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Feds bring new allegation against Baltimore Police officer in Gun Trace Task Force fallout case

Federal prosecutors obtained another indictment against a Baltimore Police detective charged in the fallout of the Gun Trace Task Force case, adding an allegation that he searched a North Baltimore apartment without a warrant in 2015.

The new charges against Robert Hankard depict another example of what prosectuors referred to during the Gun Trace Task Force trial as “sneak and peek” searches — in which officers enter and search a home without a warrant, claiming they are merely “securing” the dwelling to make sure no one is destroying evidence. Such searches can be legally permissible but are ripe for abuse, according to one prominent defense attorney.

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Federal charges have been pending against Hankard since January, when he was charged with participating in a BB gun planting incident in 2014 as well as entering a motel room a year later without a warrant and removing drugs to justify a search.

Hankard previously pleaded not guilty to those charges.

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“We look forward to a trial in this matter when all the facts are aired out,” said David Benowitz, Hankard’s defense attorney.

In the new indictment, federal prosecutors say that on March 2, 2015, Hankard and other officers from his anti-gun Ceasefire squad arrested a man in the 5100 block of Falls Road and took keys that were connected to an apartment in nearby Cross Keys.

According to the indictment, they entered the apartment, which belonged to a woman who lived there with her daughter. The officers did not have a warrant, prosecutors say; Hankard searched a bag inside a closet and found gel caps of drugs.

Hankard then went to the unit’s offices and prepared a search warrant, according to the indictment. In his affidavit, Hankard wrote that the officers had only tried the key to see if it matched the apartment.

“The key fit and turned the locks. The exterior of [the apartment] was then secured by Cease Fire detectives,” the search warrant application said.

“In addition to the false statement that the ‘exterior’ of Apartment A was secured, nowhere in his affidavit did Hankard disclose that he and other detectives had entered Apartment A prior to obtaining a search warrant, nor did Hankard disclose that he had opened a bag containing gel caps with heroin, scales, sifters and other paraphernalia prior to preparing a search warrant,” prosecutors wrote.

Prosecutors say that the signature of Hankard’s supervisor appears forged on the document. The indictment identifies him as Sergeant “J.L.,” who court records show was Joseph Landsman. The indictment says the sergeant was among the officers who entered the home without a warrant, but Landsman has not been charged.

Police spokesman Lindsey Eldridge said Landsman is not under investigation.

The man charged in the incident, Isaiah Robinson, pleaded guilty to a drug charge and was sentenced to six years in prison, court records show.

His attorney, Ivan Bates, declined to comment on Robinson’s case, but said in general the Gun Trace Task Force case put a spotlight on such tactics as “sneak and peeks,” which Bates said are allowed under the law but must be justified and brief. When officers lie about being inside a home, they can search, steal or plant items, he said.

“The sneak and peek, even though it’s legal, it’s a very dangerous tool that we were able to find out was abused,” Bates said.

Court records show that among those participating in the search was former Det. Carmine Vignola, who pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators and was sentenced in February to 18 months in jail. Vignola is not charged with any criminal wrongdoing in the apartment search.

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Hankard’s previously pending charges include an allegation that he and other officers entered a target’s motel room without a warrant, found drugs and took them outside, planting them in a vehicle so they could justify a search of the room.

Hankard also is charged with providing a BB gun that was delivered by other officers to Northeast Baltimore, after Sgt. Wayne Jenkins ran over a man with his vehicle. The toy gun was planted by Sgt. Keith Gladstone to justify Jenkins’ actions. Jenkins later took over the Gun Trace Task Force.

Jenkins is serving 25 years for his role in the Gun Trace Task Force scandal, including robberies and drug dealing. Gladstone has pleaded guilty to the BB gun incident but has not been sentenced. Two other officers charged by federal prosecutors in recent months were implicated in incidents that involved Gladstone.

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