Corruption in the Baltimore Police Department seemingly knows no bounds.
The department is in the middle of a trial amid charges against eight former members of the city’s now defunct Gun Trace Task Force. Six of the eight charged pleaded guilty, while Detectives Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor are both fighting their case in court. The men stand charged with racketeering conspiracy, robbery and possession of a firearm in a crime of violence.
GTTF detectives performed illegal searches in homes and vehicles; pulled over what a sergeant called “dope boy cars” without probable cause; stole guns, money and drugs seized illegally from suspects; and sold stolen paraphernalia back on the streets.
Former Detective Maurice Ward is one of the six people who pleaded guilty, and he took the stand last week to testify against his former fellow officers. He stated that officers carried BB guns “in case we accidentally hit somebody or got into a shootout, so we could plant them.”
On Monday former Detective Jemell Rayam, who also pleaded guilty, admitted that the squad, at a supervisor’s direction, frequently stole from suspects.
“Pretty much any individuals we came across, if they had large sums of money, money was being taken,” he said.
During his testimony Ward recalled an incident where officers pulled over a man, took his keys, entered his home without a warrant and opened his safe. Video footage shows Wayne Jenkins, then a sergeant and their supervisor, telling the officers not to touch any of the money in the safe.
What’s not on the video, Ward said, is the fact that they had already taken half of the $200,000 from the safe before the camera started recording.
And it wasn’t just cash they were stealing while on the squad, Rayam recalled. In one incident the squad searched a suspect’s car without a warrant and came across a pound and-a-half of marijuana and a gun. Jenkins told the officers to “just get rid of it,” but instead, Rayam and another officer sold what they found on the street.
Former Detective Evodio Hendrix said that Jenkins, who was charged and pleaded guilty as well, had a name for people who likely had a lot the officers could steal: a “monster.”
The Baltimore Sun reported: “Hendrix said Jenkins showed members of his squad two large black bags — one stuffed with masks and black clothing, the other with tools that included a sledgehammer, a machete, an axe and lock cutters, as well as a grappling hook and rope. He said he carried the items ‘in case he ran into a ‘monster,” or someone with a lot of money and drugs, according to Hendrix.”
The detectives also came across paraphernalia simply by getting people to run. Ward testified that they would, under Jenkins’ direction, speed in their cruisers toward random groups of people, slam on the brakes and pop the doors open to see who would get spooked and flee. They had no reason to suspect any illegal activity — they just hoped that someone who started running would be carrying drugs or weapons. “A lot of times” they were successful, according to Ward.
When conducting traffic stops, officers profiled certain cars, Ward also said. Jenkins targeted “dope boy cars” — Honda Accords, Acura TLs and Honda Odysseys were among this list — and would claim that drivers were not wearing their seatbelt or that the windows were tinted too much. Boys over the age of 18 carrying backpacks were also targets for Jenkins, Ward added.
The squad used illegal GPS tracking devices to follow targets around, according to Ward.
The GTTF exploited “crimes of opportunity,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Leo Wise said in the courtroom last week.
“The Gun Trace Task Force wasn’t a unit that went rogue,” he stated. “It was a unit of officers who had already gone rogue.”
“They were, simply put, both cops and robbers at the same time.”
Early last year, the city reached a reform deal with the DOJ. But the Trump administration tried to put a stop to police reform. U.S. Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III later ordered a review of previous police reform agreements. The DOJ requested a 90-day delay in a hearing for the reform, but the judge shot it down.
It looks like reform is still needed.
Disturbingly, another detective, Sean Suiter, was set to testify in front of the grand jury in November against the former GTTF members but was murdered with his own weapon the day before he was scheduled to appear.