Protests in Honduras. Screencap courtesy The Real News Network.

Local and national briefs from last week via The Real News Network.

Federal charges say sergeant planted drugs on a suspect for Det. Suiter to discover; Investigation into Suiter’s death handed over to F.B.I.

New federal charges were filed on Nov. 30 against Wayne Jenkins, a sergeant in the Baltimore Police Department’s corrupt Gun Trace Task Force. The charges are related to a 2010 case about which slain detective Sean Suiter was scheduled to testify a day after his death in Baltimore’s Harlem Park neighborhood on Nov. 15.

In the 2010 statement of charges, Jenkins wrote that he saw a man named Brent Matthews approaching a car with “an unknown amount of currency.” Jenkins and Suiter blocked the car in. Jenkins and Det. Ryan Guinn approached the car. According to Jenkins, the man in the car, Umar Burley, drove away and the officers followed him. Burley struck another car, killing one of its occupants. The statement says Det. Suiter “recovered a total of 32 grams of suspected heroin laying on the passenger side of the floorboard.”

“There were no drugs in the car driven by U.B. prior to the crash,” the federal indictment reads. After the crash, Jenkins told Officer #2, whom we have identified as Det. Guinn, to “call a Sergeant who was not at the scene because he had the ‘stuff’ or ‘shit’ in his car.” The sergeant arrived on the scene and Guinn spoke to him before turning “his attention to the elderly driver who remained trapped inside his car on the front porch of the row house.”

The sergeant—who allegedly had an ounce of heroin in his car—has not been identified.

After medics arrived on the scene, Jenkins told Guinn that “the ‘stuff’ or ‘shit’ was in the car,” and said he was going to send Officer #1, Suiter, to the car to find it because he was “clueless.”

“What Jenkins did was set-up officer number one to find the drugs and recover the drugs that Jenkins himself had planted,” Commissioner Kevin Davis said at a press conference where he identified Officer # 1 as Suiter. “Det. Suiter was used, he was Officer Suiter at the time. He was used and put in a position where he unwittingly recovered drugs that had been planted by another police officer. And that’s a damn shame. It really, really is.”

“The extent of criminal activity conducted by BPD officers on duty over many years is shocking,” said Debbie Katz Levi, head of the Baltimore City Public Defender Special Litigation Section in a statement. The Office of the Public Defender has identified more than 2,000 people with either pending cases or convictions related to indicted members of the Gun Trace Task Force. Levi says that Jenkins is personally involved in hundreds of cases.

Both Burley and Matthews pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute heroin “despite the fact that they knew they were innocent,” according to federal documents. “They did so because heroin had been planted in the vehicle in which Burley was the driver and Matthews was a passenger by a Baltimore Police Officer. Both men concluded that in a trial involving the Officer’s word against theirs they would lose.”

At a press conference the next day, Dec. 1, Commissioner Davis announced that the BPD has requested the FBI take over the investigation of the death of slain Detective Suiter.

“I am growing increasingly uncomfortable that my homicide detectives do not know all of the facts known to the FBI and the USAO that could, if revealed to us, assist in furthering this murder investigation,” Davis said, reading his letter to FBI director Christopher Wray.

A growing number of Baltimore leaders, including Congressmen Elijah Cummings, had called on the BPD to hand over the investigation to federal authorities. Davis said he waited until after Suiter’s funeral to make the call. Davis also said he has no reason to believe Suiter’s death was related to his pending testimony on Federal Grand Jury regarding the Baltimore Police Department’s Gun Trace Task Force who have been indicted on federal racketeering charges. (Baynard Woods; additional reporting by Brandon Soderberg)

Trump’s HHS Nominee ‘Should be Under Criminal Investigation’

The U.S. Senate held its first confirmation hearing for Alex Azar to replace Tom Price as secretary of Health and Human Services last week. Price resigned last September after it was discovered that he spent over $400,000 on private chartered flights during his brief tenure. Alex Azar is a long-term conservative who most recently was president of the U.S. affiliate of Eli Lilly and Company. Before that he served in the George W. Bush administration and as a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Many observers in the U.S. healthcare sector argue that Azar would be less ideological than Price, who had a background in the Tea Party movement.

Alex Lawson, the executive director of the advocacy group Social Security Works, told The Real News that Azar should be under investigation for price-fixing that has allowed the cost of insulin to skyrocket. “Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Elijah Cummings wrote to the federal government last year and requested an investigation into this. Five states are investigating this. There’s a civil class action against this illegal price fixing, and they were found guilty of this in Mexico and fined for doing this,” he said. “This is what Alex Azar was running. He was running a cartel that was robbing people by raising the prices up and up and up. (Gregory Wilpert)

Protests Erupt as Honduras Presidential Election Results Reversed

Police and protesters clashed in Honduras last Thursday after tens of thousands took to the streets to contest the presidential election results. Protesters and opposition leaders accused the incumbent president, Juan Orlando Hernandez, of committing voter fraud. When the first results were announced last Monday, Salvador Nasralla, the opposition candidate who is supported by a left-of-center coalition, led the count by five percentage points. Since then, though, the Electoral Council suspiciously interrupted the vote count twice, and when it restarted, President Hernandez had caught up with Nasralla and was leading with just under one percent of the vote. (Gregory Wilpert)

If Tillerson’s Out, is Iran War In?

The White House is reportedly planning a major cabinet shakeup that has strong implications for the world. According to reports, the White House is seeking to replace Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with CIA Director Mike Pompeo. To replace Pompeo at the CIA, the White House is reportedly planning to install Arkansas Republican Senator Tom Cotton. Both Pompeo and Cotton have many things in common, including an avowed disdain for Iran and the Iran Nuclear Deal.

“I think this would be quite disastrous,” Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, told The Real News. “One of the things we should be looking out for, again, is that they will start trying to make connections that simply are not there. The Bush administration was trying to say that Saddam Hussein was working with Al-Qaeda and was behind 9/11. It was completely false. I would suspect that we will see similar type of arguments.” (Aaron Maté)

“Invisible No More:” Andrea Ritchie on Police and Racial Profiling

Andrea Ritchie, who describes herself a police misconduct attorney and organizer, was in Baltimore last month at the National Women’s Studies Association Conference, where she talked about her book “Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women.”

“Invisible No More is a book about racial profiling, police violence, and criminalization,” Ritchie told The Real News. “The title is both a statement of fact and an aspiration. While we’re at the point of unprecedented visibility of Black women as targets of state violence, we nevertheless have a long way to go.”

Ritchie noted that Black women make up the fastest-growing group of inmates in the U.S., noting that neoliberal policies implemented by purportedly liberal cities had only made the situation worse. “I think that the notion that broken windows policing, for instance, makes us safer is a complete fallacy and it is one that is actually built on protecting property and encouraging and moving gentrification,” she said. “It’s something that’s being advanced by folks who otherwise are perceived as or claim to be progressives but in fact are advancing a model of policing that’s about pushing low-income Black people, people who are deemed to signify disorder, out of public spaces. That’s done in racially gendered ways. For instance, anywhere where women of color are hanging out and perceived to be engaged in prostitution becomes a target and it becomes a place where women are arrested without evidence, for loitering for the purposes of prostitution.” (Taya Graham)

GOP Tax Bill is Even Worse Than We Think

The Senate tax bill that passed in a dramatic vote in the middle of the night on Dec. 2 has been called the largest ever transfer of wealth to the very top in U.S. history, and it’s also been called the largest ever U.S. tax increase. That’s because while corporations and millionaires will benefit the most, some 24% of the country would see their taxes actually go up. All told, the measure would add $1 trillion to the federal deficit.

“It’s the largest tax bill in 30 years, and yet you can smell a rat here because of the way the Republicans are going about this,” James Henry, a senior advisor at the Tax Justice Network, a group that advocates for progressive tax policy . “This is indeed one of the largest wealth transfers to the top 5% of the country.” (Aaron Maté)

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