Ar­rest of 7 Bal­ti­more cops sparks crim­i­nal jus­tice ‘night­mare’

Mem­bers of gun task force ac­cused of ram­pant abuses.

Austin American-Statesman - - WORLD - By Juliet Linderman

They were just seven of­fi­cers on a po­lice force of more than 3,000, but the Bal­ti­more de­tec­tives charged in a fed­eral in­dict­ment with theft, fraud and con­spir­acy had an out­sized crime-fight­ing role in a city plagued by vi­o­lence.

The U.S. Jus­tice De­part­ment doc­u­ment calls into ques­tion each and ev­ery case touched by these men, with po­ten­tially cat­a­strophic con­se­quences for the city’s al­ready frag­ile crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem.

“It’s a night­mare,” said Natalie Fine­gar, Bal­ti­more’s deputy pub­lic de­fender. “There’s go­ing to be hun­dreds and we’ll sort through ev­ery story.”

They were mem­bers of the Gun Trace Task Force, a unit ded­i­cated to get­ting il­le­gal guns off the streets of Bal­ti­more, and were in­volved in hun­dreds of cases in the past two years. Fed­eral prose­cu­tors say they used their po­si­tion to ter­ror­ize the com­mu­nity.

The in­dict­ment de­scribes them threat­en­ing the in­no­cent, de­tain­ing peo­ple on false pre­tenses, steal­ing their money, fak­ing po­lice re­ports, ly­ing to in­ves­ti­ga­tors and de­fraud­ing the de­part­ment.

The fall­out had be­gun even be­fore Fine­gar ar­rived at her of­fice Thurs­day morn­ing. Less than 24 hours af­ter their sur­ren­der, a man wait­ing for her in the lobby said he’d been wrong­fully ar­rested by one of the of­fi­cers.

The in­dict­ment an­nounced by U.S. At­tor­ney Rod Rosen­stein on Wed­nes­day says the ac­cused of­fi­cers roamed the streets rob­bing res­i­dents, fil­ing phony re­ports to cover up their crimes and fla­grantly dis­re­gard­ing re­form ef­forts by turn­ing off their body cam­eras.

Prose­cu­tors said in court Thurs­day that wit­nesses are “ter­ri­fied” that the of­fi­cers or their col­leagues will re­tal­i­ate against them, and that some of the of­fi­cers had been “tipped off ” to the fed­eral probe in­ves­ti­ga­tion by other po­lice of­fi­cers and an as­sis­tant state’s at­tor­ney.

As­sis­tant U.S. At­tor­ney Leo Wise also said one wit­ness the de­tec­tives dealt with tes­ti­fied that she didn’t even re­al­ize they were po­lice: “She said she thought they were ‘thugs who were go­ing to rape and kill’ her,” Wise said.

Bal­ti­more State’s At­tor­ney Mar­i­lyn Mosby was not in­formed of the probe un­til the in­dict­ment was an­nounced on Wed­nes­day, Rosen­stein said. Shortly there­after, her of­fice is­sued a state­ment say­ing the charges would have “per­va­sive im­pli­ca­tions on ac­tive in­ves­ti­ga­tions and pend­ing cases.”

Mosby told re­porters Thurs­day that she hadn’t heard about a mem­ber of her staff com­mu­ni­cat­ing with the of­fi­cers. A spokes­woman for Mosby did not re­turn mul­ti­ple calls for more de­tailed com­ment.

The of­fi­cers charged with rack­e­teer­ing are de­tec­tives Mo­modu Gondo, Evo­dio Hen­drix, Daniel Hersl, Wayne Jenk­ins, Jemell Rayam, Mar­cus Tay­lor and Mau­rice Ward. Gondo also is charged with par­tic­i­pat­ing in a drug con­spir­acy.

U.S. Mag­is­trate Judge Stephanie Gal­lagher or­dered six of the of­fi­cers to re­main jailed pend­ing trial due to the “egre­gious breach of pub­lic trust.” The sev­enth will have his de­ten­tion hear­ing to­day.

Rosen­stein on Wed­nes­day said his of­fice “qui­etly” dropped five fed­eral cases in which one or more of the of­fi­cers were in­volved in ar­rest­ing or charg­ing the suspects, and in­di­cated that there could be more.

De­fense at­tor­neys are re­view­ing their cases to see what to do about any in­volv­ing the of­fi­cers.

“First, to make sure any­one with an open case — if they’re in­car­cer­ated or if they’re on the street and their lives have been on hold — there could be false al­le­ga­tions,” Fine­gar said.

“Then, there are cases we’ve just re­cently han­dled while the in­ves­ti­ga­tion was on­go­ing, and there’s sub­stan- tial, cred­i­ble ev­i­dence that these of­fi­cers shouldn’t have been al­lowed to tes­tify and rep­re­sent the po­lice de­part­ment,” she said.

“In some cases, in­di­vid­u­als took plea bargains be­cause they thought they’d never be be­lieved over a po­lice offi- cer. Or they’ve gone to trial and the at­tor­ney hasn’t had the ben­e­fit to cross-ex­am­ine the of­fi­cers about their cred- ibil­ity. It’s so per­va­sive,” Fine­gar said.

Po­lice Com­mis­sioner Kevin Davis said Wed­nes­day that the of­fi­cers rep­re­sent only a tiny frac­tion of a force full of good and hon- est of­fi­cers. But be­cause the Gun Trace Task Force was re­spon­si­ble for re­mov­ing guns from the streets, their fin­ger­prints are ev­ery­where.

And as word of the ir charges spread in the de­part­ment, of­fi­cers weren’t sur­prised, Davis said.

Some of the of­fi­cers have al­ready cost tax­pay­ers in set­tle­ments over abuse alle- gations.

The Bal­ti­more Sun re­ported in 2014 that the city set­tled three cases in­volv- ing Hersl, in­clud­ing a com- plaint brought by a man who ac­cused him of break­ing his nose and jaw and a woman who said he broke her arm.

At­tor­ney Brian Bishop said Ward and Jenk­ins robbed hun­dreds of dol­lars and a Rolex watch from one of his clients, then took his car for a joy ride.

De­fense lawyer Ivan Bates said he’s rep­re­sented eight or nine clients ar­rested by these of­fi­cers in the past two years. In one, he said they turned off their body cam­eras and threat­ened his client; in an­other, he said they il­le­gally searched a home with­out a war­rant.

The state’s at­tor­ney’s of­fice should never have al­lowed these of­fi­cers to tes­tify, Bates said.

“They knew these of­fi­cers are dirty,” he said. “It’s not as if these of­fi­cers haven’t been do­ing this for years.”

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