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Federal public defenders target convicted Baltimore Police sergeant’s cases; four more officers suspended

Attorney David Irwin and retired Baltimore City Police Sgt. Keith Gladstone last year walk outside the Federal Courthouse last year after Gladstone pleaded guilty to charges related to planting a toy gun on a defendant. Now, people who were sent to federal prison based at least in part on Gladstone's police work are seeking to have their cases overturned.
Attorney David Irwin and retired Baltimore City Police Sgt. Keith Gladstone last year walk outside the Federal Courthouse last year after Gladstone pleaded guilty to charges related to planting a toy gun on a defendant. Now, people who were sent to federal prison based at least in part on Gladstone's police work are seeking to have their cases overturned. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

Former Baltimore Police Sgt. Keith Gladstone spent much of his career working on federal task forces and other plainclothes units making big cases. Now, after Gladstone’s guilty plea to a federal conspiracy charge, federal public defenders are seeking to overturn some of those cases.

Attorneys filed motions this week to vacate the convictions of four people who are currently serving sentences between 10 and 22 years in prison. One of the cases involves not just Gladstone but also two other Baltimore Police officers since convicted of misconduct.

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“We have a legal and ethical duty to ensure the integrity of federal convictions that rest on the credibility of indicted officers,” said Paresh Patel, the federal public defender who filed the motions. “These guys have lengthy sentences, and their convictions rested critically on Officer Gladstone’s accounts."

The case challenges could be just the tip of the iceberg. The Baltimore Police Department confirmed this week that it has suspended the police powers of four officers who have served on various federal task forces in connection with “ongoing” internal affairs cases.

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Det. Ethan Glover, a task force officer assigned to the Drug Enforcement Administration, is the latest officer suspended, joining the already suspended Craig Jester, Victor Rivera and Ivo Louvado. The department would not disclose the reasons for the internal affairs cases or the suspensions.

All four worked in the past with Gladstone and Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, who is serving 25 years in federal prison related to the Gun Trace Task Force corruption scandal, though police would not confirm that suspensions are related to that federal investigation, which federal prosecutors said last month was ongoing. None have been charged with crimes.

Federal prosecutors have not yet responded to the public defenders’ motions, and declined to comment on their general view of cases involving the corrupt officers.

Since the GTTF scandal broke, the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office has been vacating hundreds of convictions that rested on the credibility of task force officers and others implicated in the scandal.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office has taken a different tack than city prosecutors. The office handled far fewer cases involving the implicated officers and generally has opposed overturning those convictions, even when the defendants served as witnesses in their case against the officers. They instead have moved to cut short the sentences of people who were still incarcerated.

A review of Gladstone’s cases that are being challenged by the federal public defender’s office shows a familiar pattern of his conduct being strongly questioned in court by defense attorneys who were ultimately unable to clear the high hurdle to prove misconduct or have evidence suppressed.

Gladstone pleaded guilty in May 2019, but no sentencing date has been scheduled. His attorney, David Irwin, declined to comment on questions about his client’s prior cases.

In one of the cases, against defendant Garry Nicholson, the U.S. Attorney’s Office disclosed a prior disciplinary case against Gladstone. A trial board had sustained allegations of neglect of duty against Gladstone relating to money taken from a target and then given back “as a relationship sort of developed and the sergeant started to change his investigative strategy relative to this person,” as a judge characterized it.

Judge James K. Bredar said during a hearing in Nicholson’s case that the prior sustained complaint against Gladstone “had a whiff about it that, you know, I didn’t like.”

“I mean, this is a guy who’s been found to have not followed procedures. And it relates to money,” Bredar said.

In Nicholson’s case, dating to 2014, Gladstone said he witnessed Nicholson make a hand-to-hand transaction of a single Percocet pill and searched the defendant’s car and found nothing, transcripts show. Nicholson’s defense attorney Joseph Balter questioned whether the observation was concocted, saying it “added what they desperately needed in that affidavit — what they desperately needed was to recover some drugs.”

No cash was recovered, and the two men denied having exchanged drugs, saying instead they were exchanging telephone numbers. But armed with the alleged observation, as well as other information that officers say came from informants, police obtained a search warrant for Nicholson’s home and found drugs and a handgun.

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“You’re swimming against 30 years of case law that has made it ever more difficult for defendants to challenge the circumstances that your client is in,” Bredar said at one point.

“But I’m relying on more than 200 years of the Constitution, Your Honor," Balter replied.

Of the alleged hand-to-hand transaction and stop, Bredar said “the whole thing [was] pretty weak.” But he said the defense wasn’t unable to meet the burden of showing Gladstone made a false statement either knowingly or with reckless disregard.

The case also involved three detectives Gladstone supervised — Carmine Vignola, Robert Hankard and Michael O’Sullivan — who since have been charged. Vignola has pleaded guilty to lying to a federal grand jury in connection with a BB-gun planting incident; Hankard has been charged with lying in the BB-gun case as well as a second charge relating to a search warrant. O’Sullivan was charged in state court and convicted of lying about finding a gun. O’Sullivan was sentenced to 15 months; Vignola was sentenced to 18 months. Hankard’s case is pending.

Nicholson pleaded guilty to possession of cocaine and is serving a 10-year sentence. He is scheduled for release in October 2021.

In a second case being challenged, Gladstone and Louvado said they received information that a man named Eric Griffin was a heroin dealer. They looked him up in police databases and saw that his driving privileges were suspended. They then pulled him over to arrest him, searched his car and said they found small baggies of heroin and $1,000 in cash.

They parlayed that stop into a search warrant for a home and said they recovered additional drugs and a gun. Griffin received a 12-and-a-half-year sentence in prison and was released in July, but remains under supervision.

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A third defendant, Bishme Walker, is serving a nearly 22-year sentence. The fourth, Timothy Claridy is serving 20 years. Walker and Claridy both took their cases to trial.

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“I find Detective Gladstone to be credible,” U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett said after denying defense motions in Claridy’s case.

Patel, the federal public defender, said the U.S. Attorney’s Office agreed to give the four defendants up to a year to make arguments for why their cases should be overturned. Patel said he hopes the federal prosecutors will work out resolutions in the cases.

“They’re the ones who brought the indictment — they know of Gladstone’s wrongdoing,” Patel said. "We’re really hoping that they sit down with us and we can talk about these cases, and that we get some justice for our clients.”

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