BALTIMORE—Crime witnesses in this drug-plagued city are going into hiding—not only from the criminals, but from the police and the courts.
Afraid that drug dealers will kill them if they take the stand, an alarming number of witnesses in Baltimore are dropping out of sight, forcing authorities to find them, haul them into court and jail them in some cases to get them to testify.
Some witnesses lose their nerve after receiving threatening notes, phone calls, visits or dirty looks. Others get the message from seeing what has happened to other people who testified.
“It’s a sad state of affairs,” said Baltimore State’s Attorney Patricia Jessamy.
Witness intimidation is a problem across the country, but Jessamy said it has become a “public safety crisis” in Baltimore, where murderous drug gangs that hold entire neighborhoods in fear have carried out spectacular acts of retaliation, including killings, shootings, beatings and firebombings.
Prosecutors in Baltimore estimate that 35 percent to 50 percent of non-fatal shooting cases in the city cannot proceed because of reluctant witnesses, and about 90 percent of all homicide cases involve some manner of witness intimidation.