Man says gang told him to take gun into police station, police say
By By Justin George and Justin Fenton
The Baltimore Sun|
Jan 06, 2015 at 9:46 PM
Baltimore police officers are on heightened alert after they disarmed a man who took a loaded handgun into a police station on Tuesday.
Police said Jason Armstrong, 29, told them he was acting on orders of the Black Guerrilla Family gang.
They said he walked into the Northeastern District station on Argonne Drive near Morgan State University shortly before 9 a.m. smelling of marijuana. Officers searched him and found a .22-caliber handgun with a bullet in the chamber, and marijuana and cocaine, they said.
Police said he told officers he had been ordered by BGF leaders to walk into a police district station with the gun and drugs to test police security.
"We're really lucky for a person to walk into a police station fully armed and loaded with drugs on him that we didn't end up in a terrible situation," Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts said Tuesday.
Armstrong was taken into custody and faces narcotics and gun charges, police said. His charging documents had not yet been posted to the state's online database Tuesday night, and neither he nor an attorney could be reached for comment.
Batts said the agency is telling police departments across the country about the incident and advising them to tighten security. Police in Baltimore County said they were taking precautions.
The incident Tuesday came five months after what police said was the suicide of a man in a Baltimore police station with a gun he smuggled in.
Officers have said they feel more vulnerable after the killing of two New York Police Department officers in Brooklyn last month and the shootings of two more in the Bronx on Monday.
"Another example of the interesting times we're living in. Everyone's on edge," said Baltimore City Councilman Brandon M. Scott, who represents parts of Northeast Baltimore. "The level of security we have at city buildings, we're not where we need to be and where we should be in 2015."
Batts said he plans to convene a meeting with "federal partners" including the FBI, Drug Enforcement Agency and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to discuss the Black Guerrilla Family. Baltimore FBI spokeswoman Amy J. Thoreson said the agency has offered Baltimore police any assistance it can provide.
In early December, police union officials in New York circulated information they said they received from a Maryland police department that the gang would target its officers. Batts, asked about the warning during a Twitter chat with residents at the time, called it an "anonymous hoax."
The Baltimore FBI office later issued a memo saying the gang was targeting "white cops" in Maryland. The memo said a gang contact claimed that BGF members linked to the corruption scandal at the Baltimore City Detention Center wanted to "send a message" by attacking white officers.
On Dec. 20, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, 28, shot his ex-girlfriend in Baltimore County, then traveled to New York and shot Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, police said. He then killed himself.
Police said Brinsley had no known gang ties. But police in New York and elsewhere tightened security.
Police in Baltimore declined to comment on any precautions they have taken.
In the Bronx on Monday, two plainclothes officers were shot while responding to a report of a robbery. They were expected to survive.
In Baltimore last month, an officer was shot and wounded during a traffic stop. Police said Officer Andrew Groman was shot by 19-year-old Donte Jones.
The shootings of Groman and the officers in New York prompted Baltimore police union president Gene Ryan to say that officers were being "targeted."
Across the city Tuesday, there were signs that police were tightening security. A cruiser was parked in front of the Southern District station, and signs on the front door and windows warned that visitors were subject to searches.
Maj. Deron Garrity, commander of the Southeastern District, sent an email to residents saying the station would be locked that night "because of recent events."
Batts would not discuss specific precautions.
"An organized gang in the city of Baltimore sent an armed suspect into our building to see our security, to test our security and that is alarming for us, that is alarming to me," he said. "I'm going to send a message along those lines to understand that we're not going to cower, we're not going to back down."
Police said Armstrong did not make any specific threats against police.
Batts said Armstrong told officers he was ordered by BGF leaders to "probe security" at the station. Baltimore Deputy Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez said Armstrong is known to police, and that his links to the BGF have been verified.
"We believe at this point from what we are getting that it is valid," Batts said.
Rodriguez said it was clear that Armstrong did not have an option but to heed the gang's order.
"We know of incidents that took place before that caused him to be in this situation," Rodriguez said. "He did not go in there on his free will. This person had very little option according to his statement."
In August, police said, a man who was taken into custody in connection with an attempted murder shot and killed himself inside the Southwestern District station with a gun he had concealed.
Police did not know at the time how Tyree Woodson, 38, was able to take the high-caliber handgun into the station. Commanders said they were investigating whether he had been frisked.
"You can't be complacent," Rodriguez said at the time. He said it was "imperative" that every suspect taken to a station is searched for weapons.
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The breach prompted City Council members, including Scott, to ask whether security to protect police officers was adequate.
The city's Force Investigation Team continues to investigate Woodson's death.
In March, an officer found a loaded .22-caliber handgun as he was placing a suspect in a holding cell in the Southeastern District station. Police have not disclosed any findings of that investigation.
Baltimore Sun reporter Colin Campbell contributed to this article.