2 Bal­ti­more de­tec­tives guilty in cor­rup­tion trial

6 oth­ers from squad have also ad­mit­ted to fraud, rob­bery and con­spir­acy

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY RACHEL WEINER

bal­ti­more — Two Bal­ti­more de­tec­tives were con­victed Mon­day of rob­bery and rack­e­teer­ing in a trial that laid bare shock­ing crimes com­mit­ted by an elite po­lice unit and sur­faced new al­le­ga­tions of wide­spread cor­rup­tion in the city’s po­lice de­part­ment.

Daniel Hersl, 47, and Mar­cus Tay­lor, 30, join six col­leagues from the Gun Trace Task Force who al­ready had pleaded guilty in a con­spir­acy that also in­cluded over­time fraud. But the guilty ver­dicts of­fer small com­fort for a city where homi­cides keep ris­ing and gun vi­o­lence rocks neigh­bor­hoods even as the po­lice de­part­ment strug­gles to over­come ac­counts of bias and law­break­ing.

The head of in­ter­nal affairs has been trans­ferred and a deputy com­mis­sioner has re­tired af­ter both were im­pli­cated in mis­con­duct dur­ing trial tes­ti­mony. Thou­sands of con­vic­tions in cases han­dled by the task force are now be­ing ques­tioned by de­fense at­tor­neys.

“This trial took you in­side the Bal­ti­more Po­lice De­part­ment,” As­sis­tant U.S. At­tor­ney Leo Wise told ju­rors last week. “It showed you things more hor­ri­ble in some cases than you ever could have imag­ined.”

Af­ter the ver­dicts, Act­ing Po­lice Com­mis­sioner Dar­ryl De Sousa said in a state­ment that the in­dict­ment and trial “un­cov­ered some of the most egre­gious and de­spi­ca­ble acts ever

per­pe­trated in law en­force­ment,” and said he had zero tol­er­ance for cor­rup­tion.

De Sousa, who was named to head the po­lice amid out­rage over spik­ing crimes, said his 3,100-mem­ber de­part­ment would need to earn back trust and re­spect from the com­mu­nity and said “I un­der­stand the doubt, fear and pes­simism” but pledged to root out “any­one who thinks they can tar­nish the badge.”

Most of the be­hav­ior charged in the case took place even as the de­part­ment was al­ready un­der fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the Jus­tice De­part­ment for rou­tinely vi­o­lat­ing res­i­dents’ con­sti­tu­tional rights, par­tic­u­larly in deal­ings with African Amer­i­cans.

That 14-month Jus­tice in­ves­ti­ga­tion be­gan in the wake of protests and ri­ot­ing af­ter the death of Fred­die Gray from an in­jury in po­lice cus­tody and ended in Au­gust 2016 with a scathing re­port and a con­sent de­cree un­der which po­lice have started wear­ing body cam­eras, be­gun new train­ing, and sub­mit­ted to com­mu­nity and ju­di­cial over­sight.

Over two weeks in fed­eral court, four for­mer mem­bers of the once-lauded unit who ear­lier pleaded guilty took the stand in their new prison uni­forms and ad­mit­ted to crimes de­nied for years dur­ing in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions and law­suits. The of­fi­cers stole hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars in cash, drugs, guns and lux­ury ac­ces­sories while pre­tend­ing to be seiz­ing the goods for le­git­i­mate en­force­ment ob­jec­tives. They con­cocted rea­sons to chase and search sus­pects or en­ter houses with­out war­rants to sift through goods they wanted. They cov­ered up their in­volve­ment in car crashes when rogue pur­suits went bad.

One of­fi­cer gave his girl­friend a stolen Chanel purse, ac­cord­ing to his tes­ti­mony. Other of­fi­cers pro­vided se­cu­rity for a high-level drug deal at a strip club.

They dou­bled their salaries by ly­ing to claim ex­trav­a­gant over­time when they were ac­tu­ally at bars or, in an­other in­stance, out of the coun­try on va­ca­tion.

Hersl put his head in his hands when the ver­dict was read, and when he stood and turned so a mar­shal could hand­cuff him, his face was red and there were tears in his eyes.

Tay­lor ap­peared im­pas­sive, hug­ging one of his at­tor­neys be­fore be­ing led away.

Hersl’s brother, Steve Hersl, said later that “Danny” did not “de­serve this. Let’s talk about the cor­rup­tion that starts at the top.”

Re­fer­ring to the task force once hailed for its polic­ing, he said, “Danny got hun­dreds of guns off the street . . . the same guys were pat­ting Danny on the back when times got rough.”

One man in the court­room said he was over­come by re­lief at the ver­dict.

Alex Hil­ton, 46, said he was ha­rassed in East Bal­ti­more by Hersl for years. He said he could un­der­stand how Hersl’s fam­ily felt, and didn’t like see­ing any­one sent to prison. But, he said, he also felt vin­di­cated.

“I feel free,” he said, cry­ing. “I feel safe. I don’t have to watch po­lice cars com­ing and run fast, wor­ry­ing that’s him.”

Hersl and Tay­lor were part of a years-long scheme first ex­posed in 2015 by a Drug En­force­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion wire­tap on a sus­pected dealer’s phone. The DEA alerted the FBI.

Mo­modu Gondo, the of­fi­cer picked up on the wire­tap, pleaded guilty last year, along with task force sergeant Wayne Jenk­ins, its for­mer sergeant Thomas Allers, and de­tec­tives Evo­dio Hen­drix, Jemell Rayam and Mau­rice Ward.

Gondo, Hen­drix, Rayam and Ward all tes­ti­fied at trial, as did a young of­fi­cer who was trans­ferred soon af­ter join­ing the unit, hav­ing de­clined to com­mit crimes.

Only one task force mem­ber, de­tec­tive John Clewell, was not charged and re­mains on the force.

The squad’s vic­tims, many self-de­scribed drug deal­ers, took to the stand to re­call how they were hand­cuffed and in­ter­ro­gated about their wealth by of­fi­cers more in­ter­ested in find­ing money than press­ing charges.

Wire­taps let ju­rors hear first­hand how the of­fi­cers freely dis­cussed divvy­ing stolen cash and co­or­di­nated lies about their ex­ag­ger­ated work hours.

One con­ver­sa­tion from Au­gust 2016, recorded by an FBI de­vice hid­den in an of­fi­cer’s car, cap­tured task force mem­bers re­act­ing to a chase through the rain that ended in a bad car crash.

“Dude’s un­con­scious, he’s ain’t say­ing s---,” Tay­lor is heard say­ing.

Hersl sug­gests they change their timesheets to hide their in­volve­ment. “Hey, I was in the car just driv­ing home,” he says, laugh­ing.

The of­fi­cers did not of­fer aid to the in­jured cit­i­zens.

Rayam cried on the stand re­mem­ber­ing that day.

“It could have been any of us,” he said of the in­jured pas­sen­gers. “It could’ve been you.”

Mayor Cather­ine Pugh and De Sousa have tried to min­i­mize the im­pact of the rev­e­la­tions, sug­gest­ing a few bad of­fi­cers are the heart of the cor­rup­tion and of the civil rights vi­o­la­tions.

“That par­tic­u­lar unit has been al­ready bro­ken up,” Pugh said at a news con­fer­ence last Wed­nes­day when asked about the trial. The prob­lems, she said, are lim­ited to “a few mem­bers of our po­lice de­part­ment.”

She brought on De Sousa last month, af­ter re­plac­ing Po­lice Com­mis­sioner Kevin Davis for fail­ing to stem vi­o­lent crime.

But some of the star­tling al­le­ga­tions aired in court in­volved con­duct that was never charged, as the of­fi­cers on trial tried to shift the fo­cus on their ex-col­leagues’ mis­deeds. Tes­ti­mony por­trayed the de­part­ment as rid­dled with op­por­tunists who cut cor­ners and broke rules.

Court doc­u­ments sug­gested the prob­lems seeped be­yond the po­lice de­part­ment.

All six plea agree­ments state that some­one in the state’s at­tor­ney’s of­fice leaked in­for­ma­tion about the fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion to the task force mem­bers, and sev­eral of­fi­cers tes­ti­fied fel­low po­lice gave them a heads-up as well.

Sev­eral of­fi­cers called by pros­e­cu­tors to tes­tify about em­ploy­ment records and other is­sues ad­mit­ted re­luc­tantly un­der cross-ex­am­i­na­tion that de­part­ment lead­ers reg­u­larly hand out un­earned over­time as a re­ward for taking guns or drugs off the streets.

“If it’s fraud, the fraud is ram­pant among the ag­gres­sive po­lice squads of Bal­ti­more City and right up the chain of com­mand it was ac­knowl­edged with a wink and a nod,” Herl’s at­tor­ney Wil­liam Pur­pura said in clos­ing ar­gu­ments.

Mem­bers of the de­part­ment who have been work­ing with the FBI were in court ev­ery day track­ing new al­le­ga­tions, De Sousa said.

“When you have an idea that there’s just a few bad ap­ples, un­less you in­spect the en­tire barrel you have no abil­ity to make that de­ter­mi­na­tion,” said state Del. Mary Wash­ing­ton, a Demo­crat who rep­re­sents parts of the city and con­fronted De Sousa about the gun task force cases dur­ing a re­cent meet­ing in An­napo­lis.

The brazen crimes from of­fi­cers en­trusted to pro­tect the pub­lic is “cor­ro­sive to the trust of the pub­lic,” act­ing U.S. at­tor­ney Stephen Schen­ning said af­ter ver­dicts. But he added, “if there’s a mes­sage, it’s that the jus­tice sys­tem will rec­tify, we will in­ves­ti­gate . . . their busi­ness model failed. You can’t rob peo­ple just be­cause they’re drug deal­ers.”

At the trial, pros­e­cu­tors tried to high­light tes­ti­mony they said showed a dif­fer­ent, hon­est path ex­ists in the po­lice de­part­ment.

De­tec­tive James Kosto­plis told ju­rors that when he joined the Gun Trace Task Force in 2016, then-Sgt. Jenk­ins ap­proached him to ask what he thought about steal­ing money from drug deal­ers.

“You can’t have a badge and do that,” Kosto­plis re­sponded. “That’s what sep­a­rates us from the crim­i­nals.”

At the time, Kosto­plis tes­ti­fied, he thought he was be­ing tested.

Later, when the in­dict­ments came out, Kosto­plis said he re­al­ized the true na­ture of that over­ture from Jenk­ins and what he had been asked and called the FBI.

“I feel free. I feel safe. I don’t have to watch po­lice cars com­ing and run fast.” Alex Hil­ton, 46, who said he was ha­rassed in East Bal­ti­more by Hersl for years

Bal­ti­more de­tec­tives Daniel Hersl, left, and Mar­cus Tay­lor were con­victed Mon­day of rob­bery and rack­e­teer­ing.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.