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Amid corruption trial, City Council's public safety chair calls for removal of Baltimore Police internal affairs chief

Baltimore City Councilman Brandon Scott, chair of the council’s public safety committee, called Friday for the removal of the police department’s internal affairs chief after claims made about him during the ongoing federal trial of two members of a corrupt gun unit.

Former Detective Maurice Ward, who pleaded guilty in the case, spent two days on the witness stand this week outlining misconduct by the Gun Trace Task Force and testified that he earned thousands of dollars in unworked overtime pay. He said he first heard of the practice when a supervisor told him then-Lt. Ian Dombroski was authorizing such payments as a reward for taking guns off the street.

Dombroski, the major in charge of internal affairs since 2015, said in a statement provided by the Police Department that Ward’s claim is “completely false and clear retaliation for internal affairs investigating and arresting him last year with federal authorities.”

“Ward is a felon and admitted ‘professional liar,’” said Dombroski, referring to Ward’s testimony. “At no time in my career did I authorize Ward or any other officer to earn overtime hours not worked.”

Scott, a close ally of new Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa, said Friday there was “no doubt [Dombroski] should be removed from internal affairs, at a bare minimum.”

Scott was critical of Dombroski when he was investigated previously and cleared for overtime misuse earlier in his career.

“I never thought he should be in charge of internal affairs, and I don’t think he should be there anyway,” Scott said. “I don’t think he should be employed by the Police Department.”

The Police Department said no one has been suspended as a result of Ward’s claims, but spokesman T.J. Smith said that multiple internal affairs investigations were underway.

Federal prosecutors last year charged eight members of the elite unit on racketeering charges, accusing them of executing searches without warrants, invading private homes, robbing suspects and innocent citizens of cash and reselling drugs on the street.

Six of the officers, including the unit’s commander, have pleaded guilty. A trial for the remaining two, Detectives Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor, started Monday.

The officers also are charged with taking unearned overtime pay. Ward testified that overtime pay was used to reward and motivate officers in the Police Department, with his sergeant authorizing so-called “slash days” where officers would get time-and-a-half for hours they did not have to work.

Smith, the spokesman, said such “slash days” are not allowed.

Spending on overtime soared in the fiscal year that concluded in June. Police spent $45 million on overtime, after the city budgeted $17 million for overtime pay. At the halfway point of this fiscal year, the agency had spent more than $24 million on overtime, officials said.

Police maintain overtime spending is being largely driven by frozen and vacant positions, and a patrol schedule agreement struck with the union years ago that required more officers. An audit promised by Mayor Catherine E. Pugh is ongoing.

Through two days of testimony, the trial has aired a slew of new claims of pervasive misconduct that took place for years with the unit.

De Sousa, in an interview on WBAL radio Friday, called the task force officers a “few small apples that make the entire barrel look bad.” Pugh told The Sun the unit’s crimes were “stuff of the past” and the consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice would help reform the police department.

City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young said he has long been concerned about overtime spending but is “a little more concerned now” following revelations at the trial.

“I’m not opposed to overtime for the police officers if they’re actually working it and reducing crime,” Young said. “I want to see crime decrease in those areas where they’re working overtime.”

Sen. Nathaniel McFadden said the misconduct revelations in the case “seem to document many of the concerns many residents have,” and should inspire new checks and balances that will create a deterrent.

“I think the incoming commissioner has some work to do,” he said.

State Del. Nick Mosby said police spend $1.3 to $2 million every two weeks for police overtime, “a tremendous pressure on our city budget” that may be taking away from other areas.

“We have limited resources to operate the city. We can’t have folks stealing those resources away.” he said.

Ward testified that officers would routinely show up late to their scheduled shifts so they could earn overtime. He said Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, the unit’s commander, would send text messages to the officers saying “Stop conducting surveillance, meet me at headquarters.” It was code for: “Time to come in to work.”

Jenkins also has pleaded guilty in the case.

In a wiretapped call, Ward could be heard telling another officer that Lt. Chris O’Ree gave the “green light.” “The OT budget opened back up, work as much as you want,” he said. Ward said Jenkins told his officers he had unlimited overtime approval as long as they got the job done.

Though Dombroski said Ward’s claims were retaliation, the internal affairs unit did not lead the investigation that led to the indictments of the Gun Trace Task Force. The department has investigators detailed to the FBI’s public corruption task force that played key roles, but police have been kept at arm’s length from the findings of the federal investigation.

Former Commissioner Kevin Davis had complained that he felt in the dark about what federal authorities had discovered, asking the FBI to take over the investigation into the death of Det. Sean Suiter — who was killed one day before he was to testify before a grand jury investigating the task force — because he was “uncomfortable” with his level of information.

Officers on the Gun Trace Task Force had been investigated multiple times by internal affairs over the years, under several different internal affairs directors, and returned to the job. Ward also claimed on the stand that Taylor had a source in internal affairs who tipped the officers off to investigations into their conduct.

In 2011, Dombroski and a fellow newly promoted commander, Robert Quick, were investigated over allegations they improperly received overtime payments. Quick and Dombroski had been promoted from lieutenant to the command-level rank of deputy major.

But for a period of time, prosecutors said, both were serving as deputy majors while being compensated as lieutenants, and continued to receive overtime payments. While lieutenants are entitled to overtime pay, commanders are not.

Scott brought the allegations to the inspector general’s office, which referred them to the State’s Attorney’s Office.

Dombroski and Quick were cleared by then-State's Attorney Gregg Bernstein’s office in late 2012. Prosecutors determined the two officers were entitled to continue receiving overtime until their command-level positions became official.

jfenton@baltsun.com

twitter.com/justin_fenton

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