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West Baltimore drug boss sought to kill police cooperators, new indictment alleges

City police working with federal investigators caught Jason Summers, a "street lieutenant" for Brandon Pride's west-side drug operation, with 52 bags of heroin in August 2015. Summers, 43, offered to cooperate, and later that night helped officers arrest another member of Pride's operation with 230 bags of heroin.

Pride quickly surmised that Summers was "snitching," authorities say in court documents. The next day, he told Summers to meet him to receive the day's heroin packets — and asked him to come alone.

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Summers was fatally shot in the street.

In an indictment announced Tuesday against Pride and eight others allegedly in his operation, police and federal authorities say Summers was one of at least four people whom Pride had killed or tried to have killed over the past two years because he suspected they were working with law enforcement.

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Pride, 36, is charged with two counts of first-degree murder, multiple counts of solicitation to commit murder and witness intimidation, and one count under the state's drug kingpin statute, among other charges, and was being held without bond. No attorney was listed for Pride in court records.

Last March, Baltimore police, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Organized Crime Unit of the attorney general's office, as well as the U.S. attorney's office, indicted 21 suspected members of Pride's organization on drug charges while continuing to work the case. Pride was not charged in the original indictment.

Chief Sean Miller, head of the Police Department's operations and investigations division, said during Tuesday's news conference that "witness intimidation, murder, shootings [and] violent crime" have been the trademarks of the drug operation — which includes Black Guerrilla Family and Bloods gang members — in controlling their territory along the Edmondson Avenue corridor for years.

The term "nonviolent drug offenders ... does not exist when it comes to this organization," Miller said.

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All but one of the individuals indicted were in police custody as of Tuesday. Miller declined to identify the individual not in custody but said officials were confident they would find him soon.

The drug operation, known as "Brick City," operated in the area around Harlem Park in West Baltimore. In court papers, authorities say some of its so-called heroin shops could make more than $20,000 a day in sales.

City police and federal agents said last year that they targeted the area "as part of an ongoing effort to disrupt drug trafficking organizations in neighborhoods hardest hit by recent shootings, homicides, and gun violence." Authorities said at the time that the organization's members had sold heroin to undercover officers more than 30 times.

Miller said the area has seen 19 homicides, 30 nonfatal shootings, 44 armed robberies and 47 aggravated assaults with firearms since 2014, many of which authorities suspect are linked to the group.

The violence allegedly included hits Pride requested against those he believed were working with law enforcement.

Tuesday's indictment accuses Pride of ordering the murder May 14, 2015, of Tahlil Yasin, 39, who was shot in the back of the head in broad daylight outside of the Soul Source restaurant, described as a popular breakfast venue where members of Brick City often met.

Yasin was a former confidential informant for a federal law enforcement agency, and was selling drugs in the area controlled by Pride, police say.

The indictment alleges Pride "authorized, directed and afterwards paid" Antoine Benjamin and Davon Coates for committing the murder. Benjamin and Coates are charged with first-degree murder and other crimes in the new indictment as well. Neither man had an attorney listed in court records.

Later that same day, a member of the organization posted on social media an image of an assault rifle and a caption that read "Snitches end up in ditches!!!"

Prosecutors say Pride was right in his hunch about Summers, who was fatally shot Aug. 20, 2015. Summers told police after his arrest that he worked for Pride, and offered to send a text message to a woman who delivered packages of drugs for Pride. In the presence of law enforcement, he sent the message and arranged a meeting.

Police drove Summers to the meeting in a covert vehicle, according to court records, and the woman was pulled over and arrested with drugs.

Summers was killed the next day at Pride's direction, police say.

After last year's indictments, police say, Pride placed a hit on a member of the organization whom he believed to be a key witness in the case. Over the next several months, they say, Pride and Mark Rice, another member of the operation, actively tried to obtain information regarding the whereabouts of the witness, including sending heroin addicts to various areas of the city and offering to pay organization members to locate the person.

In cases with concerns about witness safety, prosecutors ask to delay the release of witness names until shortly before trial. Officials say that when a protective order shielding the witnesses was lifted, a member of the organization attempted to relay them to Rice, who according to the indictment was "previously responsible for the murder of a suspected witness against" the group.

Rice was charged in the original March 2016 in indictment and faces new charges including murder. Rice's attorney could not be reached for comment.

In August, a member who the group believed was a "snitch" was confronted at the Soul Source restaurant and stabbed multiple times, police say. He survived.

Miller said criminal organizations that use witness intimidation or target individuals for cooperating with police should know that they are putting a giant target on their backs.

"You are basically sending us a red flag, saying, 'Come look at us, come get us,' because we are going to laser-focus on you, or your organization, if even we receive a small amount of information saying that is exactly what you guys are doing or your criminal enterprise is doing," he said. "If that is the path that these gangs or criminal organizations or whatever you want to name them want to take, then we will come find you and we will remove you."

Daniel Board Jr., special agent in charge of the Baltimore field office of the ATF, said his agency also is focused on such organizations — and required to investigate them when its own informants are involved.

Board said he believes the indictments will "absolutely make a dent" in Baltimore's violent crime. And he issued a warning to other gangs operating in the city.

"We know who you are and we'll see you soon," he said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Kevin Rector contributed to this article.

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