Sgt. Wayne Jenkins was on a mission to find big dealers and steal their drugs and cash. Then the feds found him.
Ivan Bates stood in a Baltimore courtroom, conflicted. For years, the defense attorney had heard stories from clients who said they were robbed by the vaunted Baltimore police Sgt. Wayne Jenkins. The defendant Bates was representing on this day in October 2016 was just the latest.
But affirming that the man had drugs and the attendant cash when Jenkins arrested him — and actually far more of both than the sergeant had written in his report — was not going to help Bates’ client.
Nor was a judge likely to believe that the leader of the elite Baltimore Gun Trace
Task Force had robbed accused drug dealer O’Reese Stevenson.
The details of Jenkins’ arrest of Stevenson — and what happened next — would have stretched credulity even more.
After pulling Stevenson over in Northwest Baltimore and sizing him up as a
This series was produced in partnership with the Pulitzer Center.
big-time dealer, Jenkins had phoned his drug-dealing partner, a bail bondsman.
“I need you to come here as quick as you can,” Jenkins told him. “I’ve got a ‘monster.’ ”
He was not making a moral judgment.
“Monster” was Jenkins’ term for those higher-level players in Baltimore’s black-market economy who stacked bricks of packaged drugs and cash. Finding such dealers had become a principal focus of Jenkins’ work — so he could rob them. Arresting them was optional.
He toted around a duffel bag in the back of his van that contained a burglar’s toolkit, ready for such opportunities: black masks, gloves, crowbars, sledgehammers, a machete, a grappling hook. The implements were to allow Jenkins to break into a monster’s home or stash house, one of his officers would later testify.
The well-regarded police sergeant wasn’t just stealing cash. He was raiding the dealers’ supply, giving the product to the bondsman to sell on the street. They shared the profit, thousands of dollars per heist.
Successful plainclothes policing is dependent on an officer being taken at his word. After the death of Freddie Gray in 2015 and the U.S. Justice Department report that found widespread civil rights abuses by Baltimore police, trust in the police department seemed at an all-time low.
But an investigation by The Baltimore Sun found that the officers of the Gun Trace Task Force still had trust where it mattered most: within the police department, among the prosecutors who took their cases and with the judges who presided over the outcomes.
Jenkins had arrested Stevenson just before he was made head of the Gun Trace Task Force in the summer of 2016. Under Jenkins’ leadership, he and six members of his squad of Baltimore police officers operated as a criminal enterprise raking in tens of thousands of dollars from the monster dealers they targeted.
It was the perfect crime. No one would believe a suspect who said he’d been robbed by the cops. And there was no gain in admitting that you had possessed drugs and cash — a lot more, in fact, before the officers took some.
This was the dilemma Bates faced as he considered what to do in Judge Barry Williams’ courtroom.
“You’ve got to remember: The thought process of the prosecutors is they are criminals,” Bates said of his clients. “So is anybody really going to believe a ‘criminal’?”
Bates had to figure out another way to beat Jenkins. He decided to challenge the tactics the sergeant and his squad said they used in arresting Stevenson.
When they came upon him near Pimlico Race Course, four officers hopped out of their car and surrounded Stevenson in his. Courts have held that the act of surrounding a vehicle constitutes a detention — and Jenkins and his unit had no evidence to justify that.
Williams agreed with Bates’ argument and threw out the case. Stevenson was off the hook.
And so was Jenkins. There’d be no court testimony this day alleging that he was a criminal, too.
Far from it. Williams asked the prosecutor to tell Jenkins not to be discouraged by his loss in court. He should just be more careful.
“Just so you know, I did find your officer relatively credible,” Williams told the assistant state’s attorney. “Let him know what the law is,” the judge advised.
— Wayne Jenkins said, according to Ronald Hamilton’s court testimony. Jenkins tried to get Hamilton to cooperate with other investigations, suggesting he might even provide Hamilton with drugs to keep the information flowing.
named Ronald Hamilton, who they believed was dealing drugs.
“As much as I hate doing this, sir,” a Southwestern District sergeant wrote to a supervisor in an email obtained by The Sun, “Mr. Hamilton’s investigation has grown a lot bigger than just our district.”
It was time to call in the GTTF, the department’s heavy hitters.
The unit’s detectives bought cheap, commercial GPS trackers over the internet and used them as a substitute for personal observation. Without a judge’s approval, Detective Jemell Rayam put one of these devices on Hamilton’s vehicle. Then, by watching an app on his phone while sitting at home in Owings Mills, Rayam could track where Hamilton was going.
“He at this big-ass mansion with a pool in the back,” Rayam told his partner over the phone in a recorded conversation.
Detective Momodu Gondo encouraged patience. “I’m down for it but I would wait, especially to see where he takes his profit at. Feel me?”
While the city was transfixed that summer by every turn in the trials of the officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray, the plainclothes units continued to operate under the radar. When Jenkins took over the task force, he joined the plan to stalk Hamilton, who seemed to fit Jenkins’ definition of a monster. Years before, the Maryland State Police had called Hamilton the person “who controlled most of the drug trafficking in west and southwest Baltimore City and County.”
He served eight years in federal prison after a 1998 case in which police found a pound and a half of cocaine in his house, a loaded handgun on the kitchen table — and a staggering half-million dollars in a gym bag.
Hamilton later served six years in another drug case.
After his release in May 2014, Hamilton purchased a 4,100-squarefoot home with a pool in the exurb of Carroll County. When questioned later about his income, Hamilton would say he was buying and selling used cars, and gambling. He vehemently denied being involved in drug dealing.
One night, Rayam would say later, Jenkins and the crew were following Hamilton around the city and beyond. Police officers generally can’t go outside their jurisdiction, but the gun task force had obtained statewide authority.
Jenkins, in another car, relayed to his officers that he saw Hamilton get out of his vehicle carrying a large shopping bag.
“And he was like, ‘Man, I know it was money in there or something big in there … I felt like just hitting him and taking the bag,’ ” Rayam said.
In that moment, Rayam — who’d been robbing people for years — realized that his new sergeant had similar goals.
The long-range work they were supposed to do for their jobs, tracking dealers, was the same thing that enabled Jenkins and the squad to pull off their crimes.
In early July, the officers decided to swoop in as Hamilton and his wife were shopping for blinds at a Home Depot in Northwest Baltimore. Jenkins was nearby awaiting word that the Hamiltons had been grabbed, and told the officers to pretend he was a federal prosecutor when he arrived.
The officers first took the couple to the “The Barn,” the Baltimore Police Department’s satellite office for plainclothes units, a moniker apparently taken from a television show about crooked cops. The squad had gotten a search warrant, and now officers took the couple to their home in Carroll to see what they could find.
They searched for hours and found a heat-sealed bag containing $50,000. In a closet, they found $20,000 more. No drugs or guns were located.
Jenkins tried to get Hamilton to cooperate with other investigations, suggesting he might even provide Hamilton with drugs to keep the information flowing.
“You take care of us, we’ll take care of you,” Jenkins said, Hamilton would later testify. “You might even wake up one day with 10 kilos in your backyard.” Hamilton declined.
The gun task force officers pocketed the $20,000. To cover their tracks, they called Maryland State Police to the home to document seizing the other $50,000. Although nothing illegal had been found and Hamilton was not charged with any crime, under civil asset forfeiture laws his money could be seized if he couldn’t account for how it was earned.
Hamilton fought back, hoping to retrieve at least the $50,000 the cops had admitted seizing. During forfeiture proceedings, he won the return of the portion he could document earning — $30,000. But he had to forfeit the remainder to the government.
Of course, the $20,000 Jenkins’ squad had taken for themselves was gone, too.
It’s not clear when Jenkins, who joined the police department in 2003, began stealing. In his plea agreement, the earliest admitted robbery was in 2011, after a high-speed chase and a crash. The victim in that case, like many contacted by The Sun for this report, declined to speak about the circumstances. Some cited a desire to move on with their lives, while others said they feared retribution.
Videos, interviews and testimony suggest a pattern that began earlier for Jenkins, including entering homes without a warrant. He and other officers would say they were merely seeing whether the keys worked, which is allowed to confirm someone’s link to a property.
But according to some defense attorneys, officers would go on to enter the house and secretly search. If they found something worthwhile, they might return with a warrant.
Bates had flagged the issue at a client’s trial in 2014.
“What police are telling you, which is mind boggling, is we’re going to take a person’s keys, and we’re just going to go to their house, and we’re going to go ahead and put them in the door, and if it opens, it opens,” Bates told the judge. “That’s mind boggling because as citizens we have rights, and it’s obvious the police don’t believe these rights apply to these citizens.”
One of the clearest examples Bates came across was back in 2010. Jenkins was an officer in a different plainclothes unit then, and he and a sergeant spotted a man named Jamal Walker sitting in his car in East Baltimore.
They asked Walker to get out of the vehicle. They said they smelled marijuana. Walker said he didn’t smoke and didn’t have any marijuana.
Jenkins “asked if I had guns, drugs or large amounts of money,” Walker recalled in an interview. He said he replied he had $40,000 in cash destined for the bank.
The sergeant, Keith Gladstone — whom Jenkins has described as a mentor — dangled a bag of marijuana that Walker says did not belong to him. “Now we get to keep your money,” Gladstone told him, according to Walker. He alleges that the cops pocketed $20,000 of his money.
Walker told all that to his lawyer Bates, who defended Walker against the drug and gun charges that resulted from his arrest. It was what reportedly happened next that really alarmed Bates.
Walker’s wife, Jovonne, said the officers came to their home that night and entered without a warrant. Terrified to discover strange men entering her home, she triggered the alarm system, which summoned uniformed patrol officers to the scene.
Neither Jenkins nor Gladstone were charged in Walker’s case.
But Gladstone, now retired from the police department, pleaded guilty May 31 to a federal conspiracy charge for planting a BB gun on a man after Jenkins ran him down with his car in 2014. Gladstone faces up to 10 years at sentencing in September.
Gladstone, like Jenkins, declined to comment for this article.
Staci Pipkin, now a Baltimore defense lawyer, was the prosecutor on the charges against Walker and on other cases involving Jenkins’ arrests around that time.
Other defendants made claims against officers when she worked in the state’s attorney’s office, Pipkin said. “We’d start investigations,” she said. She knew of no such allegations about Jenkins.
Pipkin remembers Jenkins as a cop who seemed like he wanted to do everything right. He wasn’t afraid to call in the middle of the night to ask a question about the law.
“If you would’ve asked me, before the indictments came down, who the best narcotics cop was in Baltimore, he would’ve been top three,” Pipkin said.
In September 2015, a woman remembers being home when she heard someone quietly come in the front door of her Southwest Baltimore
Many of the Baltimore Police Department’s plainclothes units worked out of a satellite building officers called “The Barn,” an apparent reference to a TV show about crooked cops.
Defense attorney Ivan Bates said he represented more than 30 people arrested by Jenkins, many of whom complained about the officer’s illegal tactics.