Department of Justice
For Immediate Release
Man Admits to Arson, Looting, Assault and Other Mayhem During Baltimore Riots and Shooting Woman Over a $20 Drug Dispute Ten Weeks Later
While Detained, Defendant Sought False Affidavit from Shooting Victim; “This is the Reality Confronting Brave Police Officers Who Try to Save Lives in Baltimore”
Baltimore, Maryland –Donta Betts, age 20, of Baltimore, pleaded guilty today to making a destructive device in connection with the April 27, 2015, riots in Baltimore. Betts also pleaded guilty in an unrelated case to discharge of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime on July 2, 2015.
The guilty plea was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein; Special Agent in Charge William P. McMullan of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives - Baltimore Field Division; Commissioner Kevin Davis of the Baltimore Police Department; and Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby.
“This is the sad reality confronting brave police officers who try to save lives in Baltimore,” said U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein. “Donta Betts engaged in arson, looting, assault and other mayhem during the Baltimore riots. He threw rocks at the police near Mondawmin Mall; tried to destroy police cars; stole from a pharmacy, a liquor store and a shoe store; and set off a homemade bomb. Ten weeks later, he tried to murder a woman over a $20 drug dispute, then he conspired to get her to sign a false affidavit. We caught him only because police and prosecutors spent many hours reviewing video and audio recordings. It may sound like a story arc from a TV series, but it is real life in Baltimore.”
On April 27, 2015, riots and widespread looting erupted in Baltimore. Among the affected businesses, the CVS Pharmacy located at 2509 Pennsylvania Avenue in Baltimore was looted and burned. According to his plea agreement, Betts participated in the looting at the CVS. Betts is captured on surveillance video entering the store through its main front entrance and removing merchandise from the store.
By 5:44 p.m., riot participants had placed an assemblage of metal propane cylinders and charcoal briquettes near the main entrance to CVS, between West North Avenue and a line of police officers that had formed across the 2500 block of Pennsylvania Avenue. In an effort to deter the line of police officers from advancing to stop the looting of the CVS, Betts set fire to a roll of toilet paper and placed it on top of the propane cylinders and charcoal briquettes. Betts then squirted lighter fluid onto the burning roll of toilet paper atop the incendiary materials. Betts’ face and full body are shown squirting lighter fluid onto the incendiary materials in still photographs, some of which were published by local and national news media. Betts then fled, and at approximately 5:58 p.m., a large flame exploded from the improvised incendiary device, resulting in flying debris of large metal fragments from the propane cylinders and blast effects felt by nearby bystanders.
During the investigation, ATF learned that in addition to making the incendiary device, the scope of Betts’ participation in the April 27th riots included: throwing objects at police in the vicinity of Mondawmin Mall; attempting to tip over MTA and police vehicles while encouraging others to join him; attempting to destroy a police cruiser by placing flammable material in the fuel filler pipe and igniting the material; and stealing from the CVS, a liquor store in Baltimore, and a shoe store at Mondawmin Mall. Betts’ involvement in the riots is documented in surveillance footage and still photographs.
In an unrelated case, on July 2, 2015, Betts shot and attempted to kill an individual who had previously purchased heroin from him. According to the plea agreement, Betts expected to be paid $40 for the heroin, but the individual only paid him about $20. On the morning of July 2, 2015, Betts saw the individual in the driver’s seat of a vehicle with a passenger in southwest Baltimore. Betts approached the vehicle with a gun in his hand and shot at the individual, intending to kill the victim in retaliation for having been cheated in the prior drug transaction. The victim managed to drive away and was treated at the Shock Trauma Center at University of Maryland Hospital for severe injuries to her left leg. Betts was arrested for the shooting on July 7, 2015 and charged in state court with attempted first degree murder and other offenses, and detained.
On July 18 and July 19, 2015, while he was detained, Betts made calls to a friend. During the call on July 19, which was recorded by the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, Betts provided the name of the shooting victim and asked his friend to relay that information to associates of Betts and to instruct them to obtain a signed affidavit from the victim stating that Betts did not shoot her. During the same call, Betts admitted that he did shoot the victim.
Betts and the government have agreed that if the Court accepts the plea agreement Betts will be sentenced to between 14 and 16 years in prison. U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz has scheduled sentencing for June 24, 2016 at 10:00 a.m. Betts remains detained.
The investigation into arsons that occurred on April 27, 2015, is continuing. Anyone with information is urged to call the ATF hotline, 1-888-ATF-FIRE (1-888-283-3473). ATF continues to offer a reward of up to $10,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of any individual responsible for these incidents.
Federal prosecutors previously have charged four other defendants for arson crimes committed during the Baltimore riots on April 27, 2015. Trevon Green, age 23, of Baltimore, is charged with malicious destruction of property by fire, for allegedly setting fire to a food store on North Monroe Street. Gregory Lee Butler, Jr., a/k/a Greg Baly, age 22, of Baltimore, faces federal charges for obstruction of firefighters during a civil disorder and for aiding and abetting arson. Darius Raymond Stewart, age 22, of Baltimore, is charged with malicious destruction of a commercial building for allegedly setting fire to a liquor store on West North Avenue. Raymon Carter, age 25, of Baltimore, Maryland, pleaded guilty to the federal crime of rioting, including the arson of the CVS Pharmacy on April 27, 2015, and was sentenced to four years in prison and ordered to pay restitution of $500,000.
United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein praised the ATF, Baltimore Police Department, and Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office for their work in the investigation and prosecution. Mr. Rosenstein thanked Assistant United States Attorneys Matthew J. Maddox and Sandra Wilkinson, who are prosecuting the case.