DEA agents escort Felicia “Snoop” Pearson during her arrest in an early morning drug raid in Baltimore. ((WBAL-TV11 via AP))

A crack baby who graduated from the foster-care system into low-level drug dealing, she went to jail at 14 for killing another girl in a street fight. Pearson seemed to leave that world behind when she was launched to fame with her role as a tomboy gang assassin in the long-running HBO series.

But on Thursday, Pearson, 30, was arrested in a major state and federal sweep that detained more than 60 people from across Baltimore in connection with a large-scale marijuana and heroin operation, agents said.

Perpetrator — or casualty? In a surprisingly impassioned and philosophical statement, “The Wire’s” prize-winning creator David Simon argued that his former star deserves sympathy and the benefit of the doubt.

“This young lady has, from her earliest moments, had one of the hardest lives imaginable,” Simon wrote, in a statement released to us via HBO. “Her America is different from my own. I am . . . ill-equipped to be her judge.”

A tiny, androgynous character with a smoky, masculine drawl, Pearson was discovered in a Baltimore nightclub in 2004 by actor Michael K. Williams, who played “The Wire’s” memorable gay stickup artist, Omar. (Williams, through a rep, declined to comment Thursday.)

She was only four years out of the Jessup detention center and at risk of sliding back into street life; snagging a job with the show in its third season, she told The Post in 2007, “saved my life.”

She mesmerized viewers by bringing the radiance of a Chaplin heroine to an otherwise chilling role. Her character’s name? Same as her own on the streets: Snoop.

Her success on the show enabled her to publish a memoir in 2007 and move out of her rough east side neighborhood. Since “The Wire” ended in 2008, her acting work appears to have been sparse, though a Web resume indicates she recently shot a role in an indie film.

In 2008, she was arrested on a marijuana charge as police attempted to serve a warrant to get her to testify in connection with a 2005 homicide she allegedly witnessed. Pearson’s refusal to cooperate in the murder trial led prosecutors to settle last year for a plea deal in that matter; she was cleared of the drug charge.

Todd Hyatt, a lawyer who represented her in that case, said he had talked to her Thursday and that while they were still trying to figure out what authorities would charge her with, “she obviously maintains she has no involvement in this matter.”

Simon had more to say. (Read Simon’s full statement on the Snoop arrest.) The former Baltimore Sun crime reporter used Pearson’s arrest to raise concerns that “the war on drugs has devolved into a war on the underclass.” In neighborhoods like Pearson’s, he wrote in the statement, “the drug economy is now the only factory still hiring and . . . children are trained only for the corners.”

As for Pearson’s career, Simon bemoaned the fact that “whatever good fortune came from her role in ‘The Wire’ ” did not seem to carry beyond.

Today’s showbiz industry, he added, “does not offer a great many roles for those who can portray people from the other America.”

Read earlier: The Role of Her Life: Snoop Pearson Is a Killer on HBO’s ‘The Wire.’ A Victim’s Family Can’t Bear to Watch. (3/16/2007)