Metro Crime Stopper: Rookie Transit Cop Arrests Federal Fugitive, but Feds Dismiss Indictment

by Van Smith

Published in City Paper, May 2, 2012

If you’re a federal fugitive, you better not skimp on paying the Baltimore Metro Subway fare when Generia Lawson is on the job.

On April 17, Lawson, a rookie Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) police officer, was in full uniform, doing routine fare checks at the West Cold Spring Metro Station on Wabash Avenue, when she accomplished what the U.S. Marshals Service has not done in three years: arrest 62-year-old Roosevelt Drummond, the only one of scores of indicted members of the Black Guerrilla Family (BGF) prison gang in Maryland who has not faced the federal grand-jury charges brought against him.

Drummond, who has prior convictions for drugs and guns, was charged federally with narcotics, robbery, and firearms crimes on April 8, 2009, and has eluded arrest ever since. A source from within the BGF who was not charged in the federal investigation but who asks to remain anonymous due to safety concerns, told City Paper earlier this year that Drummond is “an outlaw. The next time you’ll hear about him, it’ll be, ‘Oh, we got a dead black man in Montana,’ and come to find out it’s him. He ain’t going back to prison. It’ll either be the police kill him trying to get him, or he just dies. Or he probably ODs or something.”

Turns out, there was no showdown with the cops, no Butch Cassidy-style drama, just a routine inspection over a Metro ticket. Lawson’s suspicions were aroused when Drummond produced a discounted ticket he wasn’t entitled to, and then proceeded to give her false information about his identity. After she concluded he was a fugitive and arrested him, she found a small amount of heroin in his pocket and charged him with possession.

But a week after Drummond’s arrest, the open federal warrant that led Lawson to arrest him was ordered “quashed and recalled,” according to federal court documents. Assistant U.S. Attorney James Wallner, the lead prosecutor in the BGF cases, filed a motion on April 24, seeking dismissal of the federal indictment against Drummond. The filing is spare in explaining why, stating only that “based upon information developed during the investigation of the BGF, the Government seeks to dismiss the Indictment.” The next day, U.S. District Judge William Quarles, who has handled the BGF docket since 2009, obliged by ordering the dismissal. The Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the dismissal of the indictment against Drummond.

When reached by phone on April 30, Lawson, who says she finished her training as an MTA police officer about three months ago, remarks that “you have to expect these types of things” in a job like hers, and that she was “a little shocked” to have nabbed a federal fugitive while checking fares, “but not really.” Until City Paper’s inquiries about Drummond’s arrest, she adds, she did not know he was part of the BGF case, nor did she know that the federal indictment against him had been dismissed, which she says is “just the process.” As for her interaction with Drummond, she says “he was cooperative,” “very compliant,” and “calm” when being arrested, and “did not appear to be nervous.” In her job, she adds, she understands that “small things can turn into big things,” such as arresting Drummond.

Lawson’s “statement of probable cause” to charge Drummond with heroin possession, filed in district court, tells the story pretty well. When Lawson asked Drummond for his ticket, shortly before noon on April 17, he showed her one that’s for senior citizens and disabled people, yet he did not have the MTA identification required of patrons who purchase such tickets. That prompted a slippery-slope interaction between Lawson and Drummond, in which he said he was “James Green,” and gave her a date of birth and Social Security number that did not jibe with the MTA dispatcher’s data.

When Lawson asked Drummond if he wanted to change any of the information he’d provided, he gave her his correct birth date. Soon thereafter, a photo of Drummond “was sent to my mobile” by the dispatcher, Lawson wrote, and “I was able to confirm” who she was dealing with, and conclude that “there was a warrant out” on him.

After arresting Drummond, Lawson found a small packet of heroin in a black velvet bag in his pants pocket. He was charged in Maryland District Court with heroin possession. Bail was set at $20,000, but online court records indicate he has not posted it and remains detained pending a trial scheduled for May 21, when he could face up to four years in prison and a $25,000 fine.

While Drummond’s treatment at the hands of a rookie transit cop appears to be straightforward police work, the dismissal of the indictment against him by seasoned federal authorities stands in marked contrast to his BGF co-defendants, some of whom are serving lengthy prison sentences.

Court documents in the sprawling BGF conspiracy cases, which include racketeering convictions against many of the defendants, indicate that Drummond’s role was limited to a March 13, 2009, incident involving three men in a car with a stolen handgun, handcuffs, rubber gloves, and a mask. The car was pulled over by Baltimore police, and Drummond was the only one arrested for possessing the gun. The state charges against him were dropped after his federal indictment. Now, three years later, Drummond is the only one of the men in that car who isn’t in trouble in federal court.

One of them, Randolph Edison, last year pleaded guilty to possessing a stolen firearm and is serving 96 months in prison. The other, Zachary Norman, entered into a plea agreement in October 2010 and is facing a superseding charge of conspiring to commit an assault.

Though Edison pleaded guilty, he afterward sought to rescind that plea—in part because, as he told Quarles at his sentencing hearing last August, “I never had possession of a gun, and nor did I know the gun was stolen.” Drummond, now that his indictment has been dismissed, doesn’t have to worry about that particular gun anymore.

The Game Remains The Same: Nathan “Bodie” Barksdale’s new charges ring familiar

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Dec. 10, 2013

Over the last half-decade or so, City Paper has done in-depth reporting about how Baltimore’s drug game is tied to heroin arriving from Africa, gangsters who double as gang interventionists, the Black Guerrilla Family (BGF) gang’s broad reach in prisons and the streets, and legendary old felons getting charged anew. Now, with federal drug-and-gun charges unsealed Nov. 26 against Nathan “Bodie” Barksdale, one man embodies all four themes.

The case involves Barksdale’s alleged dealings with co-defendant Suraj Tairu, a man with a 1990s New York conviction for helping to import heroin from Africa, and involves heroin contained in an “egg-shaped object”—a type of heroin packaging that is commonly swallowed and later excreted by so-called “internal smugglers” from Africa who bring them to the U.S. on commercial airline flights. Initially, only Tairu was charged in the case, on Sept. 12, and court documents state that he was supplying heroin to “a long-time, high ranking member of the BGF”—who, once the indictment was unsealed, was revealed to be Barksdale.

Barksdale grew up hustling in West Baltimore’s since-demolished Lexington Terrace projects in the 1970s and 1980s, and by the end of that decade he had become a local criminal legend whose violent exploits were depicted in a 2009 docu-drama project spearheaded by Kenneth Antonio “Bird” Jackson, a stevedore and strip club manager with his own outsize past in Baltimore’s drug game. The project, The Baltimore Chronicles: Legends of the Unwired, claimed Barksdale was the inspiration for Avon Barksdale, a key character on the HBO series The Wire—a claim The Wire’s co-creator David Simon rejects. Two other old school Baltimore gangsters whose identities were used to create Wire characters—Savino Braxton and Walter Lee “Stinkum” Powell, whose names were applied to characters who were enforcers for Avon Barksdale, Savino Bratton, and Anton “Stinkum” Artis—have also faced federal drug charges in recent years and are now in federal prison.

The Baltimore Sun’s reporting on Barksdale’s latest arrest revealed that he’d been working as a gang interventionist for Safe Streets, a publicly funded project managed by local nonprofits that seek to employ ex-felons to diffuse street violence before it happens. The Sun’s coverage quoted Safe Streets’ Delaino Johnson, director of the outfit’s branch in Mondawmin, as saying Barksdale “had a large impact on reducing violence in our targeted area.”

In a wide-ranging City Paper interview in 2009 for a feature about Unwired, Barksdale described how, at that time, he worked “informally” with his nephew, Dante Barksdale, a Safe Streets worker, to help stem violence among the younger generation.

“I try to keep some of them from traveling the same path I’ve traveled,” Barksdale said, noting that, “when I show up, it keeps some stuff from happening.”

Hiring ex-felons as street-violence mitigators has long been proposed and carried out, with mixed results. Radio talk-show host Marc Steiner in 2008, for instance, urged “cities, states, philanthropies, and businesses” to “spend millions” to “hire, train, and supervise hundreds of ex-felons to work in the streets with youth and families.” That year in Chicago, two anti-violence workers for the program after which Safe Streets was modeled, CeaseFire, were indicted and later pleaded guilty to drug dealing, and one of them, according to prosecutors, “promoted controlled violence among gang members in an effort to avoid subsequent and random retaliatory murders.” Also in 2008, the executive director of an anti-gang nonprofit in Los Angeles, No Guns, admitted to gun-running charges and another gang-interventionist pleaded no contest to drugs and firearms charges.

Subsequently, Safe Streets emerged in prior federal BGF cases in Maryland in 2009 and 2010. “Operation Safe Streets located in the McElderry Park and Madison East neighborhoods is controlled by the BGF, specifically Anthony Brown, aka ‘Gerimo,’” court documents in those cases state, adding that “BGF members released from prison can obtain employment from Operation Safe Streets.” Another Baltimore anti-violence nonprofit that previously had received Safe Streets funding, Communities Organized to Improve Life (COIL), employed two men who were convicted in that round of BGF cases: youth counselor Todd Andrew Duncan, who prosecutors described as the BGF’s “city-wide commander” at the time, and outreach worker Ronald “Piper” Scott.

Still, Baltimore’s Safe Streets program is credited with having stopped much bloodshed. A 2012 Johns Hopkins University evaluation of the program concluded that its workers mediated 276 incidents between July 2007 and December 2010, 88 percent of which “involved individuals with a history of violence” and three-quarters of which “involved gang members.”

Barksdale’s name emerged in the 2010 round of BGF indictments, which were investigated by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. He was described in court documents as “an active BGF member” and a “B. Barksdale” was thanked in the acknowledgements section of The Black Book, a 122-page, soft-bound self-help guide published by BGF leader Eric Brown that authorities portrayed as a gang-recruitment tool whose sales helped finance the BGF.

“Hell, no!” Barksdale told City Paper at the time, when reached by phone at the number listed in the court documents and asked if he was an active BGF member. “I ain’t no motherfuckin’ member,” he says. “When I was in prison, I mean, yeah—but that was 20 years ago. I’m a filmmaker. I’m pushing 50, man. I’m too old for that. That’s for teenagers.”

In the current case, the heroin-possession charge against Barksdale and Tairu arises from their alleged interactions on June 22—when Barksdale allegedly tried to hoodwink Tairu after a police stop for a seatbelt violation resulted in the seizure of 1 ounce of heroin in the egg-shaped package. The stop occurred shortly after the two met at a Rite Aid parking lot off Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, court documents say, though Barksdale was not arrested. About a half-hour later, Barksdale called Tairu to explain what had happened and told Tairu that the police “took both of them.”

“Based upon that conversation,” a federal agent wrote in court papers, “I surmised that” Barksdale “had actually been in possession of two ‘eggs’ of heroin and that the second ‘egg’ was still” in Barksdale’s possession, but that he “misled Tairu into believing that both ‘eggs’ were seized.”

On Nov. 27, Barksdale pleaded not guilty to the charges, which are being prosecuted by assistant U.S. Attorney James Wallner, who handled the complex series of cases filed against the BGF in 2009 and 2010. Barksdale’s court-appointed attorney, Nicholas Vitek, declined to comment. The case was initially assigned to U.S. District Judge William Quarles, who scheduled a three-to-five-day trial starting Feb. 24, but on Dec. 6, the case was reassigned to U.S. District Judge George Levi Russell III.