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Baltimore Police Make Arrest In Killing Of Dante Barksdale

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky
Dante Barksdale poses for a portrait. On Thursday, Baltimore police officials announced an arrest in his killing.

Baltimore police have announced an arrest in the killing of prominent anti-violence activist and “the heart and soul of Baltimore” Dante “Tater” Barksdale, which rocked the city last January.

Police said they arrested Garrick L. Powell Jr., 28 on the 400 block of N Ellwood Ave in East Baltimore early Thursday morning. They declined to provide a motive, citing ongoing investigations, but said at a news conference that the killing did not appear to be random.

“Earlier this year, Dante Barksdale – the heart and soul of Baltimore – became a victim of the very gun violence he was determined to prevent. But thanks to the diligent work of the Baltimore Police Department, a suspect in Dante’s murder has now been apprehended,” Mayor Brandon Scott said at the news conference.

Barksdale died after being shot on Jan. 17 outside the Douglass Homes housing project. The Safe Street leader’s death sent resounding waves of shock and grief through Baltimore and beyond; the announcement of Powell’s arrest is the first update investigators have provided since they pledged to find who was responsible for the killing on the day it happened.

Shantay Jackson, the Director of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement, said she was not aware of any connection between Powell and Safe Streets, a city program that hires community members to resolve conflicts. Scott said investigators are not aware of any relationship between Powell and Barksdale.

“Dante’s murder was a blow to Baltimore and the ongoing work of violence prevention. The identification of a suspect in Dante’s murder leaves MONSE and the Safe Streets family with mixed feelings: sadness about the conditions that result in conflicts leading to murder, and relief that old wounds can finally heal,” she said. “We must continue to approach public safety through a public health lens and help young people find emotionally and behaviorally safe ways to address conflict.”

Police officials said they charged Powell based on multiple streams of evidence, including forensic data, interviews, video and partnerships with federal agencies including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the FBI.

“Dante embodied a message of redemption and peace, and used his own experience as a living testimony for young people to resolve conflicts without resorting to violence,” Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said in a statement. “I look forward to working with the State’s Attorney Office to ensure justice is served, and I remain committed to partnering with Mayor Scott and all of our communities to tackle gun violence in Baltimore.”

Powell is not a stranger to the criminal justice system: he was awaiting trial on unrelated gun charges issued in February in Anne Arundel County. Records show he was searched during a traffic stop in Brooklyn Park; county police said he carried two 9 mm handguns, marijuana, heroin and fentanyl, as well as about $4,500 in cash. After his arrest, he was released without bail.

In 2015, Powell received a sentence of 15 years in prison with four of those years suspended after being convicted for the intimidation of a juror or witness. In 2017, he was sentenced to 11 years in prison for a probation violation, after Baltimore County police said he was found carrying cocaine during a search. Powell was freed last year, after the Court of Special Appeals overturned his sentence — judges said state prosecutors failed to call a drug chemist as a witness for the cocaine.

The Baltimore Sunreported that Powell was charged and cleared of murder in 2013. In 2012, he was charged with first-degree murder and the charges were either dropped or he was found not guilty, the newspaper reported.

Scott said Powell’s lengthy history of police interactions demonstrates the need for coordination between local governments.

“We have to get everyone at the table... because we cannot consistently have folks who clearly should not have been out on the streets, out on the streets,” he said. “We have to make sure that the systems are talking so that families aren't going through this.”

Friends and colleagues of Barksdale also spoke at the press conference, remembering a beloved activist who grew up in Baltimore at the height of Zero Tolerance, served time in prison and used his turbulent life experience to fuel his desire and efforts to engage with communities and settle conflicts without violence.

Barksdale was persistently in neighborhoods where “most people won't go” to reach young people, the mayor said.

“Like all of us, he was far from perfect,” Scott said. “But he was called for a perfect mission for his life, and his mission was to eradicate the harsh legacy of violence that has plagued our city for generations.”

Erricka Bridgeford, an anti-violence activist and co-founder of Baltimore Ceasefire 365, called the news of Powell’s arrest a relief.

“While it is a relief and a sense of justice when somebody goes to trial for murdering your person, It is also a very grueling process to go to court,” she said. His family “is going to need us more than ever.”

“Tater said, ‘There is a triumph in every tragedy,’” she said. “And so while this is a tragedy… we still have to do something with that pain as well. And so I'm also just sending love and encouragement and uplifting the city right now, to use this tragedy and find the triumph and find the joy in it.”

Emily Sullivan is a city hall reporter at WYPR, where she covers all things Baltimore politics. She joined WYPR after reporting for NPR’s national airwaves. There, she was a reporter for NPR’s news desk, business desk and presidential conflicts of interest team. Sullivan won a national Edward R. Murrow Award for an investigation into a Trump golf course's finances alongside members of the Embedded team. She has also won awards from the Chesapeake Associated Press Broadcasters Association for her use of sound and feature stories. She has provided news analysis on 1A, The Takeaway, Here & Now and All Things Considered.