Baltimore, MD – The trial of two members of the Baltimore police’s Gun Trace Task Force (GTTF) closed on Thursday, and the mayor says she hasn’t been paying attention to it despite it being the nation’s largest police corruption scandal in a generation.
The investigation of the task force, and the revelations during the trials that followed, showcased corruption and a lack of accountability, where a special unit tasked with taking guns off the street instead became its own criminal gang.
Six GTTF members have already pleaded guilty to federal charges including racketeering, robbery and firearms violations, and four of them testified against the two who are currently on trial.
The New York Times reported that “witnesses and even the officers themselves have described an elite squad gone rogue,” robbing drug dealers and making their own deals.
As the trial wound down for former-GTTF Baltimore Police Department (BPD) Detectives Marcus Taylor and Daniel Hersl on Wednesday, the prosecution made it a point to say that the members of the GTTF do not reflect the entire department, and reprised that in their closing arguments.
“This case isn’t a case against all police,” Assistant US Attorney Derek Hines said doing his closing argument. “It’s a case against a group of criminals who happened to hide behind a badge.”
In the past two weeks, the public has learned that members of the gun task force were actually stealing and selling guns and drugs for years in the city they’d sworn to protect.
They were systematically targeting high-dollar drug dealers and busting in on them without warrants. Then taking their money without pressing charges.
Officers testified about keeping BB guns in their patrol vehicles to throw down in case they shot an unarmed suspect, and selling looted prescription drugs on the black market after the Freddie Gray riots.
On the first day of the trial, former-GTTF task force member Officer Maurice Ward testified that in one case, the leader of their unit, former Sergeant Wayne Jenkins, took a man’s house keys, went to his home without a warrant, and found drugs and a safe, The Baltimore Sun reported.
Ward said the officers cracked open the safe, which contained $200,000, and helped themselves to half of the money, before closing the safe again, so they could reopen it on-camera as if it were the first time.
He testified that Jenkins listened to the man’s calls made from jail after the arrest, and heard him talking about the police stealing his money, and saying he wanted to hire a good attorney to go after them.
Jenkins determined the man’s wife was taking care of his legal affairs, and set up a scheme to get her to abandon her husband.
Ward testified that they wrote a note purporting to be from another woman, saying the man had gotten her pregnant, and left it on the wife’s doorstep, The Baltimore Sun reported.
Fallout from the gun task force investigation and trials has been prolific – The New York Times reported that the Baltimore state’s attorney has dropped at least 125 criminal cases related to the task force. There are as many as 3,000 tainted cases to be dealt with, according to the public defender’s office.
But despite concerns the biggest corruption scandal the Baltimore Police have ever endured, Baltimore City Mayor Sharon Pugh said she hasn’t been following this particular case.
Pugh told reporters at a media availability on Wednesday that she hasn’t had time to follow the trial.
She was asked if she’d been following news coverage of the trial, she replied “No, I have not,” according to The Baltimore Sun.
“I have to run the city, I don’t have time to sit in a trial,” she said.
Then a reporter asked if she had read about the case.
“I don’t even get a chance to read all the articles you write,” the mayor said. “I don’t have time to just read articles.”
She didn’t express any major concerns about the testimony that she had heard about, and said her new police commissioner would get it all sorted out.
Pugh fired Commissioner Kevin Davis on Jan. 19, citing the city’s escalating crime problem, and replaced him with the commander of the BPD’s patrol bureau, Deputy Commissioner Darryl D. De Sousa.
But in the meantime, even if the Baltimore mayor wasn’t reading the daily disclosures of corruption by her police officers, the revelations have come at a particularly bad time for the Baltimore community who already had a grave mistrust of the Baltimore police.
Information that came out during the trial has raised serious questions about the faltering department’s ability to fix its own problems.
On Monday, Baltimore Police Deputy Commissioner Dean Palmere was accused of coaching officers on how to avoid punishment following a shooting in 2009, The Baltimore Sun reported.
Commissioner Palmere, who denied the accusations, announced his retirement on Feb. 5, the same day he was named in court.
The head of Internal Affairs, Major Ian Dombroski, was also named in testimony by a member of GTTF.
Ward testified on Jan. 25 that he’d received thousands of dollars in overtime pay for hours he had not worked, with then-Lieutenant Dombroski’s authorization, The Baltimore Sun reported.
The chairman of the Baltimore city council’s public safety committee, City Councilman Brandon Scott, called for the Major Dombroski to be relieved of his command then next day, but no one has been suspended from allegations that surfaced during the trial yet.
Baltimore Police Department (BPD) spokesman T.J. Smith said there were multiple internal affairs investigations underway, but at that time, Major Dombroski remained in his positon as head of the internal investigations unit for the police department.
During his closing argument, Assistant U.S. Attorney Leo Wise played an FBI recording of the officers discussing what to do after a chase that ended in a bad crash. He said they chose not to render aid to the suspect they’d been chasing.
“Dude’s unconscious, he’s ain’t saying s**t,” Taylor said.
On the recording, Hersl said the officers should alter their time sheets so they weren’t working at the time of the crash, and laughed “Hey, I was in the car just driving home,” The Baltimore Sun reported.
“These men were supposed to be sentinels guarding this city from people that would break the law,” Wise told jurors. “Instead, these men became hunters.”
U.S. District Court Judge Catherine C. Blake spent nearly two hours outlining the jury instructions before sending them into the jury room. The jury deliberated for four hours on Thursday afternoon and then the judge sent them home for the weekend.
The Baltimore Sun reported that the charges Taylor and Hersl face are the same ones the government used to take down gangs and drug organizations. Both men face life in prison if convicted.