Former Baltimore officers convicted in corruption trial
A federal jury on Monday convicted two former members of a defunct Baltimore police gun task force in a corruption trial.
Former detectives Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor were convicted of racketeering conspiracy, racketeering and Hobbs Act robbery charges, said Elizabeth Morse, spokeswoman for the US attorney’s Office in Maryland.
The two were both acquitted of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence, according to Morse. Each faces up to 60 years in prison.
Hersl and Taylor were members of the Baltimore Police Department’s now-defunct Gun Trace Task Force (GTTF). Federal prosecutors said they used their authority to rob suspects of drugs and money. The officers had plead not guilty.
Six other Baltimore police officers have pled guilty to similar charges.
“The justice system will rectify things,” said Stephen M. Schenning, acting US Attorney for the District of Maryland, according to CNN affiliate WBFF. “We will investigate bad policing or criminal policing … Officers will be indicted and they’ll be brought into court and they’ll be held accountable.”
“Their business model eventually didn’t work. You can’t rob people just because they’re drug dealers,” he said.
“Baltimore is in need of significant reforms within our criminal justice system and we must collectively strengthen our efforts to regain public trust,” Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said in a statement after the verdict.
The jury reached the verdict after deliberating for less than two days.
‘They were supposed to be sentinels’
Hersl, Taylor and the other officers carried out brazen crimes at a time of strained community relations, following the April 2015 death of Freddie Gray while in police custody. Under the cover of their badges, the officers sold seized guns and drugs on the streets, ripped off narcotics dealers and locked up innocent people.
Amid soaring crime and distrust in law enforcement, the unit played “both cops and robbers,” said lead federal prosecutor Leo Wise.
“They were supposed to be sentinels guarding this city from people who break the law,” Wise told the jury in closing arguments last week, CNN affiliate WBAL-TV reported. “Instead, they became hunters.”
Four of the officers who pled guilty testified against their former colleagues, along with drug dealers who struck deals for more lenient sentences.
Jenifer Wicks, Taylor’s attorney, had accused the government of building a conspiracy case with witnesses plucked from “the depths of the criminal underworld,” according to WBAL-TV.
Hersl’s attorney, William Purpura, argued that his client was a latecomer to the gun task force, making him less culpable than his colleagues, the station reported.
Testimony and evidence presented during the trial brought to light shocking criminality that continued even as US Justice Department civil rights lawyers investigated Baltimore’s Police Department.
The case has shone a light on deeply rooted problems known to Baltimore residents for years, said Vanita Gupta, who headed the DOJ’s civil rights division when the city agreed to a consent decree on sweeping police reforms.
“When there is misconduct, there must be accountability,” said Gupta, now president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
“That is why this trial in Baltimore is so critical — not just for what it reveals in and of itself, but also for showing the public that misconduct does not go unchecked.”
Here are examples of the startling stories of corruption to emerge from the trial:
‘Looked like somebody that needed to be robbed’
In September 2016, Hersl, Taylor and three other officers allegedly robbed Sergio Summerville, a small-time drug dealer who kept his stash at a storage unit downtown.
Hersl “came at me like a gang,” Summerville testified, according to WBAL-TV. “He wanted to meet me every week, like some kind of extortion, to know who I was dealing with and to give him money.”
Summerville said the detectives stole drugs and $2,400 he had stuffed in a sock.
An employee at the storage facility testified that Hersl and his supervisor, who has pleaded guilty, demanded to see a surveillance video of the encounter, the station reported.
The employee said that, when he demanded a search warrant, one officer told him he “looked like somebody that needed to be robbed.”
Officers allegedly split $100,000 taken from a safe
Convicted task force members testified that they stole the house keys of a man named Oreese Stevenson in March 2016, The Baltimore Sun reported. They said they entered Stevenson’s Baltimore home without a warrant and broke open a safe.
They counted $200,000 in cash, stole half the money and then put the rest of the cash back in the safe, the officers said.
One of them shot a video showing the officers pretending to open the safe for the first time after they had already pocketed half the money, they testified, according to the newspaper. Cocaine, an expensive watch and designer clothes were also taken from the home.
Taylor is accused of participating in that theft, according to the criminal complaint.
A grappling hook, a sledgehammer, a machete and masks
A former detective testified that Gun Trace Task Force Sgt. Wayne Jenkins once showed squad members a grappling hook with a rope, sledgehammer, machete, masks and other items he kept in his patrol car while on duty. The items were shown to the jury. Jenkins previously pled guilty to multiple charges.
Evodio Hendrix, who pled guilty to charges, testified that the sergeant “had all that stuff in the car in case he ran into a monster, someone with a lot of money and drugs,” WBAL-TV reported.
“To arrest them?” a prosecutor asked.
“He was talking about robbing them,” Hendrix replied.
In one home, detectives stole $25,000
A man named Ronald Hamilton testified that his car was stopped in 2016 by task force members, the station reported.
Hamilton said one of the officers knew he had won money gambling at a casino.
Prosecutors tried to show that squad members targeted casinos for people to rob.
Hamilton testified that Hersl and three other officers later searched his home and walked out with at least $25,000 in cash. Taylor was not involved in that incident, according to the criminal complaint.
BB guns, ‘door pops’ and ‘slash days’
Another convicted former detective, Maurice Ward, testified that some officers in the task force kept BB guns in their vehicles in case they needed to plant them on suspects, according to WBAL-TV.
Ward said that when the squad was out on patrol, Jenkins would drive quickly toward a group of people, and the other officers would pop the doors open and chase those who took off running, according to the station. The suspects, sometimes as many as 50 per night, were robbed of drugs and money.
Unit members were given paid time off that wasn’t on the books in return for getting guns off the street, Ward said, according to WBAL-TV. Jenkins would also give overtime pay as a reward for gun seizures, former detectives testified. The former sergeant admitted to the practice earlier this year.
Hersl and Taylor were charged with participating in the overtime fraud scheme.
Trash bags full of looted pills
Bail bondsman Donald Stepp testified that Jenkins delivered to his Baltimore County home two trash bags full of pharmaceutical drugs stolen from looters during the April 2015 riots that followed the death of Freddie Gray, according to WBAL-TV.
Stolen drugs were regularly delivered to Stepp’s home, he said, where they were stashed before being resold on the street.
Stepp testified that the sergeant told him he simply waited and ripped off looters leaving shuttered pharmacies with stolen drugs.
“I’ve got an entire pharmacy,” the sergeant told Stepp.
Stepp testified that Hersl shared in the proceeds from the drug sales, WBAL-TV reported, and alleged that Taylor participated in the theft of 30 pounds of marijuana.