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Crime

Man suing Baltimore Police Department for $17M over Gun Trace Task Force corruption

Baltimore Police Officers Keith Gladstone and Carmine Vignola arrived at fellow officer Robert Hankard’s house on a late March evening in 2014 in dire straits.

The pair needed a toy gun. Fast.

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Another officer, Wayne Jenkins, had just run a man over in Northeast Baltimore. The man wasn’t in possession of drugs or a gun, and if Gladstone and Vignola didn’t help Jenkins plant evidence soon, there could be trouble, according to federal court filings.

Luckily for them, Hankard had a BB gun that looked like a real pistol. Gladstone and Vignola took it and rushed to the scene of the crime. Hankard and Vignola would later lie to a grand jury, denying this ever happened.

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With the gun planted, Jenkins worked with other officers to falsify reports. It seemed they had gotten away with it.

Eight years later, Demetric Simon, the man Jenkins ran over and the others helped plant evidence on, is suing those officers and four others, along with the Baltimore Police Department for $17 million, saying his civil rights were violated. Simon served 317 days in jail on trumped-up weapons charges.

“There’s really no dispute on the matter,” said Michael Wein, one of Simon’s attorneys, about the validity of Simon’s civil rights case.

Officers Gladstone, Vignola, Jenkins and Hankard have all been criminally charged. Only Hankard has not pleaded guilty and will go to trial in early April. He is charged with conspiracy, perjury and falsifying records. An attorney for Hankard could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening.

Jenkins, the disgraced leader of the scandalous Gun Trace Task Force, pleaded guilty to charges unrelated to the Simon incident and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

The Baltimore City Solicitor’s Office, which usually represents BPD in legal action, could not be reached for comment. It is not typically city policy to comment on pending litigation. It’s not clear who is representing the police officers in their individual capacity.

Simon’s lawyers claim the Baltimore Police Department, through the officers named, violated his civil rights and engaged in a conspiracy to do so. Because some of the defendants have ties to the Gun Trace Task Force, Simon’s lawyers also are making a racketeering claim under the Civil RICO Act.

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Simon’s lawyers alleged the officers and the police department engaged in a “crusade” against Simon and others with “scores of predicate acts,” including unlawful arrests, searches and seizure of property.

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“They also have conspired and aided and abetted in the fabrication of charges without probable cause against (Simon) and others,” Simon’s lawyers wrote.

After Jenkins was arrested and charged, Vignola and Gladstone got nervous. What if what they did to help Jenkins to frame Simon came out? The pair, using their wives’ phones to avoid government tracking, agreed to meet at a YMCA swimming pool in January 2018 to discuss their next moves, according to court filings. Shirtless and in the water to prove neither was wearing a wire, they agreed to lie to investigators about what happened that day.

Gladstone and Vignola later pleaded guilty to crimes related to Simon’s situation, and Vignola was sentenced to 18 months in prison, plus two years of supervised release. Vignola was released from federal custody in October.

Gladstone pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate civil rights in 2019 but has yet to be sentenced. The most recent filing in his case is under seal.

None of the other officers named as defendants in Simon’s complaint ― Benjamin Frieman, Ryan Guinn, Dean Palmere and Sean Miller — have been criminally charged. Only Miller still works with the department.

Miller was one of Jenkins’ supervisors and was demoted to lieutenant in the wake of the Gun Trace Task Force scandal. In fiscal year 2021, the most recent for which information is available, he made $178,211 in gross salary, about 46% more than his listed annual salary, according to city data.

For the record

This story has been updated to correct which officer was released from federal custody last fall. It was Carmine Vignola. The Sun regrets the error.


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