So, the ATF today engaged in a gun battle with people who were planning to break in to a non-existent house owned by a non-existent drug dealer to steal non-existent drugs.
The suspects had gathered under the Jones Falls Expressway in Hampden around lunchtime with the intention of committing a robbery, authorities said. But as federal agents closed in, one suspect attempted to run down an officer and was shot as a quick-response team threw stun grenades to disorient the others.
The sting Thursday that led to six arrests was one in a series of area operations by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that have used robbery ruses to take suspects into custody just moments before they allegedly planned to strike. Two of the three recent incidents have erupted in gunfire.
In similar cases, suspects have met federal informants at Penn Station and a Baltimore YMCA to discuss home invasion holdups, according to court records. The supposed targets were Latin American drug cartels. The take was to be kilogram quantities of cocaine.
The ATF won’t discuss such cases in detail because of their sensitive nature. The tactics echo those used by federal agencies to catch would-be terrorists, including a Woodlawn man who met with undercover FBI agents and took what he thought was a bomb to an Army recruiting center.
One defense attorney says they “smack of entrapment.”
“Case law really favors the government,” said Gerald C. Ruter, a defense attorney and former prosecutor representing a man charged in one of the recent ATF stings. “What you find is the government concocting a drug dealer who doesn’t exist, who possess cocaine that doesn’t exist, and recruit people for a robbery, which isn’t going to happen. All they want is the participants to say is, ‘Oh yeah, we’ll do that.'”
ATF officials said those charged have demonstrated the willingness and the means to commit violent crimes, and said the agency takes steps to protect the public from harm.
Protecting the public from harm with gun battles to stop people from robbing pretend houses. Thank goodness. If the ATF has run out of legitimate things to do, Congress should defund the agency.