David Warren, the man charged with the attempted murder of five people during a Memorial Day cookout, has a criminal record that spans the service of three Baltimore mayors, four Baltimore police commissioners and three Baltimore state's attorneys. And Warren won't turn 24 until Wednesday.
An examination of his record charged as an adult with crimes goes back to 2006 and shows a pattern of charges of the most serious variety — attempted first-degree murder, armed robbery, assault, illegal possession of a gun — that ended with prosecutors and judges repeatedly allowing Warren to walk out of court.
It started when he was but 14 years old; he faced an attempted-murder charge and firearms violations.
Those charges were dropped.
Three years later, in 2009, Warren was charged with attempted first-degree murder again, plus armed robbery, burglary and assault. The docket entry on each charge is "Nolle prosequi," the formal declaration to a judge by a prosecutor that a charge is being dropped.
That phrase occurs many other times.
In 2010, Warren was again charged with attempted first-degree murder. Resolution: Nolle prosequi.
In 2011, there was a break in the pattern of charging-but-dropping. Police and prosecutors apparently managed to make a case against Warren. That year he was charged with armed robbery, but several months went by before anything happened in the case. I'll come back to it in a minute.
The next year, 2012, Warren was named in what prosecutors described as a conspiracy of murder and retaliatory violence by a drug gang in East Baltimore. Eight people were indicted in the case. Warren was charged with attempted first-degree murder.
But that charge went away, too. It was dropped, and Warren ended up pleading guilty to the unrelated 2011 armed robbery. (I told you I'd come back to it.) He received a 15-year sentence with all but five years suspended by some generous judge.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention a couple of other charges during that busy time in Warren's life. In 2011, police charged him with stealing a car; he pleaded guilty and received 10 months behind bars. In 2012, police arrested him on a charge of dealing drugs. Resolution of that case: Nolle prosequi.
In 2015, apparently back on the streets of Baltimore, Warren was arrested again, this time charged with dealing drugs and having a gun. Resolution: Nolle prosequi.
And that gets us to Memorial Day weekend 2016. According to police, Warren approached the scene of the holiday cookout on 43rd Street and opened fire, striking five people.
Someone tipped off police. When they arrested him, police said, Warren was carrying two handguns.
"David Warren is a trigger-puller," said Police Commissioner Kevin Davis. "David Warren is on probation for an armed robbery. David Warren is a member of the 10 Grand Club in Baltimore. That's a club of people who consider themselves hit men for hire, and David Warren is a person of interest in homicides and nonfatal shootings in our city — again, another person who should absolutely not be on the streets of Baltimore."
Without a full examination of each case, I can't say why so many charges against Warren were dropped. But the record is clearly one of failure, breathtakingly so — to think that someone could be repeatedly charged with attempted murder over a decade and repeatedly returned to the streets. Clearly, there were breakdowns. You'd think that, at some point, prosecutors might have noticed Warren's arrest record and made the next case against him an absolute priority.
It's also disturbing that, with Warren charged twice with attempted murder by the age of 17, someone did not intervene when there still might have been a chance to change the course of his life.
The other issue is the gun. The record shows that the gun has been Warren's companion since he was a boy. He faced numerous firearms charges over the years, but "Nolle prosequi" appears in those entries, too.
It's stunning that, in a city infested by so much gun violence, we do not have harsher penalties for illegal possession of firearms. That's why Davis went to Annapolis during the legislative session: If the cops do their part and make gun arrests — they've made 627 so far this year — and they lead to convictions, then penalties should be stiff and well-advertised.
Davis wanted the General Assembly to convert the current sentence of at least 30 days to a mandatory year or more in jail; a second offense would be a felony that would require at least five years behind bars.
But the commissioner and supporters of the bill ran into opposition from rural conservatives — people who live nowhere near Baltimore and who claimed the change might ensnare law-abiding gun owners, a ridiculous argument.
"Our nation's dysfunctional fascination with guns and all the rationalizations people rely on to resist common-sense changes amounts to a curse," Davis told me last week. "A deadly curse."