Tuesday morning in the city of Baltimore, in the grand courthouse with the marble walls and murals of great moments in Maryland history, the state did what it has done numerous times before in the matter of frequent defendant David Warren — it dropped the charges against him.
Police officers arrested him last summer with a loaded gun in a man purse, and it’s a felony to be a felon with a gun. But, once again, the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s office entered a “nolle prosequi,” meaning it had abandoned the case.
Why? Because, this time, Warren awaits trial in Baltimore County on an attempted-murder charge, and apparently the state believes prosecutors in that jurisdiction have a stronger, or more significant, case to make in Towson come June.
Of course, that remains to be seen. County prosecutors will be going against a guy who has accrued a remarkable record of arrest or indictment without conviction. David Warren must be one of the most successful defendants in Maryland history. Look at the record:
In 2006, when Warren would have been 14 years old, police charged him with attempted first-degree murder and gun charges. But the charges were never pressed by the state.
In 2009, police charged him with attempted first-degree murder, robbery, burglary and assault. The charges were later dropped.
In 2010, police arrested Warren again for attempted first-degree murder. Again, the charges were dropped.
In 2011, Warren was found guilty of stealing a car and eluding police. He received a 10-month prison sentence.
Later that year, state and federal prosecutors named Warren among several people involved in an East Baltimore drug gang that carried out a series of retaliatory stabbings and shootings, some of them fatal. While some co-defendants were convicted, prosecutors dropped first-degree murder and other charges against Warren.
In 2013, Warren pleaded guilty to committing an armed robbery in 2011. A judge gave him 15 years in prison, with all but five suspended. It’s not clear how much — or how little — of that sentence he served.
Just two years later, in 2015, Warren faced gun and drug-related charges after police raided the East Baltimore office of the Safe Streets anti-violence program. Those charges were later dropped, too.
Court records show that Warren was accused of assaulting a law enforcement officer, stemming from an incident in March 2017. A District Court judge found him not guilty of one count; the state dropped the other.
In 2017, Warren went on trial for shooting five people during a Memorial Day cookout in north Baltimore. At trial, the state relied heavily on the eyewitness account of a 61-year-old woman. Her wavering testimony — at one point, she said, “"[The shooter] was littler than him," referring to Warren — did not convince the jurors. They acquitted him on five counts of attempted murder.
Warren, still in custody, faced a related federal charge — being a felon in possession of a firearm. The feds rarely drop such cases, but, in September 2017, the U.S. attorney did just that.
Court records show the state dropped another handgun charge against Warren in May 2018.
The next month, someone shot a 34-year-old man on Glen Michael Lane in Randallstown. Police said the shooting was not random; the victim, they said, had been targeted. The man survived. In October, Baltimore County police charged David Warren with attempted murder and handgun violations in connection with the Randallstown shooting.
Just two months earlier, in August, Baltimore police officers had arrested him on the gun charge Warren was supposed to have faced at trial on Tuesday morning — being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Why this long record of charges and dropped charges? Court records do not always provide answers, and prosecutors do not always cite reasons, as Linda Ramirez, an assistant state’s attorney, did Tuesday in Courtroom 215.
When Warren was acquitted in the Memorial Day shooting, his lawyer at the time, Stephen Patrick Beatty, offered a theory, suggesting that his client had been unfairly and frequently targeted by police. “What happens,” Beatty said, “is a person gets wrongfully accused, and he ends up on the radar of police, and he stays on the radar even when it's a case they can't make. Any time something happens, he's someone who they come looking for.”
It could also be that Warren is lucky, the beneficiary of deficient police work, or witnesses, even victims, who were reluctant to testify. There’s a history of those problems in Baltimore. “The culture of not being labeled a rat is huge,” a longtime defense attorney told me.
You could look at Warren’s record as a long series of failed opportunities to get convictions. I look at the starting point of his involvement with the criminal justice system and wonder why someone didn’t intervene, early and intensely, in Warren’s life to get him on a different track. At some point, there must have been an opportunity for a course correction. As the former inmate James Featherstone told me last fall: “We fight things from the back end instead of jumping in front. We attack things after they happen, not before they start.”
When I contacted Warren’s attorney last year, he criticized me for having earlier quoted Kevin Davis, the police commissioner at the time. After the Memorial Day shooting, Davis had called Warren a “trigger puller” and a “hitman for hire” who should not have been on the street. Another attorney, Brandon Mead, represented Warren in his latest city case. “Mr. Warren ... fully maintains his innocence on these new charges,” Mead said in an email when I contacted him a few months back, “and we completely expect him to be exonerated, again.”
Or “nol prossed,” which is what happened in a matter of two minutes Tuesday morning.