The crimes appear ordinary on Howard County's November police log — two break-ins on U.S. 1, another at a Columbia home where a television and video games were taken, and a man held up at gunpoint in the village of Kings Contrivance.
But the Kings Contrivance robbery — described by police in a single sentence — was far from routine. It actually was an undercover police sting that went bad, targeting a Columbia resident and suspected Bloods gang member known as "Bloody Mike."
Documents filed more recently in federal court in Baltimore say a police informant was pistol-whipped and robbed in an apartment building while making an undercover gun buy — an isolated crime, but one that gives a glimpse into violent gangs and their reach into the suburbs.
"We don't have the street level gang violence such as in Baltimore City. For the most part, our gang activity is involved with drug activity," said Howard County Deputy Police Chief Maj. Gary Gardner.
Authorities arrested "Bloody Mike," a 19-year-old whose real name is Michael Dominique Johnson, and two other men on charges related to armed robbery and gun possession after a traffic stop in Laurel later that month.
At any given time, the commander said, police estimate that "several hundred" gang members are living or working in the county, which is better-known for its top-rated schools or green bumper stickers urging onlookers to "Choose Civility."
"Our unit … tries to keep track of their involvement in other types of crime in the county," Gardner said, referring to crimes such as robberies and burglaries — including what happened on the Kings Contrivance cul-de-sac five months ago — as the biggest concerns.
Police have been targeting suspected gangs operating in the suburbs for years. Last year, federal authorities broke up what they described as a subset of the Bloods called South Side Brims with a list of members stretching from the Eastern Shore to Western Maryland. Five of the suspects arrested had lived in Howard County.
Prosecutors attributed numerous crimes to the group, including a killing in Baltimore, drug sales and targeting witnesses.
In March 2010, court documents say, suspected Brims gang members committed an armed home invasion and robbery in Howard County.
The details of the case stemming from November's armed robbery in Columbia are contained in a search warrant application targeting a house on Tewkesbury Place in Northwest Washington, which authorities say is the residence of Johnson's cousin. Johnson lives on Midas Touch in King's Contrivance but had been staying in an upstairs bedroom of the Washington home, police said.
Johnson and an alleged co-conspirator were indicted by a federal grand jury in February.
Court documents say that when police took Johnson into custody, he had a Bloods tattoo on his hand and had a red bandanna, "further indications of his membership in the Bloods street gang." In the house in Washington, the documents say, agents found Johnson's mail, a bag of ammunition and drug-packaging material.
The court documents, filed by agents with the federal Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agency, describe Johnson as "a known member of the Bloods gang operating in Howard County." The agents set up their King's Contrivance sting in November at the Huntington Downs apartment complex, a mile from the recently upgraded village center boasting an upscale Harris Teeter and Starbucks.
Residents at the three-story brick apartment building on Clocktower Lane overlooking a tree-lined street said they had never heard anything about the incident, and were shocked to hear it had taken place.
Anne Brinker, village manager for Kings Contrivance, said the Clocktower Lane community, which has a higher density of residents, has been very proactive about crime — reporting suspicious activity to police and sending out emails to the homeowner's association.
"Our crime statistics look low and look good," she said. Brinker said residents asked about possible gang activity during a community police briefing in April, and were told that there was nothing to report.
Instead, the majority of incidents have been crimes of opportunity — people leaving their garage doors open, car doors unlocked and consumer electronics in plain view. She said those issues are to be expected as the small community transitions to "a town with more traffic and such." The village is not far from Interstate 95 and growth at Fort Meade.
In addition to Johnson, federal authorities also charged an alleged conspirator, Bryan Alexander Mays, 24, of the 8300 block of Chestnut Farm Lane in Ellicott City, with robbery and gun counts. A third suspect, Matthew Walters, 16, of Savage, faces adult robbery and gun charges in state court.
Trials are pending; Johnson's attorney, federal public defender Gary W. Christopher, has filed a motion seeking to suppress evidence taken from the car stop in November. He claims police did not have a warrant to search the car, which means subsequent searches — in which drugs were found — were illegal. Christopher did not return requests for comment.
Court documents say that an Anne Arundel County officer stopped the black Honda because it had a noisy muffler, and that investigators recognized Johnson as wanted in connection with the robbery on Clocktower Lane. The men were charged by Howard County Police before federal authorities took two of the cases, but it is not clear in court documents which agency performed the search. A judge has not yet ruled on Christopher's motion.
The search warrant application filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore details the undercover sting in King's Contrivance. The documents say that ATF agents used an informant to purchase guns from Johnson, and that the informant received two photos of guns via text message on Nov. 3 — one of a revolver, the other a rifle.
The ATF supplied the informant with money, which the informant used to purchase a gun from Johnson at the apartment, authorities say.
There, the court documents and indictment say, Mays and Walters led the informant inside an apartment, where the informant later told agents about being pistol-whipped and robbed of cash, a cell phone, gold Nike basketball shoes, and a wallet containing $1,075.
The court documents say that Johnson's affiliation with Howard County gangs dates to 2008, when he told county police he held the rank of "Young Gangster" with the Bloods. He told police the ranking is "given to a member who has served within the gang for at least two years and has fought numerous individuals and distributed marijuana."
At that time, police also took his "Blood Book," which included "Bloods rank structure, prayers, and 'bloods talk,'" the document states.
Gardner said the Howard County police department has a small gang unit that reviews the arrests made each week, looking for possible connections. The department also has various prevention programs, mentoring children starting in late elementary school.
"We have some of our own local self-professed gang members and others who work out of the county. Wherever there's a market, they are going to be," he said. "Any jurisdiction is going to have gang membership."