Baltimore, MD – A federal jury convicted the last two members of the Baltimore Police’s Gun Trace Task Force on Monday.
Sentencings were expected to be scheduled in the next few months. Several of the charges each officer was convicted of carried potential life sentences.
Federal prosecutors said GTTF members had acted as “both cops and robbers,” using their police authority identify drug dealers who were good targets to rob.
Baltimore Police Spokesman T.J. tweeted out a statement on the convictions from newly-designated Baltimore Police Department (BPD) Commissioner Darryl DeSousa.
It said the officer’s employment would be terminated now that the trial was completed. Both officers had been suspended without pay since March 1, 2017. It also said that all the other officers who pleaded guilty had previously been fired.
“We recognize that this indictment and subsequent trial uncovered some of the most egregious and despicable acts ever perpetrated in law enforcement. I am thankful for the FBI and the BPD internal affairs division for their professionalism while investigating and preparing this case,” the statement read.
He added that they have created a new corruption unit specifically to deal with the allegations of misconduct involving other officers and officials that came to light during the course of this trial.
“Let me make it clear; I have ZERO TOLERANCE for corruption,” Commissioner DeSousa wrote.
“It will be a process and I understand the doubt, fear, and pessimism, but I [assure] you that rooting out anyone who thinks they can tarnish the badge and violate our citizen’s rights, is a top priority of mine,” the commissioner concluded.
The investigation of the task force, and the revelations during the trials that followed, showcased corruption and a lack of accountability, where a special unit tasked with taking guns off the street instead became its own criminal gang.
Prior to the verdicts on Monday, six GTTF members had already pleaded guilty to federal charges including racketeering, robbery and firearms violations. Four of them testified against Detective Hersl and Taylor in this latest trial.
Baltimore Mayor Sharon Pugh released a statement following the verdicts that said "the shocking issues revealed in hours of testimony are precisely the reason we forged ahead with the Department of Justice Consent Decree this past year."
During the two-week trial, the public learned that members of the gun task force were actually stealing and selling guns and drugs for years in the city they’d sworn to protect.
They were systematically targeting high-dollar drug dealers and busting in on them without warrants. Then taking their money without pressing charges.
Officers testified about keeping BB guns in their patrol vehicles to throw down in case they shot an unarmed suspect, and selling looted prescription drugs on the black market after the Freddie Gray riots.
On the first day of the trial, former-GTTF task force member Officer Maurice Ward testified that in one case, the leader of their unit, former Sergeant Wayne Jenkins, took a man’s house keys, went to his home without a warrant, and found drugs and a safe, The Baltimore Sun reported.
Ward said the officers cracked open the safe, which contained $200,000, and helped themselves to half of the money, before closing the safe again, so they could reopen it on-camera as if it were the first time.
He testified that Jenkins listened to the man’s calls made from jail after the arrest, and heard him talking about the police stealing his money, and saying he wanted to hire a good attorney to go after them.
Jenkins determined the man’s wife was taking care of his legal affairs, and set up a scheme to get her to abandon her husband.
Ward testified that they wrote a note purporting to be from another woman, saying the man had gotten her pregnant, and left it on the wife’s doorstep, The Baltimore Sun reported.
Fallout from the gun task force investigation and trials has been prolific – The New York Times reported that the Baltimore state’s attorney has dropped at least 125 criminal cases related to the task force. There are as many as 3,000 tainted cases to be dealt with, according to the public defender’s office.
Twelve additional police officers stood accused of wrongdoing by the end of the trial, and that has raised serious questions about the faltering department’s ability to fix its own problems.
On Monday, Baltimore Police Deputy Commissioner Dean Palmere was accused of coaching officers on how to avoid punishment following a shooting in 2009, The Baltimore Sun reported.
Commissioner Palmere, who denied the accusations, announced his retirement on Feb. 5, the same day he was named in court.
The head of Internal Affairs, Major Ian Dombroski, was also named in testimony by a member of GTTF.
The chairman of the Baltimore city council’s public safety committee, City Councilman Brandon Scott, called for Major Dombroski to be relieved of his command then next day, but no one has been suspended from allegations that surfaced during the trial yet.
Smith said there were multiple internal affairs investigations underway, but at that time, Major Dombroski remained in his positon as head of the internal investigations unit for the police department.
During his closing argument, Assistant U.S. Attorney Leo Wise played an FBI recording of the officers discussing what to do after a chase that ended in a bad crash. He said they chose not to render aid to the suspect they’d been chasing.
“Dude’s unconscious, he’s ain't saying s**t,” Taylor said.
On the recording, Detective Hersl said the officers should alter their time sheets so they weren’t working at the time of the crash, and laughed “Hey, I was in the car just driving home,” The Baltimore Sun reported.
“These men were supposed to be sentinels guarding this city from people that would break the law,” Wise told jurors. “Instead, these men became hunters.”
U.S. District Court Judge Catherine C. Blake spent nearly two hours outlining the jury instructions before sending them into the jury room. The jury deliberated for four hours on Thursday afternoon and then the judge sent them home for the weekend.
The Baltimore Sun reported that the charges Taylor and Hersl face are the same ones the government used to take down gangs and drug organizations.
Neither Detective Hersl nor Detective Taylor opted to take the stand in his own defense.