Law-enforcement tactics questioned in Baltimore BGF case involving armed-robbery sting
Last April, when Greyling Chase and Rodney Ellis were charged for the attempted armed robbery of a drug dealer in a sting operation set up by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the charging documents made clear the men both “are high-ranking and long-standing members” of the Black Guerrilla Family (BGF) prison gang, which law enforcers have been cracking down on, both in prisons and in the streets, for several years now. What was not mentioned was that the DEA’s “confidential source” used to set up the sting, dubbed “CS-6” in the court documents, was also a BGF member. That information came out only in late-stage pleadings in the case, after government evidence had been shared with the defense. And that information, as defense motions point out, was critical.
In building the case against Chase and Ellis, the DEA used “a known BGF member to target and induce other alleged BGF members to commit the contrived crimes,” Chase’s attorney, Jonathan Van Hoven, argued in an April 18 filing. As the DEA agents knew, BGF members “have taken an oath that can be reasonably construed as an obligation to assist other members who make requests of them, and that the penalty for refusing to do so can be fatal if presented by someone (like the paid informant here) who has a well-known violent criminal history.” Thus, Van Hoven continued, “the government purposely launched a sting operation with an element of coercion and duress built right into the formula. Such a tactic cannot pass muster under the due process protections afforded by the Constitution.”
It’s a compelling argument, that it’s hardly fair to have a gang-member informant ask a fellow gang-member to do something that, should he refuse, could reasonably result in him getting whacked. So of course Chase—a 54-year-old whose last conviction was for drug possession in 2012, and before that, for burglary in 2005, neither of which suggest he’s a career armed robber—accepted the offer. Now he’s going to suffer serious consequences.
Chase pleaded guilty to participating in an armed-robbery conspiracy on April 28, so his pending motions before U.S. District judge William Quarles won’t be ruled on. He’s facing maximum penalties of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Ellis, meanwhile, pleaded guilty in early April to a drug-dealing conspiracy charge, carrying a maximum 40-year prison sentence and $5 million fine. The factual statements in their pleas make no mention of the BGF – though that context, as the evidence brought forth in pleadings shows, was a fundamental factor in prompting them to agree to take on the criminal tasks they agreed to do.
It’s worth noting that the BGF’s origins in California in the 1960s were as a political movement among inmates, not as a criminal gang committing crimes in the streets. Clearly, in Maryland at least, the BGF has been proven to be primarily a fearsome criminal enterprise. Perhaps, though, not all of its high-ranking, long-standing members are predisposed to commit crimes, and instead are primarily drawn to the BGF as a political force. Perhaps, then, the government could use greater care in picking their BGF sting-operation targets than they did in this case, in which it appears Chase and Ellis only set out to commit a crime because a fellow, violent BGF member asked them to, so they felt they couldn’t refuse.