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Judge rules Baltimore must cover payment to GTTF victim; city to appeal in face of wave of similar cases

City Solicitor said Friday that a judge's ruling that the city must cover civil court judgments against former members of the corrupt Gun Track Task Force is flawed and will be appealed to the state's highest court. A loss there could put the city on the hook for tens of millions of dollars.
City Solicitor said Friday that a judge's ruling that the city must cover civil court judgments against former members of the corrupt Gun Track Task Force is flawed and will be appealed to the state's highest court. A loss there could put the city on the hook for tens of millions of dollars. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

A Baltimore judge ruled Friday that the city must indemnify three former Gun Trace Task Force officers by paying a $32,000 judgment to the estate of a man who said they planted a gun on him.

The decision, the first of its kind relating to the task force, could have costly implications for the city as it stares down a mountain of similar lawsuits alleging abuses by the corrupt gun squad.

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Baltimore Circuit Judge Jeannie Hong determined that the city was liable for the costs because the officers were “acting within the scope of their employment” when they pulled Williams James over during a 2016 traffic stop — “acting, at least in part, by a motivation to fulfill the GTTF mission to find dangerous individuals with weapons."

Maryland law and the city’s labor agreement with the police union require the city to indemnify officers — cover their legal fees and any judgments — for actions within their employment scope, but not for actions that go beyond it.

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The ruling — which City Solicitor Andre Davis said he will appeal — rejected the city’s argument that the rogue officers were so brazen in their crimes that their actions should be considered beyond the scope of their employment.

Sgt. Wayne Jenkins and Det. Jemell Rayam pleaded guilty in federal court to committing crimes as part of the Gun Trace Task Force, though not specifically against James. Det. Marcus Taylor was found guilty at trial of committing crimes as part of the task force, but also not in relation to the incident involving James. But all three officers consented to the $32,000 judgement for James.

The argument that the task force’s illegal activities went beyond their duties as officers was and remains part of a multi-front legal campaign by the city to avoid having to cover the potentially massive cost of payouts to victim of the unit. Hundreds of people who were arrested by the corrupt officers are now having their cases revisited by prosecutors, to be potentially vacated by the courts.

On Thursday, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby began filing motions she says will lead to about 790 criminal convictions being vacated.

Davis, a former federal judge, said Hong improperly went beyond the stipulated facts in the case, and he will appeal the decision to the Court of Special Appeals. He and James’ attorney, Mandy Miliman, both said they will then jointly ask the Court of Appeals — Maryland’s highest court — to immediately take up the case, in order to render a final determination on the matter.

The appellate court’s task will be to review whether Hong’s decision was legally correct.

“Her decision is not a precedent for anything, and that’s the reason for our agreement to join in the appeals,” Davis said.

Miliman agreed the fight isn’t over but said Hong’s decision was a major victory, not just for James’ family — he died in May — but for other Gun Trace Task Force victims, as well.

“I’m overjoyed,” she said. “Whatever happens at either appellate court, the panel of judges are going to be looking to this decision as a starting point."

James’ mother, Menyonde Lewis, was “ecstatic” at the news of Hong’s ruling, Miliman said.

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