Lawyer Blames Baltimore for Arson Deaths

BALTIMORE (AP) -- A lawyer for relatives of a seven-member family killed in an arson fire says the city is responsible for their deaths because an anti-drug campaign encouraged them to speak out against neighborhood dealers.

A memo being sent this week to the city solicitor's office outlines the claim that the city owes relatives of the Dawson family ``substantial redress'' for the deaths, said attorney Janell Byrd-Chichester, a member of attorney Johnny Cochran's Washington law firm.

No lawsuit has been filed but Cochran, who represented O.J. Simpson in his murder trial, has indicated one is likely.

Prosecutors say the victims were killed in retaliation for reporting drug dealers to police. Darrell L. Brooks, 21, a neighbor of the Dawsons, faces federal charges in the deaths.

Byrd-Chichester said the city is responsible for the deaths because the anti-drug ``Baltimore Believe'' campaign encouraged them to speak out against dealers.

``It's reckless to invite people to step up to a dangerous situation, and then be on notice that these particular people have stepped up and are in danger, and then fail to provide protection,'' Byrd-Chichester said. ``The outcome should not have been surprising.''

City Solicitor Thurman W. Zollicoffer Jr. declined to discuss Cochran's claim.

Angela Dawson, 36, and her five children, ages 9 to 14, died when fire tore through their three-story row house on Oct. 16. Dawson's husband, Carnell Dawson, 43, was burned over 80 percent of his body and died a week later.