A Baltimore judge this week ruled to allow city prosecutors to withhold identifying witness information from defendants in the sweeping case against alleged members of the Black Guerrilla Family gang.
Judge Sylvester B. Cox on Tuesday granted a protective order, requested by the state's attorney's office, on any materials that could expose witnesses to harm or intimidation, after hearing a detective describe the fears witnesses had about cooperating with the investigation.
Forty-eight suspects accused of being members of the BGF gang, which operated a violent, widespread drug trade in the city and corrupted the Baltimore City Detention Center, were indicted last November. All but 10 of them face charges under the state's rarely used gang statute, which carries a 20-year maximum prison sentence but has been used only three times in the city.
Under the terms of the protective order, defense attorneys may not receive the witness information until 45 days prior to a specially set court date. The restrictions on the defendants are stricter still: They will not learn who might be testifying against them until one week before the trial. No trial date has been set.
Attorneys for defendants William Harris, Jesse Tate, Shawn Gregg, Montel Harvey and Keith Anderson claimed withholding evidence against them would infringe upon the defendants' due process rights.
But based on the serious nature of the accusations, the gang's reputation for violence in the Greenmount Avenue area where it operated, and specific instances of intimidation and violence toward witnesses outlined by prosecutors, Cox decided there was sufficient cause to grant the protective order.
The judge said he was not naive about the risks to witnesses should their identities get out among potential gang members.
"This court does not sit up here and stick its head in the sand like an ostrich," Cox said.