The star and co-producer of the "Stop Snitching" videos — a man who came to symbolize Baltimore's violent street scene and a culture that threatens witnesses who cooperate with police — was sentenced Friday to nearly 20 years in federal prison.
Removing Ronnie Thomas, better known as "Skinny Suge," from city streets ends a years-long drama in which his popular underground DVDs flouted authority with obscene anti-police rants showing "corner boys" taunting police and waving guns — practically daring officers to confront them.
The first video surfaced in 2004 and was followed by a sequel in 2007, prompting Baltimore police to counter with a video of their own, "Keep Talking." A bizarre showdown between the city's law enforcement and drug dealers played out on television screens instead of on street corners.
Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III said the intent of the "Stop Snitching" videos was to "try to discourage people from making their neighborhoods safer and to intimidate people. … We're talking about kids who are destroying each other for no good reason."
In an interview after Friday's sentencing, Bealefeld said he doesn't "expect that [Thomas] is going to come out and issue some sort of statement saying, 'Hey, I was wrong and what I did was dumb.' But I hope that the community says, 'Hell no, we won't stand for it.' "
He added that the movie trailer should now be changed to incorporate this caveat: Embrace the video's message "and you will find yourself in federal prison."
Eight other people associated with the videos have been prosecuted in federal court, including a cameraman and other prominent stars, most of whom are now in prison for 10 or more years on drug and gun convictions.
Selling for $9.99 over the Internet, the videos attracted the attention of Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, who used them as a springboard to speak out against the issue of witness intimidation. The videos damaged the image of city native and Denver Nuggets basketball star Carmelo Anthony, who made a brief appearance on the first DVD.
Also affected were two Baltimore police officers whose names were featured on the original video. They were arrested and convicted of robbery, drug trafficking and firearms offenses and sentenced to 139 and 315 years in federal prison.
Though the videos were condemned by prosecutors, police, politicians and the public, the co-producer of "Stop Snitching 2," Rodney Bethea, defended them in an interview with The Baltimore Sun in 2007. "People are surviving the only way they know how," he said then, adding later, "What I'm doing is exposing the social conditions."
However, police and prosecutors said the videos are nothing more than warnings to witnesses that they'll be harmed or killed if they call the police.
"We don't know who the snitches are, but when we find out, we gonna bust a cap," a young boy holding a gun says on the second video.
The case against Thomas and Sherman "Dark Black" Pride, 35, who was sentenced Friday to 24 years in prison, was part of a broad racketeering prosecution of members of a gang called the Tree Top Piru Bloods, whose roots are in the Bloods gang formed in Los Angeles in the 1970s and a local gang that began in the Washington County Detention Center in Hagerstown.
Federal authorities identified Pride as the leader of the gang's Eastern Shore contingent and Thomas as a leader in Maryland. Prosecutors said that Thomas talked with another gang member about retaliating against a store owner who refused to sell the "Stop Snitching" sequel.
The 49-page indictment filed in February 2008 that named Thomas and 27 others reads like a primer on gang life, complete with a glossary of gang terms and a code that authorities had to break, referring to police officers as "roscoes," a gun as a "platinum" and a robbery victim as a "birthday boy."
Federal authorities recorded imprisoned gang members and outlined a vicious campaign of carjackings, killings, robberies and running large amounts of drugs to Maryland from California.
Thomas was brought down by the very activity he preached against — two former gang members testified against him at his trial in U.S. District Court. A jury convicted him on Jan. 29, and U.S. District Judge William D. Quarles Jr. sentenced him to the maximum allowed under law.