Residents of Olde Towne West knew them as kind-hearted neighbors — the kind of people who might fix your car if you were in need or share a laugh while passing in the hall. But 11 members of a grand jury knew much more about the cast of characters who roamed the halls of the mid-rise unit in Alexandria’s Southside neighborhood. According to indictments unsealed last week, four Alexandria residents and one Maryland man were part of a conspiracy to distribute cocaine from this neighborhood of subsidized housing units west of South Washington Street. During a nighttime raid last Friday, police officials executed arrest warrants for five individuals — and they are looking for four more individuals in connection with the conspiracy.
"I was surprised by this, and I have to admit that I would have never known this was going on here," said Olde Towne West resident Geri Baldwin, who knew several of the individuals arrested. "I hope they are able to get their lives together."
Members of the grand jury met on six different occasions since May, hearing testimony from more than 20 different witnesses. Instead of relying on voluntary cooperation from informants, prosecutors were able to subpoena witnesses to appear at the courthouse and testify under oath. Failing to cooperate with the investigation could have created legal jeopardy for those called to testify, a circumstance that prosecutors said allowed them to collect much more evidence than they would have otherwise been able to gather during a standard police investigation.
"This is a new way of attacking crime in Alexandria," said Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter. "We have not used grand juries in this fashion before."
THE NINE-MONTH investigation unveiled an interrelated web of individuals who were allegedly using three different residences as a location for consuming and distributing crack and powder cocaine. Two of the residences were in the low-rise apartment complex in the 400 block of South Columbus Street and the other was in the 600 block of South Henry Street. Prosecutors said that the investigation was launched in February, when a series of investigations in the neighborhood indicated that a pattern of drug trafficking was emerging in the Southside neighborhood. It was later expanded in May, when the commonwealth’s attorney requested the use of a special grand jury.
"Conducting an investigation this way allowed us to subpoena people who would not necessarily been cooperative otherwise," said Commonwealth’s Attorney S. Randolph Sengel. "In this situation, we were able to bring in people with some familiarity of what was going on."
All five individuals were charged with a conspiracy to distribute cocaine, a charge that requires prosecutors to prove that they made an arrangement to distribute and had acted to carry out that plan. For members of the grand jury, the only standard was the probability that the charges were true. But Sengel said that, as a matter of policy, his office would not bring charges before a grand jury unless he was confident that he knew prosecutors could prove the allegations in a court of law.
"We believe that we have investigated the case as thoroughly as possible, and we obviously believe in the merits of the case," said Porter, who conducted much of the grand jury testimony. "None of these individuals could really be considered at the center of the conspiracy because they are all equally culpable."
THE FIVE PEOPLE arrested last week were: Daniel Davis Jr., 59, of Alexandria, who was charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine, keeping a residence for the purpose of using or selling narcotics and perjury during the a grand jury hearing; Valice Harris, 49, of Alexandria, who was charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine and keeping a residence for the purpose of using or selling narcotics; Tony Mann, 46, of Alexandria, who was charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine; Robert Chew, 23, of Prince George’s County, Md., who was charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine and three counts of distribution while on probation for a previous drug-dealing case in Alexandria; and Henry McEntyre, 57, of Alexandria, who was charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine and keeping a residence for the purpose of using or selling narcotics.
"This is not an endemic problem in the Southside neighborhood," said Porter. "We launched this investigation in response to multiple citizen complaints in a focused attempt to address the problem."