26 charged in Cherry Hill gang indictments

Over the course of three days in Cherry Hill in January 2011, a former standout high school basketball player was fatally shot and a youth football coach was murdered in front of his family.

Those shootings and at least three others in the South Baltimore neighborhood were not disparate incidents, authorities alleged Tuesday, but part of a gang war.

Prosecutors along with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and Baltimore police said 26 people have been indicted on racketeering charges after an investigation into the feuding between Cherry Hill gangs called "Up Da Hill" and groups known as "Little Spelman" and "Coppin Court."

The gangs have historical ties to the area, which is bounded by water and railroad tracks and is home to the city's largest public housing development. Prosecutors alleged that UDH has been around since 1997, while Little Spelman, named for a street in the neighborhood, dates to at least 2003. Their respective turfs intersect at Round and Bridgeview roads.

As recently as 2006, the neighborhood saw more than 35 shootings, a number that has fallen to 11 this year. Yet violence continues to make an impact: In May, a 1-year-old child, Carter Scott, was fatally shot in a failed attempt to kill his father. A 9-year-old boy was also shot in September.

U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein noted that there are a handful of elementary and middle schools in the areas controlled by the groups, who are not accused of being behind the shootings of the two youths.

"What happens in the neighborhoods around those schools influences the fate of those children," he said.

Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts said the Cherry Hill case was the latest in a string of large-scale investigations that have rounded up entire crews in troubled neighborhoods. He said police have seen subsequent drops in crime in those areas.

"Whether it's Cherry Hill, Oliver, [or] Gilmor Homes, we will not stop until we bring them to justice," Batts said.

Rosenstein quoted a Facebook post by a UDH member from earlier this year that read, "They say ur nobody until somebody kills u but where im from ur nobody til u kill somebody." It's a lyric from a Lil Wayne rap song, but was accompanied by other posts glorifying shootings and violence, prosecutors said.

"We can't allow that to be the motto of Cherry Hill," he said. "Killing and being killed is not what it is to be someone."

"Our message to criminals not arrested should be clear: Stop the violence, drop the guns, or be prepared to spend your life as a nobody in a concrete cell in a federal prison far from home."

Tuesday's indictment does not say what began the gang feud, but alleges that it led to a series of retaliatory shootings.

On Jan. 20, 2011, former Northwestern High School basketball standout Rhidel Price, 21, was fatally shot in the 2900 block of South Denham Circle as he got out of a vehicle.

Two days later, Harry Hicks, 29, was shot in the 400 block of Swale Ave. in front of his wife and children. He was well known in the area as a youth football coach.

But prosecutors now say Price was an Up Da Hill member who was allegedly murdered by Little Spelman member Davon "Black" Martin, and Hicks was a Little Spelman member who was killed by UDH member Steven "Cutty" Jackson, 23.

Byron Rodgers, a friend and classmate of Price, said Price had been well-liked among his classmates and got good grades. Attempts to reach Hicks' relatives by phone Tuesday were not successful.

Martin is also accused of the April 9, 2011, killing of Dwight Taylor, who prosecutors say was a UDH "associate." Taylor was fatally shot inside the Focal Point barber shop while waiting to get his hair cut. Court records show Martin was charged in that case last August and was awaiting trial; his attorney, Janice Bledsoe, declined to comment.

Rosenstein said two other killings were related to the feud: the August 2011 killing of Dewayne Jones, 23, in the 2800 block of Round Road, and the murder of Dominic Hope, 32, in January 2012. Officials wrote in court papers that Hope, who was gunned down in a barber shop in West Baltimore, was the primary drug supplier and leader of Little Spelman, and Hicks and others had assisted him in drug dealing.

Alleged UDH members Asim Benns and Clarence Shipley are also charged with robbing two branches of the Chesapeake Bank of Maryland in the summer of 2011.

jfenton@baltsun.com