Prosecutor who raised early questions about Gun Trace Task Force officer speaks out

A former Baltimore prosecutor who raised questions three years ago about a police sergeant who is now charged with robberies and planting evidence says she “told anyone that would listen” that the officer was corrupt.

Molly Webb, a former assistant state’s attorney, said she was notified in 2014 by a defense attorney of troubling closed-circuit TV footage that appeared to conflict with the accounts of Detective Ben Frieman and Sgt. Wayne Jenkins in charging documents in a 2014 case. Webb hadn’t received the footage from police.

“Any time you have CCTV that is in the hands of the Police Department that is not provided by police but is provided by defense, that’s a red flag,” Webb said Friday. “When I saw the video, it didn’t corroborate what was in the statement of probable cause at all.”

Jenkins now faces charges that he and members of the Gun Trace Task Force were robbing citizens, reselling seized drugs and guns, falsifying court paperwork, and earning fraudulent overtime. Some defense attorneys have said police and prosecutors should have known about integrity issues with Jenkins and the other officers.

The Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office maintains that “not until being federally indicted, did we have any information that these officers were committing the egregious acts described in the federal indictment.” Since the federal indictment, prosecutors say they have dropped 125 cases that involved Jenkins and the other gun task force officers.

“We take very seriously allegations of police misconduct,” state’s attorney’s office spokeswoman Melba Saunders said in a statement.

Bryan Mobley, the defense attorney for the man who was arrested, said Webb “did the right thing” when she dropped the case and reported the incident to her supervisors and internal affairs.

“To my knowledge, nothing happened” to the officers, Mobley said. “It emboldens them.”

Frieman and Jenkins stayed on the streets, making dozens more arrests. And Jenkins went on to be promoted in June 2016 to sergeant of the Gun Trace Task Force, an elite unit within the Police Department with broad authority to roam the city looking for drugs and guns. Jenkins is in jail pending a trial scheduled for next month.

Frieman remains with the police department — he’s a sergeant in the Northern District — and referred questions to the public information office, which did not respond to questions about the incident. Police officials have refused to answer questions in recent weeks about their handling of the gun trace officers.

The state’s attorney’s office, asked why it continued to prosecute cases involving Frieman and Jenkins, said only that prosecutors had not called Frieman as a witness in recent years. But they added that while the administration of previous State’s Attorney Gregg Bernstein declined to criminally charge the officers, they asked another, undisclosed agency to to take a look at the case again.

“When police misconduct complaints are brought to our attention, we refer those allegations to BPD’s Internal Affairs Division for investigation, unless we have an actual or potential conflict, in which case we send the allegations to other agencies for investigation. That is precisely the procedure we followed when we were asked to reconsider the 2014 drug case at issue.”

Webb said police internal affairs investigators contacted her about her complaint regarding Frieman and Jenkins in early 2015. She says Jenkins sent her a text message asking her to stop talking about him.

A few months later Webb found herself in trouble: Another city prosecutor made a complaint about Webb, saying she was signing off on court overtime pay for two police officers who did not appear in court. She lost her job, and city prosecutors referred the investigation to Baltimore County authorities, who charged her with theft. Webb was acquitted at trial of all charges.

She declined to discuss the case Friday. Mobley, for his part, said he thought Webb “got a raw deal.”

The 2014 incident involved a 29-year-old man named Walter Price.

In a statement of probable cause written by Frieman, police said they received information that Price dealt drugs from a van, hiding the drugs in the center console and in the inside roof. Frieman said he conducted surveillance of Price and observed him stuff an object into the inside roof. Frieman then asked patrol officers to pull over Price’s vehicle.

Frieman wrote that he and Jenkins approached the van with patrol officers and asked Price to get out, then saw him reach back into the vehicle toward the inside roof. Police said Price gave them permission to search the van, and said Jenkins found a clear plastic bag containing 7 grams of suspected cocaine from the inside roof.

The detectives took Price to Central Booking, then obtained a search-and-seizure warrant for his home. During a raid led by Sgt. Keith Gladstone, police said they found drugs throughout the residence.

Surveillance video tells a different story, Webb and Mobley say. Patrol officers asked Price to get out of the vehicle after pulling him over, and put him into handcuffs. Frieman and Jenkins arrive later.

Jenkins can be seen climbing in and searching the vehicle, but is not observed holding drugs or signaling that he has found anything.

For 15 minutes, the video shows officers searching the car and speaking with Price behind the vehicle. Later, Price is walked into a gas station parking lot, where Jenkins talks with him.

Then Jenkins walks Price over to a vehicle with tinted windows and removes his handcuffs. Price gets into the back seat, with Jenkins climbing into the passenger seat from the other side. Frieman is in the driver’s seat.

For more than 25 minutes of the video, until the end of the tape, they never emerge from the vehicle.

Whatever Frieman and Jenkins were doing, they hadn’t found drugs on Price, Webb says.

“You don’t search a car for over an hour and hold the guy if you know where the drugs are. You bring the drugs out and show them to the guy, and say, ‘You’re done,” Webb said.

Webb’s complaint came to light earlier this week, when an assistant public defender cited it in court documents while seeking access to Jenkins’ internal affairs files for a pending shooting case. In Maryland, such disciplinary records are tightly guarded under state law.

Mobley acknowledged that drugs were found in Price’s home during the subsequent search but said the officers lied about finding drugs in the car to falsely justify the search.

Detective Jemell Rayam, a member of the Gun Trace Task Force who has pleaded guilty, testified at a trial this fall that he personally would swear out false affidavits to “get into places where you knew there was money or property or drugs you wanted to steal.”

Price was fatally shot in a Southwest Baltimore alley in November 2016, in a case that remains unsolved.

Last month, federal prosecutors charged Jenkins with planting drugs on a man following a deadly high-speed crash, and duping Detective Sean Suiter into finding them. Suiter was fatally shot the day before he was to testify about the incident before a grand jury. Police say they see no connection between his impending testimony and his death, which remains unsolved.

jfenton@baltsun.com

twitter.com/justin_fenton

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