persistently present in our toughest communities to engage young people and impart healthier approaches to solving conflict. He believed that everyone has value and a purpose, and this sentiment continues to shape my leadership approach as mayor.”