Luna concealed Justice Department,
FBI culpability in Dawson family tragedy
Posted December 27, 2004 -- In the months, days, and even
hours before he died, slain Baltimore federal prosecutor Assistant U.S.
Attorney Jonathan Luna actively engaged in concealing FBI and U.S.
Justice Department culpability in what has come to be known in Baltimore
as the Dawson arson fiasco.
Angela and Carnell Dawson, and their five children, were killed on October 16, 2002, in Baltimore, by a neighborhood heroin dealer who broke into their home early in the morning and started a gasoline fire on the stairway of the family's home, killing all inside.
The Dawson family: (Top left to bottom right): Angela, Lawanda, Juan, Kevin, Keith and Carnell Jr. Carnell Sr. is not pictured.
The Dawsons for months had been fighting a losing battle
with neighborhood heroin and crack dealers. Many of the drug dealers had prior conviction
records. In the months before they died, the Dawsons called 911 for help
at least thirty-six times, to no avail.
The incident set off national outrage at the non-responsiveness of Baltimore police. Critics cited a "revolving door" justice system which allowed the Dawsons' murderer, Darrell Brooks, back on the street despite numerous arrests and probation violations.
Unfortunately for Luna, on the same day as the Dawsons' murder, October 16, 2002, heroin was found in the SUV of paid FBI informant Warren Grace, who was working on a case nominally overseen by Luna. It was a stroke of bad luck for Luna, who had a politician's flair and instincts, superior to that of his amateurish, publicity hound boss, former Baltimore U.S. Attorney Thomas DiBiagio.
In his new book, The Midnight Ride of Jonathan Luna, Pennsylvania writer William Keisling details how the heroin incident involving the FBI informant threw Luna into cover-up mode to protect himself, the FBI and Luna's boss, (now-former) U.S. Attorney DiBiagio, from the fallout of the "atomic shock" of the Dawson fiasco.
Following the Dawson murders, hundreds of enraged citizens clamored for accountability at city meetings and neighborhood rallies across Baltimore. The brunt of the blame fell on Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley and his then-police commissioner, Ed Norris. "This is our moment of crisis," O'Malley told the Washington Post, which described the political fallout from the Dawson fiasco as an "atomic shock."
Luna's boss, U.S. Attorney DiBiagio, assumed federal jurisdiction of the Dawson-Brooks arson case and cagily positioned himself as a white knight unconnected to the "revolving door heroin dealer" scandal. Brooks was sentenced to life behind bars. "He's got another fifty to sixty years to think about what he did every day he sits in jail," DiBiagio told the press in 2003. "What a colossal waste. Seven people are murdered by this drug punk."
The Dawson family's burned-out home on Preston and Eden streets in Baltimore. What were the FBI and the Justice Department doing instead of protecting the Dawsons on October 16, 2002? It was one of slain prosecutor Luna's darkest secrets.
"DiBiagio didn't mention the rampaging drug punks
under care of his own office," Keisling writes. "Few people
knew about that. Jonathan Luna was one of the few who did."
In reality, Luna knew, DiBiagio "had a terrible secret of his own," Keisling reports. "DiBiagio's office gave kid-glove, revolving door treatment to a heroin dealer every bit as threatening to innocent Baltimoreans as Darrell Brooks, the murderer of the Dawsons. The dealer's name was Warren Grace. Grace was not just shooting up his neighborhood, nor was he merely escaping home confinement. While receiving money from the FBI, under supervision of Tom DiBiagio's office, Warren Grace was dealing heroin....
"On the very day the Dawsons died, October 16, 2002, FBI Special Agent Steve Skinner and his unreachable 'Safe Streets Task Force' sent Warren Grace into Stash House Records to buy heroin.
"Afterwards, as planned, Warren Grace met the task force at the rendezvous spot. Grace's vehicle was searched.
"While the Dawsons' house still smoldered, a package of heroin was found hidden in Grace's Explorer, in a storage compartment.
"Paid FBI informant Warren Grace, on the very day of the Dawsons' mass
murder, was caught with a heroin stash. For months he'd been secretly
marketing heroin on the side, while under FBI employ and supervision.
"Suddenly people were paying attention. Very close attention. Hundreds of people screamed for official accountability at neighborhood rallies and town council meetings.
Monument on stairs to Dawsons in 2004
"An unsupervised, paid FBI informant caught dealing heroin in the
hood would not have looked very good. In fact, had the truth been made
public in that incendiary moment, U.S. Attorney Tom DiBiagio would certainly
have found himself under attack, if not driven from office. He would have
had his head handed to him in a Fell's Point picnic basket.
"A young assistant U.S. attorney in DiBiagio's office, responsible for Warren Grace, suddenly found himself sitting on a political scandal of the first magnitude. He would now have to cover it all up. To protect himself. To protect his boss. To protect the FBI.
"The young assistant U.S. attorney's name was Jonathan Luna."
Rather than protecting Baltimoreans such as the Dawsons, Keisling relates,
Luna knew that federal law enforcement officials, including the FBI's
aloof "Safe Streets Task Force," were distracted by their own
scandalous and often ridiculous endeavors, which the 515-page book details
Luna attempted to cover up the Baltimore federal law enforcement scandal by not properly disclosing information to defense lawyers in the case. The day of Luna's gruesome murder, a federal judge had ordered an investigation into the handling of Luna's FBI informant.
The night of his death, Luna repeatedly expressed doubts about the legality of a plea agreement designed to protect the FBI and the Justice Department from investigation in the matter. Luna never completed the plea deal before his death.
Several hours later, Luna's body was found face-down in an icy Pennsylvania stream, seventy miles from his office. Luna had been stabbed thirty-six times, once for each time the Dawsons' had unsuccessfully called 911 for help, and once for every thousand dollars missing from a courthouse safe.
An internal affairs investigator interviewed by Keisling for the book
described the number of stab wounds, matching as they do important numbers
in both the Dawson and the missing-money cases, as "crime signatures" that
point to Luna's murder as internal to the Baltimore federal courthouse.
The FBI, meanwhile, continues to suggest that Luna's death was a suicide, that the athletic thirty-eight-year-old prosecutor stabbed himself as he supposedly drove alone down the Pennsylvania turnpike, before crawling into the frigid creek to drown. FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice officials have also said they are unaware of any motive for Luna's murder.
A spokesperson for Mayor O'Malley declined comment, saying, "I have no idea what Luna was or wasn't doing," but she acknowedged the FBI and the Justice Department have a role to play in Baltimore's streets.
© 2004 by William Keisling