Defense attorneys urge court to open personnel files of indicted Baltimore officers

The fallout continues over a federal racketeering case against eight Baltimore police officers, with defense attorneys now urging a judge to open the officers’ personnel files.

The confidential files could contain items that include citizen complaints and disciplinary actions against the officers. Defense attorneys aim to impugn the credibility of the officers in two ongoing criminal cases, but the files could also bring to light the officers’ conduct beyond the incidents of robbery, extortion and overtime fraud alleged by federal prosecutors.

­“Nobody in their right mind cannot say that these internal complaint files would be chock-full of complaints,” Assistant Public Defender Deborah Levi told Circuit Judge John Nugent on Friday. “We ought to be able to look at everything.”

Levi and other attorneys are defending two men scheduled for criminal trials next month. The attorneys argued for access to the officers’ personnel files during a hearing Friday that revealed the efforts by prosecutors to proceed with both cases. Prosecutors have already dropped more than 100 criminal cases that relied on the testimony of the eight indicted officers.

The officers from the Gun Trace Task Force are accused of carrying out a campaign of robbery and extortion stretching back years and often targeting suspected drug dealers. The elite unit was deployed to take illegal guns out of the hands of trigger-pullers.

But federal prosecutors say the officers also pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars they uncovered while searching homes and suspects. Some officers are also accused of filing for false overtime pay while vacationing.

Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby is going forward with some criminal cases involving the officers. State law protects the confidentiality of police personnel files. But judges have ruled these records may be opened if the reasonable possibility exists that they contain relevant evidence.

An attorney from Mosby’s office and one representing the Police Department called on Nugent to keep the personnel records confidential, saying they have enough evidence without the officers’ testimony to proceed.

“It’s unnecessary and moot,” said Alexa Curley, an attorney for the Police Department.

“These officers will not be called as witnesses,” prosecutor Christoph Amberger said. “These officers simply have nothing to add to the state’s case.”

Levi said in court, “They don’t want to dirty the water of their prosecution.”

Nugent told them he will decide the matter “very shortly.”

In the first case, Charles Smith, 51, is charged with attempted murder and accused of shooting a man on Wilkens Avenue in July 2016. Four of the indicted officers — Evodio Hendrix, Maurice Ward, Marcus Taylor and Sgt. Wayne Jenkins — responded first and arrested Smith. Hendrix wrote the statement of charges against Smith.

Levi told the court that Officer Curtis McMillion wrote a subsequent statement of charges. McMillion was not named in the federal racketeering case.

“That should make everybody pause,” she said, “that there was engaged in the beginning of this prosecution a cover-up.”

The other indicted officers are Thomas Allers, Momodu Gondo, Jemell Rayam and Daniel Hersl. Hendrix and Ward have pleaded guilty. Allers and the rest have pleaded not guilty. Their trials could begin in January.

The second case involves Derrick Rucker, 24, who was arrested on gun charges in March. Prosecutors said the case began with Officer Hersl, who told patrol officers that he received a tip from an undercover informant that Rucker was armed.

“What if he has a history of lying?” the judge asked.

Prosecutors said it was immaterial because other officers arrested Rucker and discovered a gun near him. Further, Amberger told the judge the department’s Internal Affairs Division did not conduct its own investigation into the alleged crimes by the officers. Therefore, such investigations would not be in the personnel files.

“You’re telling me there are no IAD complaints or investigations?” the judge asked.

“BPD has not conducted an investigation,” Amberger said.

tprudente@baltsun.com

twitter.com/Tim_Prudente

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