The second week in the trial of Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor brought to light a series of shocking revelations as a growing list of witnesses testified to the depravity and devastation shown by the elite Gun Trace Task Force (GTTF), which moved with reckless impunity throughout the city dealing drugs and committing robbery, extortion, theft, and over-time fraud. Six other members of the operational unit that was charged with getting guns off the street have pleaded guilty. Hersl and Taylor, who are charged with robbery, extortion, using a firearm to commit a violent crime, and fraud charges relating to overtime theft have pleaded not guilty.
Callous cops and structural inequity: On Aug. 31, 2016, two cars full of Gun Trace Task Force officers watched in the distance as two cars that had just collided sat on the sidewalk badly damaged, with the state of the passengers unknown.
Det. Jemell Rayam suggested they get out and help, but aiding the injured drivers was not an option because Sgt. Wayne Jenkins—who was described by those he commanded in the GTTF as both a “prince” in the Baltimore Police Department and as “crazy”—told them not to do anything.
He had also told them to initiate the chase that led to this moment.
So they listened to the radio, waiting for a concerned citizen to call in the crash or for other cops to come to the scene.
This is all according to Rayam, who pleaded guilty along with all of the officers except for Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor, and seemed visibly shaken and sometimes confused on Jan. 30, his second day testifying in the ongoing federal corruption trial of the GTTF.
And though Taylor’s defense relied solely on presenting the witnesses as liars, what Rayam said was corroborated by audio from a bug the FBI had planted in the car of GTTF Detective Momodu Gondo.
Rayam explained it all began that day when Jenkins saw a car he wanted to stop at a gas station. The car fled and both Jenkins and Gondo, each driving an unmarked car, drove after it in pursuit. The car they were pursuing ran a red light and, in Rayam’s words, was “pretty much T-boned,” by another car.
“It was bad, real bad,” Rayam said. “Both of the cars collided with each other.”
Briefly, he couldn’t answer follow up questions—a crying Rayam wasn’t sure which crash they were asking about.
“There were so many car accidents,” he said.
Intead of checking on the victims of the accident, the members of the GTTF sat tight and waited, worrying that their role in the event may have been discovered.
“None of us stopped to render aid or to see if anyone was hurt,” Rayam said.
On the tape, Hersl suggested covering it up: “We could go stop the slips at 10:30 before that happened. ‘Hey I was in this car just driving home,’” he said, and laughed.
The trial, now in its second week, has presented a tremendous amount of evidence showing that the officers claimed overtime for hours they did not work.
Hersl laughed again on the tape and wondered what was in the car.
Jenkins and others worried that Citiwatch may have it all recorded—they hoped the rain that night would make them hard to see—and worried the pursued may be able to mention he was chased.
“That dude is unconscious. He ain’t saying shit,” Taylor said.
“These car chases. That’s what happens. It’s a crapshoot, you know?” Hersl said.
This was an extraordinary statement to hear coming from Hersl as his family sat in the courtroom. In 2013, a driver—who was being followed, but not chased, by a state trooper—killed Hersl’s brother Matthew in front of City Hall in downtown Baltimore. WBAL said that Stephen, Herl’s other brother, told them Matthew “didn’t drive because he didn’t like traffic and thought drivers were dangerous.”
This incident wherein a chase led to a car crash echoes other events in this case. In 2010, Jenkins, Officer Ryan Guinn, and Det. Sean Suiter initiated a chase that also ended in a crash—one that was fatal. According to the federal indictment, the officers had a sergeant come and bring an ounce of heroin to plant in the back of the car they were pursuing, before giving first aid to the man, who ultimately died. Umar Burley, who was driving the car they chased, was recently freed from federal prison. Det. Suiter was murdered a day before testifying in the case—and the police car bringing him to Shock Trauma crashed on the way there. Guinn was reinstated to BPD after a two-week suspension and, last week in court, another GTTF member Maurice Ward testified that Jenkins told him that Guinn had informed the squad that they were under investigation.
Hersl has admitted to stealing money, but his lawyers argue that because he had probable cause he did not rob his targets—and did not use violence to take the money. He glared at Rayam as he testified about the wreck and various thefts. Rayam has confessed to dealing drugs, stealing drugs, and strong-arm robbery. In court, he suggested that Gondo, with whom he worked closely, had discussed other serious crimes, including a possible murder. Rayam alluded on several occasions to the numerous internal affairs complaints against Hersl, but the judge shut him down—that information was not admissible in court. On another occasion, federal prosecutors asked Rayam if Hersl gave him money for selling cocaine. Hersl’s lawyer objected and the judge sustained the objection.
But the overall sense is that, for the GTTF—and especially Jenkins, who has pleaded guilty but is not expected to testify—Baltimore City was at once a killing field and playground.
It is too easy to see Jenkins and Gondo and Rayam as sociopathic exceptions who are especially depraved. More testimony later the same day showed how this behavior stems from creating a city which criminalizes—or at best contains—a large part of its population. This structural disdain for life became clear in testimony from Herbert Tate, one of the witnesses against Hersl, who was treated like a criminal by defense attorneys.
Tate said he was on Robb Street in the Midway neighborhood on Nov. 27, 2015 to see old friends. A few days earlier, he said, Hersl had stopped him on Robb Street, searched him, and given him a slip of paper—not a proper citation, just a piece of paper—called it a warning, and said, “Next time I see you, you’re going to jail.”
It was about 5 p.m., Tate said, when he was walking up the street with an alcoholic beverage—he couldn’t remember if it was beer or wine—when Hersl, Officer Kevin Fassl, and Sgt. John Burns pulled up on him. Tate says that Hersl told Fassl to grab him. Fassl searched him, including searching his waistband and putting their fingers in his mouth, and then sat him down in handcuffs. In his pockets, they found $530 in cash, some receipts, and pay stubs—but no drugs. Hersl, Tate testified, dug around in vacants and on stoops looking for drugs. He went around a corner for about 10 minutes, Tate said, and came back with “blue and whites.”
Tate testified that he did not know what “blue and whites” were at the time but later learned it was heroin. Hersl sat beside his lawyer, William Purpura, glowering as Tate testified that Fassl asked Hersl what to do with the money and Hersl said, “Keep it.”
When Tate asked them to count it, he says that Burns got angry and bragged about how much money he made. According to a 2016 spreadsheet of Baltimore City employee salary data, Burns brought in a little more than $86,000, but with overtime—one of the main issues at stake in the case—he made nearly double that, bringing in $164,403 in 2016. On Feb. 21, 2017—just over a week before the Gun Trace Task Force indictments came down, Burns took medical leave and began raising funds with a GoFundMe account that claimed he was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome triggered, the fundraiser says, from “inhaling fecal matter during a search warrant.”
By the time the money made its way into evidence, the $530 had become $216. When Tate was released from jail, he was given 91 cents back. He never saw the rest of the money.
Defense lawyers made a different issue out of the money. Christopher Nieto, who is representing Marcus Taylor (who was not involved in Tate’s arrest at all), made a point of mentioning that some of the money submitted as evidence was in small bills like singles, fives, and tens.
“Dollar bills suggest drug distribution,” Nieto said.
“Everybody has dollar bills,” Tate responded.
The claim was odd in the context of a trial in which it had been repeatedly stated that large sums of cash also indicated drug dealing. Whatever amount of money African-Americans have in Baltimore City can indicate criminal activity, apparently: Tate had a 2003 charge tied to possession and distribution of narcotics, for which he took probation before judgement and admitted on the stand that when he was in high school he “did some things”—meaning small-time dealing—but had never been arrested back then.
Nieto repeatedly referred to Robb Street as “an open air drug market,” “a drug neighborhood,” and a “not a great neighborhood.” A perception encouraged, in part, because these neighborhoods are criminalized.
“That’s what y’all label it as, but that’s not what it is to me,” said Tate, who testified that he had grown up in the area and had friends and family there and coached a children’s basketball team in the area. Nieto also said that Tate had a black ski mask when he was arrested, though Tate said he had it on him because it was cold and that he was wearing it as “a winter hat.”
This attitude displayed in the questioning of Tate (that certain people are inherently criminal) is the animating force behind the GTTF criminal enterprise, but it isn’t that far from the assumptions of our criminal justice system, which, in 21st century American cities, is based on an almost Calvinist view of crime: If some people are criminal, nothing you do to them can be criminal.
Because of the 2015 arrest, Tate said, he lost his job because he was in jail for four days, then he lost his car because he couldn’t pay for it and couldn’t get another job because of the narcotics charge—and to this day, he owes a friend for the bail.
“I’m still paying them back,” Tate said.
In March of 2016, the state dismissed Hersl’s charges against Tate—a common occurrence in Baltimore. After the charges were dismissed, Tate was able to get another job as an HVAC technician, which he has to this day. He also said that after the arrest, he moved away from Baltimore to Anne Arundel County.
“I got out of the city,” he said. (Baynard Woods & Brandon Soderberg)
The ruined lives and emotional wreckage caused by GTTF: It was toward the end of the day on Jan. 31 at the Gun Trace Task Force trial of Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor when Ronald Hamilton, whose home was raided without a warrant by the GTTF in July 2016, finally had enough.
On the stand, he received too many nagging, loaded questions about where and how he got his money and not enough about what he believed to be the real issue at hand: the full extent of the GTTF’s reign of terror. So, when Christopher Nieto, the defense attorney for Taylor, asked one more time about the $17,000 in cash he put down for his half-a-million dollar home in Westminster, Hamilton blew up.
“I put $17,000 down on the house. You wanna know it right? I put $17,000 down,” he said.
Then he got loud: “THIS RIGHT HERE DESTROYED MY WHOLE FUCKING FAMILY MAN. . . . EVERYBODY’S LIFE IS DESTROYED, MAN. . . . THEY CAME IN MY HOUSE AND DESTROYED MY FAMILY. . . . I’M GETTING DIVORCED BECAUSE OF THIS.”
He added that his kids are afraid to go in their own house now, his wife waits at the nearby Wal-Mart if she gets home from work before Hamilton because she doesn’t like to enter the house alone, and she’s taking medication for stress caused by the raid.
“You want the facts?” he asked Nieto. “Is this what you want?”
Hamilton’s invective was aimed at the pack of federally-indicted cops, along with their defense lawyers, whose entire argument, time and time again, implied drug dealers are not only entirely untrustworthy but hardly even allowed to have grievances (or carry cash).
Attorneys went over nearly every transaction Hamilton made over a period of years, pouring over his receipts, gambling records, and properties. But it was the questioning about his home—which, prosecutors allege, was invaded by the rogue cops who had followed him and his wife to a Home Depot —that set him over the edge.
Hamilton’s outburst may have been one of the pivotal moments in the case, voicing the fear and rage that all of the day’s witnesses seemed to feel.
In March 2016, Oreese Stevenson was arrested by Sgt. Wayne Jenkins’ pre-GTTF special unit (consisting that night of Taylor, Ward, and Evodio Hendrix) after a friend entered Stevenson’s car with a backpack for a cocaine deal. Jenkins and Ward told Stevenson they approached because his windows were tinted too dark—Stevenson said they weren’t tinted “at all”—and Jenkins jumped in the car, grabbed the backpack of money (which Stevenson said he expected to have contained $21,500), and later took Stevenson’s house keys.
Soon after, Keona Holloway, Stevenson’s girlfriend who also testified, got a call from her 12-year-old son that cops were at the house, so she left her nursing job early. Inside the house, Jenkins showed her a piece of paper and claimed it was a warrant. She also said he recorded video of them entering the house, recreating their entry (when GTTF’s Maurice Ward testified at trial the first week, he said that during that same incident they recreated discovery of a safe in the basement).
Stevenson later spotted discrepancies between what he had when he was arrested and what was seized. He said there would have been $21,500 in the car but police said they seized $15,000; he said he had $300,000 in a safe but police said they seized $100,000; and he said he had 10 kilograms of cocaine in a safe but police said they seized 8 kilograms.
“I’ve never seen them stop a car and run right into the house that way,” Stevenson said, reflecting on how the arrest began.
In August 2016, Dennis Armstrong was pulled over by GTTF’s Hersl, Jenkins, and Momodu Gondo but sped off, lobbing cocaine out of his van and onto the street to destroy the evidence. When cops nabbed him after he drove down a dead end street and ran off on foot, they drove his van to a storage facility where he kept his coke, they had learned. He never consented to them accessing the storage unit.
Armstrong was charged with possession, possession with intent to distribute, driving without a seatbelt, and driving with a minor in the car without a seatbelt (he did not have a minor in the car). When he got out of jail, he got his watch, belt, and a bunch of lottery tickets back. He also learned GTTF had claimed they had only seized $2,800 when he said he had $8,000 in his van. And the two kilograms of coke he said he had were not inside his storage locker, which had been wrecked.
The possession charge—for which he received two years probation—was for what amounted to a few “crumbs” of coke, Armstrong said.
In September 2016, Sergio Summerville, who was experiencing homelessness at the time, had his friend Fats drive him to his storage facility near the Horseshoe Casino where he kept his belongings and the “small amounts” of cocaine and heroin he was selling. On the way out of the facility, two unmarked police cars pulled up to Fats’ car. Jenkins claimed they were DEA and had a warrant, and Hersl said they knew Summerville was a big deal drug dealer “from the Avenue.”
Summerville said that he was offered “freedom” if he gave up information on other dealers, and that when they finally let his friend Fats go, Summerville shouted out the code so he could exit the storage facility and that Hersl saved the code in his phone. When Summerville tried to look at Hersl saving the info on his phone, Hersl elbowed him. Summerville was eventually let go too and never charged with a crime. He said GTTF stole $4800 out of a sock in his storage unit where he hid his money.
“They came at me like a gang or something,” Summerville said.
This lineup of witnesses—all of whom had immunity—showed the extent of the GTTF’s targets: big time and small time dealers, current and former, some charged with crimes and some not at all.
But this cast of characters also illustrates the specific nature of drug dealing in a deindustrialized city like Baltimore—dealing as a dependable, dangerous side hustle that is hardly glamorous even if you’re shipping out plenty of product. Stevenson is currently a truck driver and had the job on and off again while dealing. He was using money he earned to start an Assisted Living service with his girlfriend Holloway. Armstrong’s day job was a maintenance worker for public housing and Summerville sold while he was homeless—now he works as a caterer.
GTTF didn’t confine their abuse to those who dabbled in dealing though. Gregory Thompson, a maintenance man for the storage facility near the casino, is about as “square” as you can get and testified that Jenkins and Hersl intimidated him the night of the September 2016 incident with Summerville.
The commotion caused by the GTTF stopping Summerville and Fats caused Thompson to come out to see what was going on. Jenkins and Hersl—he had a hard time remembering who said what—asked to see the facility’s security cameras and he told him they would need a warrant for that. They didn’t like that answer, got “about a foot and a half” away from him, and threatened him.
“You look like someone who needs to get robbed,” Thompson said Jenkins or Hersl told him—he couldn’t remember which one had said it.
“As far as I’m concerned, they both said it to me,” Thompson added.
Thompson’s life wasn’t destroyed by the encounter that night, but he was clearly shaken and angry, more than a year later. (Brandon Soderberg)
One man in front of BPD headquarters demands police disband: Outside of Baltimore Police headquarters downtown about a half hour before the Gun Trace Task Force trials began a few blocks west, Wu Tang Clan-affiliated rapper and organizer Marques Johnson stood quietly, seething with an announcement to make.
“I want to speak Darryl DeSousa, the police chief, and I basically want to let him know that at this point, the police are charged with protecting the community from threats and as of right now, they are the threat,” Johnson, who raps as Andre Roxx, said.
He was there alone but he said already had his own “officers” for his new organization, Protecting Our Own Community (P.O.O.C.), established in response to the GTTF and the BPD.
“When the revelation came out that they were planting firearms I was like, ‘Somebody’s got to do something,’” Johnson said. “It’s an ongoing epidemic—police misconduct—that has resulted in the death of countless black men, women, and children.”
Stories such at those recounted during the GTTF trials are similar to what he heard from his father and grandfather, who grew up in North Philadelphia.
“P.O.O.C. will protect our own community, even against the police,” he said. “We’ll protect ourselves against the police using up to and including deadly force if necessary. Hopefully, they’ll pull out of our communities and we can accomplish this without bloodshed. But I am prepared if necessary to rally the troops and defend ourselves. I mean they’re using lethal force against us, I’m prepared to rally the troops and if necessary in order to defend ourselves, for self protection.”
Then Johnson trudged inside BPD HQ and requested a meeting with the commissioner. He was informed he’d need to make an appointment and introduced himself again.
“My name is Andre Roxx of the Wu Tang Clan, please let him know I’d like to speak to him,” he said. “It’s important.”
After about five minutes, two BPD representatives rather than the commissioner greeted Johnson.
“You have become a threat to this community,” Johnson told the two detectives. “As a representative of the black community as a whole I am requesting that the police leave our community until you get your acts together. I’m letting you know we’re putting this organization together. This organization will be armed. It will be in the streets. And we will protect ourselves.”
BPD representatives nodded, wished him luck, and Johnson left.
“I wasn’t looking for a response so it went exactly how I wanted it to go,” he said back outside in front of BPD HQ. “Now, I’m headed out and I’m starting to recruit.”
In the federal court house, as Johnson drove around the city recruiting, a coke-slinging bail bondsman named Donald Stepp testified that GTTF had a hand in spreading drugs stolen from pharmacies during the April 27, 2015 rioting. (Brandon Soderberg)
GTTF sold drugs stolen from pharmacies during Baltimore Uprising: “I got an entire pharmacy,” former bail bondsman Donald Stepp said from the witness stand in federal court on Feb. 1. He was quoting former police sergeant Wayne Jenkins, the center of the ongoing corruption trial of two members of the Gun Trace Task Force.
In a trial full of dramatic revelations of corruption, Stepp’s claim was especially significant in this beleaguered city that was about to embark on a third citizen-led ceasefire campaign attempting to halt the brutal pace of near-daily murders from Feb. 2 through Feb. 4.
In June 2015, after what was then Baltimore’s deadliest month in decades, then-Commissioner Anthony Batts blamed the spike in murders on drugs looted from pharmacies during the unrest following the death of Freddie Gray in police custody in April of that year. Headlines blared: “Baltimore police commissioner: looted drugs during riots causing spike in violence.”
Others have claimed that the murders arose from the “Ferguson Effect,” which argues that police “stood down” for fear of being “the next viral video.”
But Stepp’s claims complicate both of those narratives. According to Stepp, early in the morning on April 28, 2015 as Baltimore police struggled to regain some control after weeks of protest had turned to a day of rioting, Jenkins had his own agenda.
“During the riots of Freddie Gray, he called me again, woke me up, said I needed to open the garage door,” Stepp said.
When Jenkins pulled up, Stepp said, he got out of the car, opened the trunk and took out two large trash bags.
“I got people coming out of these pharmacies,” Stepp, who estimated making a million dollars off of selling drugs Jenkins stole, recalled his old friend saying.
Deborah Katz Levi, the head of the Baltimore City Public Defender Special Litigation Section, calls it callous: “There’s some argument that these guys robbed drug dealers, some people say that, right, and that these guys, you know, committed crimes against other alleged criminals—but when you’re taking prescription medication that the citizens of Baltimore, and in impoverished neighborhoods, really needed, that shows a level of callousness that rises all the way to the top,” she said outside the courthouse Thursday.
But in addition to taking medicine away from citizens, according to then-Commissioner Batts’ logic, Jenkins and Stepp contributed to “turf wars,” which he said were “leading to violence and shootings in our city.”
Batts said 27 pharmacies were looted. And while most people think of the burning CVS at the heart of the unrest in Penn North, the DEA claimed that most of the pharmacies were targeted by organized gangs.
“You see the economic value for these gangs in targeting these pharmacies,” Special Agent Gary Tuggle told WBAL back in 2015, comparing the price of Oxycontin—which he said could go for $30 a pill—to heroin, which was selling for $10-$15 a bag.
Stepp testified that he and Jenkins regularly burgled buildings—and that he bought a wide variety of equipment used in such burglaries, including grappling hooks, crowbars, sledgehammers, and tracking devices for Jenkins and other police officers, whom he did not name.
He described Jenkins as a man in control of the city: “It was easy for him to be able to steal because he had access, incredible access because of his position,” Stepp said.
While the exact role GTTF and other rogue officers played in the looting of drugs and the rise of violence is unknown, it is clear that the task force, which was described by prosecutors as “both cops and robbers at the same time,” profited from it.
Cooperating co-defendants testified that, as the murder rate rose in 2015, then-Commissioner Kevin Davis asked Jenkins how he was keeping his squad motivated. According to Evodio Hendrix, Jenkins told the commissioner he was using overtime to keep his crew happy and getting guns off the streets. Davis allegedly told Jenkins to “keep up the good work.”
Jenkins received a bronze star for his conduct in the unrest. Davis was fired two days before the beginning of the GTTF trial.
The worse the crime, the more easily the GTTF could claim fraudulent overtime. In 2015, Daniel Hersl, one of the defendants who has not pleaded guilty and standing trial, made a salary of $77,591 in 2015, and made an additional $86,880 in overtime that year. Hersl claimed that he worked 1,692.9 hours of overtime in 2015—roughly 28 hours of overtime every single week of the year. And yet, according to another GTTF member, Jemell Rayam, Hersl went as long as a month without coming to work at all as he worked on his new home.
Stepp testified that Jenkins called Hersl “one of the most corrupt cops in Baltimore City.”
Hersl was working on May 2, the night after State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced charges against six officers for their roles in Freddie Gray’s death. He is currently being sued for throwing down a credentialed reporter that night. Sgt. Keith Gladstone, who has been described by someone in law enforcement who knows both men as a “mentor” to Jenkins, and Lt. Christopher O’Ree, a GTTF supervisor who approved some of the fraudulent overtime, were both found guilty of using excessive force on the same night in a recent civil case, in which Larry Lomax was awarded $75,000.
Increased violence did not only offer more opportunities for overtime fraud, but it gave the officers a wider latitude in further criminal activity—creating a viciously circular logic of profit.
“This is not a normal police department,” Stepp said on the stand. He also said Jenkins described the GTTF as “a front for a criminal enterprise.”
Rayam testified, for instance, that on at least two occasions, he sold guns back onto the street and that he helped one drug crew rob another. Other testimony has alleged that Jenkins wanted to rob a drug dealer who shorted a friend of his on a cocaine deal.
Stepp said he had known the Jenkins family for 40 years and that Jenkins sent drugs to Stepp through his older brother for eight years before they began working together directly in 2012. After that, Jenkins dropped off drugs almost nightly.
“It was just over the top. Everything and anything that could be imagined,” Stepp said.
But Stepp’s testimony also showed that Jenkins used him to get around his own squad. In the case of Oreese Stevenson, which other officers had testified about at length, Jenkins called Stepp and tried to get him to break into Stevenson’s house before the squad got there.
Stepp testified that Marcus Taylor, the other officer who has pleaded not guilty and is standing trial, and Sgt. Thomas E. Wilson III accompanied him and Jenkins to Scores strip club and acted as security for a visiting drug dealer.
Wilson, who had previously been charged with perjury and was said to be Jenkins’ former partner, has been placed on administrative duty. As more officers are named in connection with the case, many in the city wonder where it will end.
“The only thought I have racing through my mind every day all day is: Where does it stop, how many officers, how many people’s convictions are called into question by these officers’ brazen and really egregious and horrible criminal conduct,” said public defender Levi, who is charged with reviewing the cases.
She said that testimony earlier in the week pushed the number of tainted cases up to somewhere around 3,000.
“We don’t know who’s involved in this kind of criminality,” Levi said. “And there’s really no increased transparency based on these trials. I don’t see anybody from the police department committing openly to get to the bottom of it; I don’t see anyone from the State’s Attorney’s Office saying ‘come look at our files and we’ll show you what we’ve got’ so we can all be in this together and try to undo it.” (Baynard Woods)
Lawyers claim Marilyn Mosby’s office “encouraged” GTTF crimes: The Gun Trace Task Force trial, which wrapped up its second week on Feb. 1, has already provided numerous allegations of police misconduct. But a press conference on Friday, Feb. 2 held by attorney Ivan Bates called attention to even more allegations and seemed to connect the dots between the GTTF and the State’s Attorney’s Office headed by Marilyn Mosby.
Flanked by fellow attorneys Natalie Finegar and Josh Insley and a number of clients who encountered GTTF, Bates, who is running for state’s attorney, detailed what led him on a “seven year battle with Wayne Jenkins and members of that gang called the Gun Trace Task Force.”
Jenkins, Evodio Hendrix, Momodu Gondo, Jemell Rayam, Marcus Taylor, and Maurice Ward are all involved in the incidents detailed during the press conference—although, the victims made clear, the misconduct was not limited to these officers.
“They were together. If you see one police officer breaking the law, you just as guilty as them if you allow it,” said Shawn Whiting, who was arrested by Taylor and Ward of GTTF, and another officer, Eduardo Pinto, in 2014.
“Here are just a few of the faces that have been terrorized by those criminals called the Gun Trace Task Force and we view them as a gang,” Bates said. “It’s important that we recognize that these few faces that you see are the individuals that you’ve been hearing about in the courtroom but there are so many more people that have been terrorized by these criminals.”
In November 2010, Jamal Walker was pulled over in his car by then-Detective Jenkins, who claimed Walker smelled like weed, searched him, and found no weed but did find cash ($40,000 according to Walker), and then headed to Walker’s home and tried to break in. Walker’s wife Jovonne set off their silent burglary alarm during the break-in, which brought police to the residence. Jenkins sent them away and then searched the home himself. Jenkins said he found two guns and reported $20,000 seized.
In January 2014, Whiting, who testified at the GTTF trial on Jan. 25, had money stolen from him after GTTF members pulled him over, claiming he ran five stop signs.
“This case is bigger than you’ve ever seen,” Whiting told the Beat and The Real News Network after the press conference. “I already know it—through experience.”
In September 2016, Andre Crowder was pulled over and hit with a number of gun charges, which were eventually dropped, but Crowder spent three days in jail, he said during the press conference. His experience demonstrated how devastating even a short stint can be.
“When this occurred I was took away from my family for three days and within those three days I lost my 3-year-old son,” Crowder said. “I’m not a doctor but maybe I could have saved my son or whatever—but the three days I was gone I lost him. So it’s bigger than the charge they put on me.”
The officers involved in his arrest were GTTF’s Ward, Gondo, Hendrix, and Taylor.
Finegar focused on the SAO and stated out loud what she said had been murmurs among lawyers, police, and city insiders for years: The SAO had known about GTTF for years and did nothing to stop it.
“The current State’s Attorney’s Office completely dropped the ball in this situation. They not only turned their back on the possibility that these officers were doing horrible things and violating the law themselves,” Finegar said. “They actually encouraged it by letting these officers get away with things time and time again. Between 2015 and 2017 the current state’s attorney knew these officers weren’t showing up for court. Fifty to 60 percent of the time these cases were being dismissed.”
Finegar, who was until recently a public defender, passed out a Jan. 21, 2016 memo about GTTF’s Det. Jemell Rayam. The memo was from StacyAnn Llewellyn, chief of the SAO’s Public Trust and Police Integrity Unit, and addressed to Major Ian Dombroski in BPD’s Internal Affairs Section. It informed the police department that the SAO would be disclosing the results of a Franks hearing (a hearing held to determine if an officer lied to get a warrant) in which Judge Barry Williams—the judge in the case against the officers charged with Freddie Gray’s death—ruled that Rayam had not given credible testimony when he claimed to have seen drugs in plain view in the apartment of Gary Clayton. The charges were dropped. During Clayton’s arrest, Rayam was with Gondo and John Clewell, the only GTTF officer not to face charges though he has been suspended.
Dombrowski, who received the letter, was mentioned in the GTTF trials, when it was alleged that he came up with the overtime or slash days as rewards for getting guns off the street.
Finegar said that even though the “front office” of the SAO got the memo, “they continued to prosecute cases, they continued to fight the disclosure of records again and again and again.” She then pointed out that there is a state’s attorney who “tipped the officers off about the investigation” and that the SAO has made no comment on whether anything happened to that state’s attorney or not.
Insley detailed an arrest of one of his clients, Avon Allen, whose arrest reflected the approach heard by those who testified during the GTTF trial—“that they rolled up, they popped the doors, and when he flinched, they ran right after him.”
“The statement with the benefit of hindsight is so unbelievable,” Insley said. “It says that [Allen]’s running, they’re running after him, and they grab him by the legs and as he’s falling down, the gun goes flying and it skids right into a sewer. No fingerprints, no DNA because it went into a sewer.”
What happened to Allen illustrates the SAO’s troubling approach to prosecution and echoes the trials of Keith Davis Jr., who activists have said is being unfairly and doggedly pursued by Mosby’s office. When Allen went to trial, Insley said, the cop’s testimony didn’t convince a jury and Allen wasn’t charged. The SAO referred Allen’s case to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, who then indicted Allen. But when a U.S. Attorney looked at the file and saw the officers involved, they dismissed the indictment.
“What happens next shows how broken our system is,” Insley said, continuing to describe how the deputy state’s attorney got a warrant for Allen under a new indictment. Eventually, Judge Charles Peters released Allen. Not long after, Insley said, the federal indictments came down. Insley pointed out that as a U.S. attorney, Peters had famously prosecuted dirty cops William King and Antonio Murray in 2006, calling them “urban predators.”
According to court records, the officers involved in Allen’s case were Jenkins, Ward, Hendrix, and Taylor.
In a statement to The Baltimore Sun, Mosby downplayed the press conference: “I realize this is campaign season for those seeking elected office and over the next few months, I fully understand that my administration will be attacked; and while people are entitled to their own opinion, they are certainly not entitled to their own facts,” she said.
The press conference was, in part, a campaign event to be sure. But it also provided important context about the lives that have been disrupted or shattered by GTTF. (Brandon Soderberg & Baynard Woods)
At the end of the week, a video surfaced showing former Commissioner Kevin Davis pinning a bronze star on Wayne Jenkins, the GTTF sergeant whom even Rayam and Gondo thought was “over the top” and “too much,” for his service to other officers during the “riots” following Gray’s death. The moment captures the circularity of the GTTF. The detectives played a major role in creating the animosity toward police that exploded during the uprising. Then they exploited that chaos—resulting in both overtime, accolades, greater latitude, and illegal profit from selling the stolen drugs. If nothing else, the trial reveals that everything most people have thought about the city over the last few years may be false.
Coverage of the Gun Trace Task Force trial is a collaboration between the Baltimore Beat and the Real News Network. Visit therealnews.com for more independent local, national, and international journalism that examines the underlying causes of chronic problems and searches for effective solutions.