Fight or Flight: Anthony Harris has two weeks to turn himself in before spending the next 15 years in prison

Today is the day.

Outside Baltimore County Circuit Court on Friday, May 13, the morning is heavy with mist and the sound of visitors' shoes smacking against the puddled steps echoes in the courtyard.

Two years after being arrested for drug distribution and weapons charges, Anthony Lamont Harris, 42, referred to as the leader of Pigtown's "Cleveland/Bayard Crew" by the Baltimore Police Department, is due to turn himself in for sentencing. Harris has pleaded guilty to selling heroin and drug trafficking with a firearm—two of the most serious of the 21 charges he faced. Out on a half-million dollar bond, Harris should be following others up the stairs and through security.

Arrested on May 20, 2014, and charged with 21 counts of felony and misdemeanor charges, Harris faced 252.5 years in prison. In exchange for his guilty plea, he agreed to serve 15 years.

But 9 a.m. arrives, the time Harris and the court agreed that he would turn himself in. The courtyard quiets as almost everyone has entered the building. Harris is nowhere to be seen. 9:05 a.m… 9:10 a.m.... and he is still missing.

Fifteen days earlier, Harris sat in a Loch Raven Burger King and weighed his options—including the option to run. "Of course I feel tempted," he said. "The urge gets big every day….I don't know."

 

April 28, 2016, 2 p.m.

It's raining and cool on this afternoon, as Harris considers running. Sitting in a rear booth at a Burger King on Taylor Avenue, clad in a white T-shirt and blue jeans, he opens a file folder. The table is soon littered in paperwork. In these two weeks before he's supposed to turn himself in, he is getting his affairs in order, putting things in mini-storage, spending time with loved ones.

"They gave me pretty much 60 days to turn myself in," Harris says. "I guess they call they self doing me a favor." Muzak plays, an older couple in a nearby booth talks, customers come and go—but Harris ignores it all; he has a lot on his mind.

Gripping a fat tan folder with an array of legal documents, Harris flips through the papers and says he is particularly disturbed by the manner he was caught. He insists the search warrant police got for his home was illegally obtained and he focuses on this issue, returning to it again and again. This technicality is what he clings to, what he hopes will get him off, and he prefers to talk about that—not the indisputable facts of the case.

"This is a bullshit-ass case. And that's why I am bitter. I'm going to jail for 15 years 'cause a motherfucker lied."

He admits he's "no angel." He doesn't deny that he's a drug dealer. When Baltimore County police got a warrant and searched his Woodlawn apartment on May 20, 2014, they discovered numerous weapons including a Thompson Machine gun with a loaded "high caliber" drum magazine, a .357 Magnum revolver, a High Point 995 9 mm assault rifle, a Remington 870 shotgun, a Glock 21, two 30-round rifle magazines with ammunition, and an ammo box with two magazines. The police also found bulletproof body armor and drugs. There were thousands of dollars worth of heroin and cocaine along with processing equipment and nearly $2,000 in cash.

Harris made a lot of money, $500,000 some years, according to court documents. He also had a day job. He was a 10-year employee of the Baltimore City Bureau of Water and Wastewater until his arrest in 2014. A graduate of Baltimore City College High School, he went on to serve in the army. He was honorably discharged and went to college to earn an associate's degree in criminal justice.

Growing up, his parents gave him a good life, he says. Harris' mother worked in a factory and his father was a city housing inspector. "I had both my parents in the household," he says. "I never went to sleep hungry. I lived in a house."

Harris was 12 or 13 when he first started selling heroin. "I don't remember the actual [first customer], but I remember jumping off the porch, though. I seen my cousins, 14, 15 with cars. That's what I wanted. Plus, I didn't really want to be a burden to my parents and stuff like that. I feel like, if I make my own money they could do stuff with their own money."

His parents were oblivious to his lifestyle. "Back then they would have killed me," Harris says. He thought he was invincible. "I [could] run from the police. If they do catch me, I'm not worried about the police, I'm worried about my parents!" Harris laughs.

"I got caught in the lifestyle early," he says, putting his palm on the table to straighten his stocky frame—he is 6-foot-1, 250 pounds—in the compact Burger King booth. "At 14 if you see your cousins and homeboys driving expensive whips and you think you can just jump out here and make two- or three-thousand dollars a day just having fun."

Harris doesn't want to talk about the details of his dealing life—but he goes there, reluctantly.

Friends brought him into this lifestyle, he says, but violence has claimed many of them over the years. "I lost plenty. Plenty," he says. "You be hurt but again, at the end of the day, that's what we signed up for. Regardless of bloodshed or whatever the case may be. Do you want retribution and if you can get retribution, you can take it out."

He also doesn't want to talk about revenge killings. "Mmmm, we ain't talking about all that. But at the end of the day the streets take care of the streets."

But that can backfire. Harris says that he was set up to be killed a couple of years ago.

"There was a guy I was dealing with. I was going to meet him. We was in the alley. A guy jump behind a dumpster. Told me to give it up. I start running. He started shooting. So basically that was it. I had my suspicions who it was."

He believes before choosing the life he has chosen, a few things should be understood. "It's not fun."

If he had it to do over, would he make the same decisions? "Probably so," he says. "You going to have to do what you gotta do to survive…I know a few of my guys that's dead." Harris pauses, thinking, looking out the window at the downpour. "If another shark know that you is a prey, what they going to do? Eat you. To my point, if you ain't ready to have blood on your hands, you ain't ready to defend yourself. Or you not really about that life, don't even come down them steps."

Harris says he was armed "from the get go." He likes guns. "What was my first gun? Probably like a .380. Yeah, I was a little kid."

He says that he purchases and carries guns for protection, but has developed a fascination with them. "If a gun comes through, I'm buying it. Flat out. Some people buy belts. I bought guns."

"I already knew what I signed up for. If somebody know I'm getting money, I'm a target. That's the reality of it. Whoever. If I'm doing good and they not doing good, they want a piece of my pie.

"The streets talk. People talk. People know what you doing. If you come in my neighborhood, I know what you doing. There's going to be speculation about how much money you making what you doing or what you have done."

Harris saves us from speculation.

"Pshh…" He pauses and looks through the partly foggy restaurant window. "A lot. It comes and goes. Some years you can make $500,000. Another year you can make a million."

Although he has spent many thousands on cars and even treated himself to a $40,000 Rolex watch, Harris says it's not like it was all profit. He had a business to run.

"I put people in houses. You have to buy supplies. You still got to pay bills, you still got to pay people, you still got to pay rent."

"I'm not no flashy person," he says. "I might do something that cost a couple of dollars but I never been boastin' or braggin' about what I'm doing outside. My thing is making sure my kids good and got a roof."

 

May 2, 12 p.m.

Harris' roof is an apartment in Gwynn Oak in the county, but his drug business, according to police, is run out of Pigtown.

He stands on the corner of Pigtown's Cleveland and Bayard streets, looking down the blocks and brooding, again, over the search warrant police executed back in May 2014. He points out that police, who say they saw him from this very spot, could not possibly have seen him from this very spot. He also says police saw his Acura, from which they say he was dealing, in this area on a particular day. He denies being in that area on that day. He complains that the lawyer he hired—at great expense, he says—did a poor job of challenging the warrant. He also alleges that an anonymous informant police say they relied on doesn't really exist; he says police just invented this person. Further, he complains that five other low-level dealers named in the warrant were never arrested; he was the only one arrested and charged.

Harris goes around and around with this, focusing on the warrant and technicalities he hopes will get him off. "I just want to shed a light on this," he says. "So they got to give me a new trial."

He sees his work and the police force as playing a game with a set of rules that everyone is supposed to follow. To his mind, the police cheated when they executed a search warrant obtained by "lies." Harris vacillates between acknowledging what he was doing was illegal and being indignant that he was caught in what he believes was an underhanded way—and is most worried about how this will impact his family. "Y'all already cost me my job. You done put my kids in poverty for damn near two to three years or plus. So I'm bitter."

He says he is being persecuted by the cops. "Even when you try to go the right way about it, they still look at the black man, look at you as ignorant. We deal with straight bias every day out here so there's no hope."

Even though Harris grew up in a house where both parents had jobs, he says, he also grew up surrounded by family and friends who were dealing. And many of those he knew had few choices—dead end, minimum-wage jobs or fast money. "Talking 'bout McDonald's and Burger King… Who going to work and take crap from somebody for minimum wage?" he asks. "I really respect them the most to go in there and put a McDonald's uniform on and a Burger King uniform on to take some crap from a person because that person feel like you need that job. I don't care what you do, mopping floors or a CEO. Everyone deserves the same respect."

And respect matters. As he walks down Bayard Street, people stop him, talk to him, give him dap. He sees himself as doing good for people in the neighborhood, providing jobs and an income. He says people depend on him, his family and the people he employs. Whereas the city, he says, can't be depended on. "No improvement, no community policing, no recs, no nothing. So you tell me, what hope do black people have? None. None."

 

May 11, 7:30 p.m.

Da'Mont Harris, 19, steps out of the passenger side of Anthony Harris' champagne-colored Acura into the Pigtown dusk. Like his father, Da'Mont is over six feet tall. Dressed in a red zippered hoodie, an orange, yellow, and silver construction vest, blue jeans, and Timberland work boots, Da'Mont is the oldest of Harris' seven children. A graduate of Carver Vo-Tech, he now works in construction.

"It really ain't hit me yet," Da'Mont says, referring to his dad going to prison. "I'm going to be on my own basically. It's a great time to start manning up now….Crying about it ain't going to change nothing."

Harris has just picked him up from a long day of work and Da'Mont is tired, scanning the block as he thinks about his relationship with his dad. "Me and my father got a very close bond since I was a baby," he says. "[Now] he not going to be there for the times I really need him or when my little sisters or anybody need him."

He thought his father would always be there to give him guidance. "Growing up as a black male, he can tell me about the streets."

And his father has, often using his own life as an example of what not to do. Harris says he has always been pretty frank with Da'Mont. "It's a learning experience for him. They don't give a fuck about no black men. He been to court with me the whole way." Harris hopes Da'Mont will choose a different path. "I don't want him to hustle."

He's proud of his son. "My son [is a] cool dude. I learn a lot from him. For him, when he first touched down or was born, he made me reevaluate my whole life. He made me be responsible."

Harris hopes his son will bypass the ugly things he's done in his life and emulate his better habits. "I read," Harris says. "I read everything. I don't close my mind to anything. I tell all my kids, open your mind up to everything, read everything. Don't be close-minded to just looking at tennis shoes and fashion. See the world. Get a passport. Get out of Baltimore. Go overseas and see some blue water where you can see your toes."

Da'Mont rejects the idea of selling drugs himself. "Naw, I'm a working man. He put that in my head since I was little."

Harris regrets some aspects of his lifestyle. "I'm just ashamed. I really wasn't too much a good role model towards my son." He gazes into the distance; a few cars drive by, some pedestrians amble along, a dog barks. As much as possible, Harris tried to shield his younger kids from his work, but that was harder with Da'Mont, his oldest. "I hustled. He knew dad getting money. Different vehicles. This, that, and the other. Once he got older he asked me the questions and I told him."

The two had their rituals. "We made like a promise to each other," says Da'Mont. "We always spend the Super Bowl no matter what happen, we always watch the Super Bowl together."

"It's affecting my son and other kids," Harris says, worrying about being in prison and away from his children as they grow up. Fifteen years is a long time. "You can't get back no time. No money can't get back, Super Bowl with him, my daughter birthday, Christmas, whatever. Going over the homework. Like yesterday we was down in Annapolis at my daughter's art show."

He's done his best for Da'Mont and his other kids, he says, and has tried to develop a relationship with them. He never had that. "Me and my father don't really have no relationship, but it is what it is," Harris says.

"I'm not going to sit up here and put the blame on my father. Could I wish we had a better relationship? Yes. Do I wish that he had showed me and talked to me on certain issues?" Selling drugs, womanizing—there are things he might have done differently. "Yes, I probably wouldn't have had this many kids or chose the path that I chose. But do I regret it? No."

Things are hard in the city, Harris says, and people have the right to be content and have their basic needs met. "You want to go home to your comfortable bed. You want to come home with your lights on. You want to have options. If you don't have options, you going to do what you have to do. Period. I been blessed to get my baby mothers a house where my kids don't have to share no room. I ain't going to say all black people don't have options but they making it tough."

When he thinks about going away for the next 15 years, his sorrow at missing his kids growing up quickly turns to anger at the police. "You got a seven- and a 9-year-old saying 'Daddy, you going to be home for Christmas?' My daughter having a hard time, she gotta go to therapy. She's nine. She can't sleep. She grasp it because her father ain't going to be around. I don't care what you do to me. When that shit affects my kids, we got a problem." His tone shifts from his typically mild voice to an edgy anger. "Like me and this lawyer really got a problem," he says, referring to his first attorney, who he feels represented him poorly in court. Then he turns his sites on the cops. "Me and this police, both of them, the sergeant too, we got a problem. The justice system, we have a problem. That's why I say fuck this court system. Fuck the police. Y'all can put me on record for saying that shit. Once you start affecting my kids, no."

And then he pulls back the lens. It's not just about him and his family, it's about the state of the city. "How many Freddie Grays have there been in Baltimore? How many times have I seen the police smack the shit out a person just because they can and now we got to prove they did something to us? How many?"

 

May 12, 7 p.m.

The light fades on this Thursday evening in Milford Mill as Harris stands in the front yard of a townhouse with three of his children. Though his seven kids have six different moms, they all seem to get along and see each other frequently. Harris has made an effort to move many of his kids and their respective mothers to the county; he says it's safer there, far from the streets of Baltimore. He would know that better than anyone else.

The air here is cool as Kayla, 15, Anthony, 17, and Aniya, 9, talk out front. Kayla has hair that reaches the middle of the plaid button up she wears. Her bright yellow nails go in and out of her hair as she twists the ends.

Harris is seeing the children for the last time before he is supposed to turn himself in. They have chosen to ignore the circumstances behind their father's prison sentence; no one wants to talk about it, no one wants to talk about why he is going away.

"We kind of know," Kayla says.

"Kind of," Anthony repeats.

"We young, so we don't really want to be a part of that grown up situation," Kayla says. "We are like, our dad is going to jail, let's not get into detail about it."

"He always been there," Anthony says, arms crossed, looking at his dad, who is watching Aniya, his nine-year-old daughter, jump up and down the steps.

What will they miss?

"Just a good morning text….Him calling out the blue. He talks to us every day," Kayla says. She and Anthony both smile and look at each other, saying in unison "everyday."

"I told him about my boyfriend the other day," Kayla says. "He was like, 'Wow, you movin up there!'"

Anthony, who will be attending his senior prom the next day, as his father turns himself in, hustles into the house to grab the shoes he is wearing to the dance. He returns with a shoe box of Steve Madden black suede loafers completely decorated in metal studs.

"Really, that sparkly?" Harris says, staring at the shoes.

"Right! That's what I said," Kayla agrees.

"You might need some sunglasses with those!" Harris says. The kids burst into laughter. Anthony hands his father the box but Harris rejects it. "I don't want to get blinded by them damn shoes!" he says. "OK, Dorothy, you going to Kansas?"

Anthony laughs. He's unbothered; he thinks the shoes are fly.

Harris wishes he could be there to see Anthony dressed in his tux and sparkling shoes. "To be truthful, you can't really do too much for them inside," Harris says. "What are the options? Pen, paper, telephone. That's it. I wouldn't like them to come see me but if they want to, that's on them. I don't want to put them in that predicament of them seeing me in a cage. But they can use me as a lesson where they don't want to be up at."

Kayla says she is going to visit him and they can write letters to each other.

Aniya, still jumping up and down the steps, is listening but not participating. "You going to talk to your sister?" Harris asks her, changing the subject. "You going to give her a hug, since you want to be a frog?"

"I did give her a hug!" Aniya says, smiling—and then hugs Harris instead.

Anthony and Kayla join in for a group hug. They all smile. "One of y'all needs some peppermints," Harris says. Harris hugs Anthony, pulls away, looking him in the eyes as he returns to tomorrow's prom. "Have fun," he says.

Harris climbs back in the Acura for the 15-minute drive to Owings Mills where his youngest child, a toddler named Logan, lives with her mother.

Logan, who will turn 17 when Harris is released from prison, reaches to be picked up. He lifts her up and kisses her cheek, which produces a smile.

Harris stands holding Logan close to his chest in one arm, tilting his head toward her. He speaks some of his last words to a baby that will go through childhood and adolescence without him.

He kisses Logan—"I love you, bye baby"—and is back out the door.

Later that evening, he says he had been planning to quit the business, maybe retire to North Carolina or move down there and get a job as a trucker.

"I like North Carolina. It's slow, cool, the air is better. [I wanted my] kids coming down in the summer time. Once you get older you start to slow down. I don't need no mansion, I ain't into all that. I was going to start breeding dogs, to get a kennel."

This was a dream he had, to get out of the life and start over. But the dream was shot when he was arrested, pled guilty, and got 15 years. Earlier he said he might flee and take up a new life, but living underground would mean having no contact with his kids.

"I am more afraid I will miss time with my kids," he says, thinking about his son's senior prom and graduation in a few weeks. "[But] once you get caught in this web, it's hard to get out."

 

May 13, 9 a.m.

After a rush of attorneys and visitors funnel through the security check, all dressed their judicial best, the Towson courtyard grows silent.

Harris is nowhere to be seen as of 9:10 a.m.

At 9:14 a.m. Harris, dressed in a white t-shirt, gray sweatpants, and red Nikes, finally approaches from West Chesapeake Avenue with Da'Mont. They take their time. Inside, they meet Harris' teary-eyed girlfriend in the lobby and go upstairs to the third-floor courtroom where they take a seat on a hallway bench.

Harris talks briefly with his new lawyer, William R. Buie III, and then sits, silent, his feet planted on the floor, his body hunched forward, his elbows on his legs. His girlfriend, also silent, sits close, occasionally resting her arm, body, and head on Harris' back and shoulder.

They sit there for an hour and a half growing strangely annoyed at this wait, this anxious gift of more time.

Da'Mont sits on a bench across the hall and says little other than to trade predictions with his dad on the upcoming NBA final and to agree to his dad's request, would he remember to take his little sister to see the new "Captain America: Civil War"?

He would.

Moments later, they enter the courtroom where Judge Judith C. Ensor spends about 20 minutes reviewing Harris' case from the first court appearance until the present. Harris has asked for a new trial due to "ineffective assistance of counsel" in his original case. This was denied. Harris has asked that the search warrant be suppressed and the case re-tried. This was denied. Harris has asked for a hearing to invalidate the officer's request for the search warrant. This was denied.

She runs through the 21 original counts of drugs and weapons charges and reminds Harris that they add up to a 252.5-year-prison sentence. She reminds him that he pled guilty.

He thought he had some options at this final appearance—and his lawyer, Buie, tries a few Hail Mary passes—but the judge explains he has no options.

Harris' lawyer makes a final request to the judge: "There is one more side issue. His son has his prom tonight. He brought a notice from the school."

The judge rests her head in her hand, sighs, genuinely empathetic.

"He would like to stay out until Monday if possible," Buie says, "to participate with his son in regards to prom."

"I totally recognize that if you don't ask, then there is no hope." Judge Ensor says. "But it is really something for someone with a 21-count indictment filled with drugs and the threat of violence to be getting this incredibly generous sentence. No you can't go to the prom. No. No. Eventually one must serve one's sentence and this has been going on for two years. So, I'm sorry. I am. So now we are down to it."

Judge Ensor offers Harris an opportunity to speak and Harris returns to that same issue about what he contends was an illegally obtained search warrant. The judge wants none of it. "Mr. Harris, I get that you're frustrated, I really do," the judge says. "I'm not making light of it, but you pled guilty in front of me, sir. That's where we are. I'm not granting you a new trial."

"I feel the same way about the prom," she says. "I'm really sorry that you are not going to be there for that. When you have seven children, there's going to be a lot of important milestones and I'm sorry that you are going to miss some of those."

He isn't out of the courtroom—is still being shackled—when the judge moves on, calling the next case.

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