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GTTF Commission report faults Baltimore police department leadership, makes reform recommendations

A state commission created to investigate the roots of the Gun Trace Task Force scandal concluded there were leadership failures at the highest levels of the Baltimore Police Department and also recommended changes to Maryland’s Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights.

The Commission to Restore Trust in Policing’s 184-page report found that while top Baltimore Police officials said integrity was paramount, the panel’s investigation saw “little evidence” it was a true priority. And they faulted the department for not taking serious steps to investigate the scandal once it burst into public view.

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“The Commission finds that prior to the GTTF indictments, and continuing through today, the BPD has under-emphasized integrity and accountability,” the report says.

The report recommends that the police department resume random “integrity stings” on officers and institute ongoing drug tests and polygraphs. It also calls for increased staffing in internal affairs by March and requiring aspiring top-level supervisors to spend at least six months in that unit. “Internal Affairs must become a valued and integral part of the agency, not a pariah,” the report says.

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It proposes a number of changes to the controversial Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights, a Maryland law that governs the police disciplinary process statewide. Among them: giving police commissioners more power to fire or suspend officers — a change sought by Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison — as well as more involvement for residents and the public defenders office.

Some of the recommendations have been pushed before in the General Assembly, but the commission’s report could carry additional weight as its members were appointed by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and the Democratic leaders of the state Senate and House of Delegates.

“These are solutions that no one really disagrees with, but which haven’t been implemented,” Sean Malone, an attorney who is a member of the commission, said in an interview.

Senate President Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat who introduced legislation to create the commission, said the panel’s work will help inform reform efforts in the General Assembly session that begins next month.

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“The story of the Gun Trace Task Force is a prime example of problematic policing that can erode confidence and faith in policing, and make communities less safe as a result,” Ferguson said in a statement. “The legislation we will pass this session will ensure we restore trust and accountability in our law enforcement, not just in Baltimore, but throughout the state.”

Though given subpoena power to access disciplinary and other records unavailable to the public and to interview witnesses, the panel’s report contains few revelations. All of the commission’s interviews with 25 key police supervisors and other officers were conducted behind closed doors instead of at its public hearings, and the officers are not identified.

The commission was told that Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, who led the corrupt gun squad, was viewed as a top officer who few suspected of being involved in criminal activity. He was given autonomy and had a direct line to top supervisors, the panel found. Officers who testified at the federal racketeering trial had similar comments, saying Jenkins was a “golden boy.”

Ashiah Parker, a commission member and a West Baltimore community leader, said she did not believe department were forthcoming in their comment before the panel, instead giving “safe” testimony.

The commission was able to review internal affairs records, which are not available to the public, which showed the BPD had logged more than 100 internal affairs complaints naming one or more of the eight now-convicted members of the GTTF from 1997 to 2016. In addition, those eight officers collectively were involved in more than 60 use of force incidents during the same time period, the panel said.

Four of the eight officers had fewer than five serious internal affairs complaints on their record. But two of the officers had 20 or more, the commission’s report says.

There was only one sustained complaint in Jenkins’s disciplinary history — a previously reported 2014 incident in which he was accused of planting drugs on a man. Jenkins was recommended for a demotion and suspension, but the punishment was reduced.

The commission concluded that some of the city’s police commissioners seemed to be aware of the department’s struggles yet failed to take key steps. They cited Anthony Batts and Kevin Davis, two commissioners who came from outside the Baltimore department, and said they were stymied by institutional inertia and resistance.

“Despite recognizing effective tactics to ensure integrity throughout the agency, the failure of past BPD Commissioners to utilize and implement detection and deterrence protocols aided and enabled the GTTF criminal enterprises,” the report says. “Their failure to act and prioritize integrity in the agency plays an undeniable role in the GTTF wrongdoing.”

The commission was created through legislation in 2018, with members appointed by Hogan, then-Senate President Mike Miller and then-House Speaker Michael Busch. It began its work that fall and held a series of public hearings, taking testimony from officials including Harrison and Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby, and others such as defense attorney Ivan J. Bates, who represented a long list of people arrested by GTTF officers and who alleged misconduct.

“The corruption in the criminal justice system in Baltimore City is systemic. There’s a lot of blame to go around,” Bates told the panel last year.

Officers on the Gun Trace Task Force had been robbing people for years, but it was a suburban drug investigation in 2015 that finally put the unit in the crosshairs of federal authorities. An ensuing FBI wiretap investigation revealed the officers were not only taking money, but falsifying evidence and in some cases taking and reselling drugs.

Fifteen current and former officers have been charged in the fallout, with investigators uncovering crimes dating to 2009. All but one of the officers have been convicted; that officer’s case is pending.

Jenkins, the former leader of the unit, is serving the longest sentence — 25 years. He was recently moved to a federal prison in Atlanta.

In recent weeks the city has approved more than $13 million in lawsuit settlements stemming from the misconduct, including $8 million to two men who were wrongly convicted after officers planted drugs on them following a fatal crash in 2010. City prosecutors have dropped hundreds of cases, saying the integrity of the convicted officers and others were too compromised to allow convictions to stand.

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The Baltimore Police Department, however, did not initiate any broad review of how the officers’ actions went undetected — or ignored — for so long. At a 2019 meeting of the Commission to Restore Trust in Policing Harrison said city officials were concerned about exposure to liability. Following that meeting, the department hired former Justice Department Inspector General Michael Bromwich to conduct an investigation for the city. That review is continuing.

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“I think the entire commission was stunned” when officials said they hadn’t done a thorough review, said Gary McLhinney, a commission member who has served as both a city police union president and a police chief, for the Maryland Transportation Authority.

The commission attempted to speak with the convicted officers. Two — Marcus Taylor and Daniel Hersl — maintained their innocence, while the commission said Jenkins told them he had an “agent” helping him on a film production and would speak in exchange for a reduced sentence. No interview took place.

The commission spoke with one convicted officer, whose identity was withheld and who “described his misconduct in detail, and appropriately expressed regret and remorse for his actions.”

Among the commission’s other recommendations are creating “Police Accountability Boards,” not just in Baltimore but in each county in the state. The boards would be authorized to file misconduct complaints on behalf of citizens, and select residents who would be trained and serve on disciplinary hearing boards.

It also recommends creating charging committees that would include a civilian and members of the public defender’s and state’s attorney’s offices, among others, to review internal affairs investigations.

The panel also calls for reconstituting the Baltimore Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, which was a monthly meeting of criminal justice leaders for 17 years until Hogan disbanded it in 2017 by stripping funding, citing a “lack of urgency” by the group on crime-fighting.

“Because Baltimore’s police have a long history of corruption, it is hard to restore trust with one report, so our committee worked to set forth recommendations that would be the first step to ensure that reform takes place in this next chapter of Baltimore’s history,” Parker said.

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