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Corrupt gun unit’s sergeant was 'golden boy' within Baltimore police department, officers testify at trial

As the hard-charging supervisor of a Baltimore police gun unit was spearheading increasingly bold crimes, he was a “golden boy” viewed as “untouchable” within the department, two convicted officers from his unit testified Monday.

While that supervisor, Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, pleaded guilty in the federal racketeering case earlier this year, he continues to loom large at the trial of Gun Trace Task Force detectives Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor. Two other gun unit officers, who also pleaded guilty in the case, are cooperating with the government and testified that their stealing from suspects and abuse of overtime escalated at Jenkins’ direction.

“Pretty much any individuals we came across, if they had large sums of money, money was being taken,” former Det. Jemell Rayam testified Monday.

Another former detective, Evodio Hendrix, said he wanted to leave the task force by early 2017. He said Jenkins proposed a high-stakes robbery and 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.

Hendrix testified that Jenkins told the officers that he carried the items “in case he ran into a ‘monster,’ ” or someone with a lot of money and drugs.

Hendrix said he and the other officers concluded: “Sergeant Jenkins is crazy.”

Hendrix also said Jenkins urged other officers to carry BB guns that could be planted “if something happens where you hurt someone and need to cover for yourself.”

“We [each] have a wife and kids that need us,” Hendrix said Jenkins told them.

The Gun Trace Task Force case has rocked the city, revealing how officers in the elite unit regularly lied about having probable cause to stop and search people, while seeking out targets from whom they could steal cash and drugs. Court cases against more than 100 people arrested by the officers have been dropped, with the public defender’s office saying thousands of cases are compromised. Civil claims against the officers also have piled up. And police disbanded plainclothes units after the indictment last year.

Three other gun unit officers, in addition to Rayam, Hendrix and Jenkins, have pleaded guilty, but Hersl and Taylor chose to fight the charges.

Rayam and Hendrix, who are cooperating with the government in hopes of getting lighter sentences, both took the stand Monday and told jurors of their crimes. They each face 20 years in prison.

Hendrix agreed with Hersl’s attorney, William Purpura, when he asked if Jenkins “had pretty good connections within the hierarchy” of the Baltimore Police Department and when Purpura asked if Jenkins was “untouchable” and a “golden boy.”

The defense has sought to portray the police department as under pressure from the crime spike that followed the 2015 rioting, with the agency tacitly endorsing whatever-it-takes tactics for its high producers such as the officers on the gun task force. In earlier testimony, another detective testified that the officers were awarded an achievement pin by Deputy Commissioner Dean Palmere.

Jenkins claimed to the officers that former Commissioner Kevin Davis asked him how his unit was so successful, Hendrix said. Jenkins allegedly told Davis that he was using paid time off and overtime, and that Davis told him to keep it up. But Hendrix said he was certain Jenkins hadn’t told the commissioner about overtime misuse.

Before he was fired, Davis told The Baltimore Sun in an interview that police were investigating “if anyone was negligent or derelict in their supervisory duties who could have arguably contributed to the nefarious criminal acts.”

“For those eight cops to pull off what they were doing, they kept it tight,” Davis said. “Should someone have known about it? Absolutely they should have known. The culture here contributes to it.”

Hendrix also testified that overtime abuse and unauthorized paid days off were rampant in the police department, something the defense has been trying to highlight throughout their questioning.

“But it’s not right,” Hendrix said.

The culture in the Gun Trace Task Force was “laid back,” Rayam said, with officers coming in at the end of their shifts or getting paid for not working at all.

“We cut corners, didn’t complete reports like we were supposed to,” Rayam testified.

Rayam has testified previously in a federal drug trial that his crimes went on for years. Under his supervisor before Jenkins, Sgt. Thomas Allers, Rayam recalled conducting a search where they found a drawer of cash. “He won’t notice if a bundle is missing,” Rayam recalled Allers’ telling him.

Allers also has pleaded guilty in the case.

When he was working for Jenkins, Rayam said, the officers 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 also outlined two off-duty home invasions he was involved with, and said the unit made regular use of illegal GPS trackers to follow suspects. Rayam said he would tell a judge he had personally observed the target’s movements when it came time to swear out an affidavit for a search warrant.

One person Rayam absolved of wrongdoing: Det. 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.

“Clewell, he really didn’t take money. … He wasn’t part of the team,” Rayam said.

Defense attorneys have been trying to show that overtime and unauthorized paid days off were widespread in the department. Earlier Monday, prosecutors called a human resources lieutenant, Ted Friel, to testify simply that Hersl and Taylor had worked for the police department.

Purpura, Hersl’s attorney, asked Friel on cross-examination to acknowledge he had once worked in an operations unit, like Hersl, and then he asked Friel if he knew what a “G-day” or “gun day” was.

Friel paused for a few moments before saying yes. Asked to define it, Friel said, “A gun day was a day given to officers after they seized a handgun.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Leo Wise called Friel back to the stand.

“There’s no formal policy or directive that authorizes anyone to get credit for a day they didn’t work?” Wise asked.

“That is correct,” Friel said.

“It’s not in writing,” Purpura later said, “but it was widespread?”

“Yes,” Friel said.

jfenton@baltsun.com

twitter.com/justin_fenton

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