A federal jury on Monday convicted two Baltimore police officers who were members of the now-defunct Gun Trace Task Force.
Their crimes? Carrying out some of the most shocking examples of police abuse of power, including stealing thousands of dollars or planting guns on suspects.
Two of the former detectives, Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor, were convicted of racketeering conspiracy, racketeering and Hobbs Act robbery charges, according to Elizabeth Morse, spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office in Maryland.
The two officers had pleaded not guilty. They face up to 20 years on each felony count, for a total of 60 years.
Eight members of the task force were indicted last year and six of them pleaded guilty. Four of them testified against their ex-colleagues, along with drug dealers who struck deals for more lenient punishments.
Hersl, Taylor and the other detectives carried out blatant crimes under cover of their law enforcement badges. The officers seized drugs and guns on the street, unlawfully took money from drug dealers and even framed and locked up innocent people.
According to the testimony of one of Hersl and Taylor’s former partners, Maurice Ward, some officers kept BB guns in their squad cars in case they got involved in a shootout or hit someone and needed to plant the guns on suspects and frame them, according to a local news media outlet.
Ward said when the task force was out patrolling, Sgt. Wayne Jenkins — who also pleaded guilty — would quickly drive toward a group of people, notably those who were carrying backpacks (as according to them, why would anyone need a backpack but to transport illicit items), pop open their doors and would chase after those who were caught off guard and took off running. Those who tried to flee were pursued, arrested and searched. They would do this exercise to about 50 “suspects” in a night and rob them of money and drugs.
Jenkins would also stop “dope boy cars” — vehicles he suspected were driven by drug pushers — under bogus, made-up circumstances and would also give unit members paid time off that was not recorded in the books, in exchange for getting guns off the street, according to Ward.
A small-time drug dealer, Sergio Summerville, said Hersl came to his storage unit downtown “like a gang” and would regularly ask him for money and whom he had been in contact with. He said the detective stole $2,400 he had stuffed in a sock and drugs from him. When an employee, who worked at storage unit where Summerville was hiding his dope, asked for a search warrant from the officers, one of them said he “looked like somebody that needed to be robbed.”
Task force members also admitted they forcefully entered a home without a warrant and broke into a safe. They took $200,000 in cash, hid half the money and then put the rest of the money in the safe. Then one officer filmed a video that showed another detective pretending to open the safe for the first time, after they had already pocketed $100,000.
Former officer Evodio Hendrix, who pleaded guilty, said Jenkins kept a grappling hook, machete, sledgehammer, masks and other items in his car in case they “ran into a monster, someone with a lot of money and drugs” — not to arrest them but to rob them.
A man named Ronald Hamilton testified that after he won money gambling at a casino, the task force targeted him, searched his home and walked off with at least $25,000 in cash.
Bail bondsman Donald Stepp testified Jenkins would wait outside shuttered pharmacies, just on the off-chance he could rip off thieves stealing drugs from the stores. He would then grab the loot, bring it to Stepp in garbage bags, who would then dump them on the black market. Hersl would get a share of the profit from the drug sales.
Among deteriorating race relations and soaring distrust between communities and law enforcement agencies, the rogue task force played “both cops and robbers,” said lead prosecuting attorney Leo Wise.
The case has shed light on some of the most deeply ingrained problems in Baltimore Police Department, of which the residents had been aware for years.
“The Gun Trace Task Force wasn’t a unit that went rogue,” Wise told jurors. “It was a unit of officers who had already gone rogue.”
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