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The Cautionary Tale Of The Baltimore City Police Department.

They were the best of the best. Often cited as a shining star in law enforcement in the City of Baltimore, the members of the elite Gun Trace Task Force (GTTF) were in fact criminals – selling drugs, robbing victims, and assaulting people at will.

The BBC has a lengthy investigative story on this task force and it is worth the read not because of the salaciousness of the accusations, the cases and the trial of these officers.

Here’s what the public was led to believe about the Gun Trace Task Force, before the FBI arrested almost every member of the squad:

That in a city still reeling from the civil unrest that followed the 2015 death of Freddie Gray in police custody, the GTTF was a bright spot in a department under a dark cloud. The 25-year-old African-American man’s death after a ride in a police transport ignited a build up of decades of tension between Baltimore’s black residents and the police, touching off days of demonstrations, including looting and violence.

That while the homicide rate was on a historic rise, this elite, eight-officer team was getting guns off the streets at an astonishing rate – their supervising lieutenant praised “a work ethic that is beyond reproach” that resulted in 110 arrests and 132 guns confiscated in a 10-month period.

That the GTTF’s leader, a former Marine and amateur MMA fighter named Sergeant Wayne Jenkins, was a hero who’d plunged into a violent crowd during the unrest to rescue injured officers, an act of bravery that earned him a departmental Bronze Star.

But when the sun came up on 1 March 2017, the city awoke to a vastly different reality.

Seven officers were arrested and indicted for racketeering, extortion and fraud: Sergeant Jenkins; Detective Daniel Hersl, a 17-year veteran of the force; longtime partners Detectives Momodu Gondo and Jemell Rayam; and Detectives Maurice Ward, Evodio Hendrix and Marcus Taylor. Only one member – oddly enough, John Clewell, the man whose name triggered the entire investigation – escaped indictment. The FBI found he was never a part of the criminal enterprise.

“They were involved in a pernicious conspiracy scheme that included abuse of power,” the US Attorney for Maryland told reporters that day. Police commissioner Kevin Davis, who’d once praised the men’s work, now likened them to 1930s-style gangsters.

“It’s disgusting,” he said.

The public soon learned that the GTTF stole from drug dealers, but also from a homeless man, a car salesman, a construction worker and many others. The victims were overwhelmingly African-American.

However, there is a theme in the entire narrative:

NO ONE LISTENED TO PEOPLE WHEN THEY SAID THERE WAS A PROBLEM WITH THE GTTF.

Prosecutors were forced to drop cases when the statements of the officers did not match the reality of security videos. Law enforcement from other agencies told the Baltimore City Police Department there was a problem with the GTTF. Several judges reprimanded officers for lying in court and on affidavits.

An Internal Affairs investigation failed to turn up anything (which says something about the investigative skills and powers of that division,) but the FBI finally stepped in.

While all this was going on, the GTTF continued to rob, steal, assault, and perhaps even kill people.

What’s the cautionary tale behind this?

It’s the fact that police officers – those who were in the unit and those who suspected problems with the unit failed to stand up and say “this isn’t right.” While the GTTF merrily continued it illegal enterprises, complaints from citizens were ignored or shoved aside because the person making the complaint was a criminal themselves.

Of course, none of it was their fault, at least according to some:

The jury convicted Hersl and Taylor on most, but not all charges. They determined the men had committed robbery, extortion and fraud, but cleared them of firearms charges. As the US marshals clicked the handcuffs closed on their wrists, Hersl’s family called out to him.

“Stay strong, Danny,” and “I love you, Danny.”

While the Taylor family walked briskly out of the courthouse without saying a word, Stephen Hersl, a retired firefighter and Daniel’s older brother, broke down in front of the television cameras.

“My brother was innocent and it was obvious,” he said, his face wet with tears. “Let’s talk about the corruption on top – everybody starts from the bottom, the little guy. My brother was a little guy.”

He vowed that someday, Daniel would write a book and out the superiors who’d allowed the GTTF to happen.

“Baltimore city, they can’t run a school system, they can’t run a police department, they can’t even run a zoo, Baltimore city!”

Yeah sure. It is always someone else’s fault.

Perhaps the most disturbing testimony that came out of the trials of the members of the GTTF was this:

They admit to putting illegal trackers on the cars of suspected dealers so they could rob their homes and sell off any drugs and guns they found. The squad sergeant, Wayne Jenkins, carried brass knuckles, a machete and a grappling hook — all shown to jurors — in case they found a “monster” dealer to swindle, two officers testified in Baltimore over the past week. Those officers testified that Jenkins also told them to carry BB guns to plant at crime scenes in case they needed to justify why they had hurt someone. (emphasis ours)

This post might seem like we don’t like the police or that we are against the police. We aren’t. One of the members of the staff here at ROH is a retired police officer, in fact.

It is not the police in general that we worry about, but the so called “rogue” cops like the GTTF and like those officers who remain silent on illegal conduct of officers or at the very least, conduct that is contrary to their training and department policies. The “thin blue line,” often headed by police unions and laws that give officers special privileges and treatment when it comes to criminal investigations serve only to increase the public distrust of officers.

The cautionary tale out of Baltimore is that law enforcement must police itself first, and the public second.



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