Actress who played television drugland assassin busted in real life raid

By Guy Adams

Felicia
Felicia

Small and ruthless, Felicia "Snoop" Pearson was so convincing when she played the role of a cold-blooded drug-land assassin in cult cop show The Wire that critics declared the arrival of a major new acting talent. Author Stephen King described her as "perhaps the most terrifying female villain to ever appear in a television series".

Three years later, with the show - and her breakthrough performance - consigned to the annals of TV history, Pearson once more finds herself playing the villain. But this time, it's for real.

Police in Baltimore announced this week that the actress was among about 30 people arrested in a series of pre-dawn raids aimed at dismantling one of the region's major drug gangs.

Photos of the bust showed a dreadlocked Pearson frowning anxiously as she was led in handcuffs from her luxury city apartment by two armed officers.

Investigators were unwilling to reveal details of the charges she might face, saying only that the arrests marked the culmination of a long-running probe into a "large-scale" heroin and marijuana operation.

For 30-year-old Pearson the brush with the law represents a case of life imitating art which was already imitating life. Like many of the cast-members who took minor roles in The Wire, she isn't a trained actress, but was plucked from the obscurity of Baltimore's housing projects to star in the series.

Her lucky break came in 2004, when she was spotted in a nightclub by Michael K Williams, the actor who plays homosexual gangster Omar on the series, which explores urban Baltimore's drug-addled underworld through the eyes of its inhabitants and the various detectives attempting to catch up with them.

He invited her to audition for the role of a contract killer in the third season. The show's creator, David Simon, was so taken by Pearson's personality that he decided to name her character "Snoop". She survived until the fifth and final series of The Wire, which aired in 2008.

Like many standout actors in the gritty show, Pearson had a connection with her screen character: shortly after she achieved fame, it emerged that she had spent nearly seven years in prison as a teenager, after being convicted of a gangland shooting at the age of 14.

In an autobiography called Grace After Midnight, which was published in 2007, she recalled her troubled childhood. Born to a drug-addict in the impoverished eastern quarter of the city, she weighed just 1.36kg at birth and was fed with an eye dropper because her mouth was too small for a bottle. As a toddler, she was taken into foster care after social services discovered that her mother had sold her clothes to buy crack cocaine and locked her in a wardrobe.

By the time she was a teenager, Baltimore drug dealer Arnold Loney had helped her become a fully-fledged member of his gang, with a male "crew" under her command. In 1996, she was convicted of the second-degree murder of Okia Toomer - a local girl who was shot in a street-fight - and sent to Maryland Correctional Institute.

There, she cleaned up her act and gained academic qualifications. After her release, she declared she would give up her previous life of crime.

- INDEPENDENT

- NZ Herald

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