Notable testimony from the Baltimore Police Gun Trace Task Force corruption trial

The Baltimore Sun

A federal jury has convicted two Baltimore Police detectives, Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor, for their roles in one of the biggest police corruption scandals in recent memory.

The verdict capped a weeks-long trial that featured bombshell testimony — from the role-reversal of drug dealers testifying against police officers, to a convicted officer saying he stole money with slain Detective Sean Suiter.

Here’s a rundown of the most notable tidbits from each day of the trial:

Trial Day 1: Tuesday, Jan. 23

Detective Maurice Ward, one of the Gun Trace Task Force officers who has pleaded guilty to his role in a racketeering conspiracy, took the stand on the first day of trial for two of his co-defendants, Hersl and Taylor, and laid out a wide array of astonishing corruption he said the officers took part in.

Some notable moments from the testimony during Tuesday’s proceedings:

» Ward testified that his squad would prowl the streets for guns and drugs, with his supervisor, Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, driving fast at groups of people and slamming on the brakes. The officers would pop their doors open to see who ran, then give chase and detain and search them. Ward said this occurred 10 to 20 times on slow nights, and more than 50 times, “easy,” on busier nights.

The officers had no reason to target the crowds other than to provoke someone who might have drugs or a gun into running. “A lot of times” guns and drugs were recovered in this way, Ward said.

» Ward said Jenkins liked to profile certain vehicles for traffic stops. Honda Accords, Acura TLs, Honda Odysseys were among the “dope boy cars” that they would pull over, claiming the drivers weren’t wearing seat belts or their windows were too heavily tinted.

» Ward said Jenkins also believed males over the age of 18 carrying bookbags were suspicious and attempted to stop them.

» Jenkins would portray himself as a federal agent, telling drug dealers that he was taking their money and drugs but would let them go because they weren’t his ultimate target.

» Ward said the officers used illegal GPS trackers to follow the movements of some targets.

» Jenkins would ask suspected drug dealers, “If you could put together a crew of guys and rob the biggest drug dealer in town, who would it be?” The officers would use the answers to determine who to target, Ward said.

» Ward said the officers kept BB guns in their vehicles “in case we accidentally hit somebody or got into a shootout, so we could plant them.” He did not say whether the officers ever planted a BB gun on anyone.

» In one incident, police took a man’s house keys, ran his name through databases to find his address, went into the home without a warrant and found drugs and a safe. The officers cracked open the safe, which had about $200,000 inside. They took $100,000 out, closed the safe back up, then filmed themselves pretending to open it for the first time. “Nobody touch anything,” Jenkins can be heard saying on the video, which was played for jurors.

» After the man’s arrest, Jenkins listened to the man’s calls made from jail. He was discussing the officers taking his money, and said he wanted to hire a good lawyer to go after them. Ward said Jenkins determined the man’s wife was arranging his legal matters, and wanted to cut her out. They wrote a note purporting to be from another woman, saying the man had gotten her pregnant, and left it in the man’s door, Ward said.

» Later, Ward said Jenkins contacted him about wanting to rob the man again. They met at an apartment, where Jenkins and Hersl sipped Twisted Teas and discussed a robbery. Another time, he proposed a different robbery, and showed the officers a large black bag that was full of balaclava ski masks, black clothing and shoes. Another bag contained tools such as a crow bar, battering ram, and a rope with a grappling hook. “I didn’t understand that part,” Ward said of the grappling hook. Both bags were emptied out for jurors in the courtroom.

Trial Day 2: Thursday, Jan. 25

Some notable moments from the testimony during Thursday’s proceedings:

» Shawn Whiting testified that he had large stacks of cash, totaling $22,000, spread throughout his bedroom when Baltimore police came crashing in one morning in January 2014. When Whiting received a letter after his arrest outlining how much had been seized, it showed just $7,650.

» Detective Maurice Ward — a Gun Trace Task Force member who has pleaded guilty in the case — testified that Det. Marcus Taylor found the money in Whiting’s closet, and asked Ward to “look out for him” and they split $3,000.

» Ward said the unit’s supervisor, Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, instructed the officers to carry replica guns to plant if they found themselves in a jam. Police recovered a replica gun from the glove box of Taylor’s vehicle after he was arrested last year. The gun, shown to jurors, is nearly indistinguishable from Taylor’s service pistol.

» Ward said Taylor had a “source” in internal affairs who informed them that their overtime was being investigated and their phones and vehicles were being tracked. He also said that Jenkins told them that a sergeant named Ryan Guinn had informed Jenkins that federal agents investigating two of their colleagues had visited him.

» Ward said that before joining the Gun Trace Task Force, he learned a lieutenant named Ian Dombroski would authorize eight hours of overtime pay that officers did not have to work, as a reward for officers who recovered guns. Dombrowski continues to serve as the head of the Police Department’s internal affairs unit.

» Ward testified that he and Taylor once conducted a “trash run” on a home in preparation for obtaining a search warrant. They found marijuana residue in the target’s trash, but realized the trash can belonged to another resident. They proceeded anyway, submitting an affidavit for a search warrant falsely claiming the drugs had been found in the target’s trash can.

» Though Ward had been charged only with robberies dating back to 2014, he has testified that he had been stealing money and lying on paperwork for far longer. “For the better part of a decade, professionally, you’ve been lying?” asked Taylor’s defense attorney, Christopher Nieto. “Yes, sir,” Ward responded.

» Nieto expressed disbelief at Ward’s account of discarding $20,000 in stolen money along a wooded path behind his home. Ward testified that he was uncomfortable having such a large amount of stolen funds. “You just took a bag of $20,000, dumped it out on a path, and walked away?” Nieto asked. “Pretty much,” Ward said.

Trial Day 3: Monday, Jan. 29

Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, the supervisor of the Gun Trace Task Force, has pleaded guilty in the federal racketeering cases. But he loomed large at Day 3 of the trial, which featured testimony from two convicted officers in the unit.

Some notable moments from the testimony during Monday’s proceedings:

» Former detectives Jemell Rayam and Evodio Hendrix, who pleaded guilty in the case and are cooperating with the government, testified that their stealing from suspects and abuse of overtime escalated at Jenkins’ direction.

» Hendrix agreed with Det. Daniel Hersl’s attorney when he asked if Jenkins was “untouchable” and a “golden boy” within the department.

» Hendrix said Jenkins showed members of his squad two large black bags — one stuffed with masks and black clothing, the other with tools that included a sledgehammer, a machete, an axe and lock cutters, as well as a grappling hook and rope. He said he carried the items “in case he ran into a ‘monster,’ ” or someone with a lot of money and drugs, according to Hendrix.

» Hendrix testified that overtime abuse and unauthorized paid days off were rampant in the police department.

» But Hendrix also testified that Jenkins had not told former police Commissioner Kevin Davis about the overtime misuse.

» Rayam said the unit made regular use of illegal GPS trackers to follow suspects.

» Rayam said the officers once recovered a pound and a half of marijuana and a gun in a search conducted before they had secured a warrant. Jenkins told him to “just get rid of it,” and Rayam said he and another officer sold the drugs and gun back onto the street.

» Rayam did absolve one person of wrongdoing: Detective John Clewell, who was a member of the Gun Trace Task Force for a time and took part in several of the operations but has not been charged with any crimes.

Trial Day 4: Tuesday, Jan. 30

Convicted former Detective Jemell Rayam broke down on the witness stand Tuesday when asked about a crash that involved members of the task force.

Some notable moments from the testimony during Tuesday’s proceedings:

» The FBI had a microphone hidden inside a Baltimore Police vehicle when members of the Gun Trace Task Force fled the scene of a crash.

» Rayam admitted to receiving money from an $11,000 theft in 2009, and that he lied to internal affairs. The Sun obtained the internal affairs file in that case.

» Rayam told the FBI that the 2006 shooting of his longtime partner, Detective Momodu Gondo, was not related to Gondo being police officer, but was “actually in retaliation for drug trafficking,” according to Detective Marcus Taylor’s defense attorney. (Gondo has pleaded guilty to both racketeering and for his role in a drug organization)

» In addition to breaking down while recounting the crash, Rayam cried earlier in his testimony when a wiretapped phone conversation with Gondo was played for the jury. Rayam’s children can be heard in the background. Court records show his wife has filed for divorce since he was criminally charged.

Trial Day 5: Wednesday, Jan. 31

In a roll reversal, several men who are admitting to being drug dealers took the stand against the police officers under immunity deals with the federal government.

Some notable moments from the testimony during Wednesday’s proceedings:

» Sergio Sommerville, who said he was a small-time drug dealer in Baltimore, said officers blocked him from leaving the storage unit where he was living. One of the officers said he was with the Drug Enforcement Administration. He was not. The officers said they had a warrant. They didn’t. They didn’t even know Sommerville’s name — though they tried to bluff, he said. They ended up taking thousands of dollars out of a sock kept in his storage unit, and left without charging him.

“They came at me like a gang or something,” Sommerville testified.

» An employee of the storage facility said the officers demanded access to the security camera system. The employee told them they needed a warrant.

“They didn’t like that,” the man said. “They told me I was impeding a police investigation.”

He said one of the officers — he couldn’t remember which one — told him he “looked like someone who needed to be robbed.”

» Ronald Hamilton, whose previous appearances in the downtown federal courthouse were related to his two prior drug conspiracy convictions, took the witness stand against police.

He said Detective Jemell Rayam dragged him out of the car and robbed him of $3,400 while Hamilton was shopping for blinds with his wife. Rayam has admitted to the robbery and pleaded guilty.

» Hamilton testified that he was reformed, and made money from selling cars, managing rental properties, and gambling. But defense attorneys cast doubt on those claims with casino records that showed him with massive losses, and asked repeatedly how he could afford a $500,000 house two years after being released from prison.

» Hamilton snapped during a round of heavy questioning.

“This right here destroyed my whole [expletive] family!” he yelled. “Everybody’s life is destroyed because of this. I’m in a divorce process because of this … My kids are afraid to go in the house!”

» Oreese Stevenson was a reluctant witness to take the stand. Earlier in the trial, officers testified that they broke into Stevenson’s safe, counted $200,000, then put $100,000 back inside and closed it back up. They filmed a video purporting to be the opening of the safe for the first time. The officers split the $100,000.

Stevenson’s wife said the officers took an expensive watch and bags of clothes.

Trial Day 6: Thursday, Feb. 1

A Baltimore County bail bondsman testified Thursday that he partnered for years with the sergeant of the Baltimore Police Gun Trace Task Force to resell drugs the officer had taken off the street.

Some notable moments from the testimony during Thursday’s proceedings:

» Baltimore County bail bondsman Donald C. Stepp, 51, said Sgt. Wayne Jenkins made near-nightly trips to Stepp’s home to drop off drugs, Stepp said. Jenkins has pleaded guilty in the case.

» Stepp said that in April 2015, during the riots that followed the death of Freddie Gray, Jenkins walked into Stepp’s garage carrying two garbage bags full of looted pharmaceutical drugs. (Police said in 2015 that they believe the influx of drugs looted during the riots was helping fuel the city’s spike in violence.)

» Stepp said that he and Jenkins identified big targets for them to rob or burglarize. Stepp said they tracked Kenneth “Kenny Bird” Jackson, well-known for his former alleged ties to the drug world, and broke into his silver Acura in a Sam’s Club parking lot and stole between $12,000 and $19,000.

» But Jackson told The Sun on Thursday night that no such break-in occurred. He said he planned to call federal prosecutors Friday. “If he lied about me, he lied about everything. It’s probably all lies,” he said. “I never had a silver Acura, never had $19,000 [stolen].”

» Stepp said Sgt. Thomas E. Wilson III, an officer who is not charged in the case, ran a side security business with Jenkins that provided protection for Stepp when he met with a New York drug supplier at a strip club. Wilson was reassigned to administrative duties pending an internal investigation after the testimony, a police spokesman said. Wilson could not be reached for comment.

» Stepp also said an unnamed Baltimore County officer accompanied him on a break-in he committed at Jenkins’ direction. Baltimore County Police spokesman Cpl. Shawn Vinson said the department was aware of the allegations but “do not know any particulars of the incident alleged by Donald Stepp. “We will attempt to gain additional information that will assist us in conducting a complete investigation into this allegation.”

» Stepp said Jenkins had him buy the masks, crowbars, lock cutters, machete and grappling hook that were in the two large black bags recovered from Jenkins’ vehicle. The contents of the bag were displayed in court earlier in the trial.

» Stepp kept photos of some interactions with Jenkins, including images showing him wearing police gear and holding Jenkins’ gun inside Baltimore Police headquarters in February 2015.

» Stepp said Jenkins told him the Gun Trace Task Force was a group he had hand-picked to be a “front for a criminal enterprise.” He also said there were other officers from other units working with Jenkins, but he did not name any on the witness stand.

Trial Day 7: Monday, Feb. 5

Convicted Baltimore detective Momodu Gondo testified Monday that he used to steal money with Det. Sean Suiter, the city homicide detective whose fatal shooting in November — one day before he was to testify before a federal grand jury in the case — remains unsolved.

Some notable moments from the testimony during Monday’s proceedings:

» On cross-examination of Gondo, defense attorney Christopher Nieto asked if he had told the FBI that he stole money when he worked with Suiter and a squad of several other people. Gondo agreed.

Suiter was investigating a triple homicide in November when he was shot in the head with his own gun in a vacant lot, police have said. His death was ruled a homicide, but remains unsolved despite a $215,000 reward.

» Gondo testified that he stole for years and lied about it, and said he never worried about internal affairs.

“It was just part of the culture,” Gondo testified. “I wasn’t getting complaints; I wasn’t putting my hands on people.”

» Accusations arose in court that Deputy Commissioner Dean Palmere, who for years worked in and supervised plainclothes work, had coached officers on what to say to avoid punishment following a fatal shooting in 2009. Palmere, who announced Monday that he’s retiring, denied the accusations.

» Gondo referred to the 2009 shooting by longtime partner Jemell Rayam as “murder.” Rayam was cleared of wrongdoing in the shooting, but the city paid a $100,000 settlement to the victim’s family in 2013.

» Gondo’s testimony, based on “proffer sessions” with the FBI last year in which he outlined allegations across the department in hopes of getting a lower sentence, implicated a number of other officers and supervisors as well. Read more about those allegations here.

» Gondo testified that he stole for years and lied about it, and said he never worried about internal affairs.

“It was just part of the culture,” Gondo testified. “I wasn’t getting complaints; I wasn’t putting my hands on people.”

Trial Day 8: Tuesday, Feb. 6

A young detective who joined the Gun Trace Task Force just before the federal indictments testified that the task force tried to recruit him to steal. He was the government’s final witness as it rested its case Tuesday against Hersl and Taylor.

Some notable moments from the testimony during Tuesday’s proceedings:

» Baltimore Police Detective James Kostoplis was new to the Gun Trace Task Force when his sergeant, Wayne Jenkins, asked him to go for a ride. Hersl was along for the ride as well. Kostoplis said he remembers Jenkins asking him what he thought about tracking high-target drug dealers — and taking their money for themselves. (Jenkins has pleaded guilty in the case.)

» Kostoplis said at the time, he thought Jenkins was testing whether he could be trusted around money. But Kostoplis was transferred by Jenkins out of the unit a short time later, and when the members of the unit were indicted on federal racketeering charges, Kostoplis realized Jenkins had different motives.

“He was in fact asking me to steal money,” Kostoplis said.

» Kostopolis recalled under defense questioning that Jenkins once told him there were two rules: don’t steal money and don’t plant things. Jenkins has now pleaded guilty to being involved in doing both.

» Kostopolis said Jenkins moved him out of the unit, saying the officers were going to be laying low while Jenkins sought a promotion, but Kostoplis said he later saw the unit engaged in active street work.

» FBI Special Agent Erika Jensen testified Tuesday that investigators were fearful of contacting the Horseshoe Casino to get gambling records for some of the officers. Many of the officers involved in the case have been investigated over the years for various complaints, and during the federal investigation multiple leaks tipped the officers that they were being looked at.

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