Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison talks about putting in systems of accountabliities to prevent future Gun Trace Task Force problem officers.
A state commission created 18 months ago to shine light on Baltimore’s Gun Trace Task Force corruption scandal has not demanded public testimony from key police officials who could offer an inside account of the rogue unit.
Instead, an attorney for the Commission to Restore Trust in Policing confirmed this week that it has been interviewing people in private and not in front of the full commission during its public hearings. The attorney said he was conducting a “confidential investigation” that would be part of the final report, due at year’s end.
Senate President Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat who pushed for the commission prior to assuming his leadership post, told The Baltimore Sun that was not acceptable.
“The investigation being done in private is not a satisfactory response from my perspective, and I intend to re-engage and get a better understanding of where things stand and how to ensure we can move forward successfully," Ferguson said.
Williams did not respond to requests for comment this week, referring questions to the attorney hired to assist the commission, Peter Keith.
The commission is one of two groups tapped to develop separate public reports exploring the roots of the Gun Trace Task Force corruption scandal, which came to light when a suburban drug investigation stumbled onto one officer’s contacts with a drug organization. That led to an FBI wiretap probe, and federal prosecutors eventually proved members of the task force were routinely violating civil rights, robbing citizens and cheating the city on their time cards.
The continuing federal criminal investigation has so far led to arrests or convictions of 15 current and former officers, with incidents dating back to 2009 that include stealing and selling cocaine and planting evidence. The convicted officers are serving sentences of 7 to 25 years in federal prison.
“The investigation being done in private is not a satisfactory response from my perspective."
Senate President Bill Ferguson
Share quote & link
In addition to the state commission, the Baltimore Police Department last fall hired an outside investigator to conduct a review for the department, after officials acknowledged that it never undertook a full-scale internal review.
Michael Bromwich, the former Justice Department inspector general leading the police department’s investigation, praised the department’s cooperation thus far and said he’s spoken at length to supervisors of the convicted officers and many of the police department’s key leaders from the past two decades.
But he said this week that two former high-ranking commanders — former Commissioner Darryl De Sousa and former Deputy Commissioner Dean Palmere — had rebuffed his requests.
After The Sun inquired with De Sousa’s attorney about his lack of participation in Bromwich’s investigation, De Sousa reversed course.
“Mr. De Sousa was not in a position to participate in the investigation while he was serving his sentence for failing to file tax returns,” attorney Adam Ruther said. “Now that he has been released, he has reached out to investigators to offer whatever help he can.”
In addition to his team’s interviews, Bromwich said he also sat in on another 20 closed-door interviews conducted by the Commission to Restore Trust in Policing, which was established by the legislature and Gov. Larry Hogan to investigate the seeds of the scandal.
The state commission’s meetings are subject to the open meetings act, though the full commission has not participated in the private interviews.
Keith, the panel’s attorney, told The Sun that the commission’s “confidential investigation” includes closed-door interviews and issuing of subpoenas. He wouldn’t discuss how many subpoenas had been issued and for what types of documents. He said the public would find out when the commission is done with its work.
“My job is to conduct an investigation, and those are the parameters going forward," Keith said in an interview Monday. "We’ll have a report issued by year-end as directed.”
The state commission was given broad authority and said it would convene regular public meetings and take testimony, but over the course of 18 months the meeting agendas and hearings have included few new details.
Former Deputy Commissioner Anthony Barksdale, who ran operations from 2007 until 2012, was called as a witness at one hearing. The only other police official has been the current commissioner, Michael Harrison, who held a job in New Orleans until 2019. An attorney for the police union testified generally about the state Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights.
No other police leaders have been called to testify at the public hearings, even though many of the police supervisors and commanders who oversaw the officers over the years remain with the department. A leaked Internal Affairs report from 2016, which focused on the GTTF’s supervision, described task force ringleader Sgt. Wayne Jenkins as a top asset for the force but difficult to supervise and someone who often went over the heads of his immediate supervisors to higher-ups in the department.
Jenkins gave “150 percent on the street. … And that is what they want,” said Lt. Marjorie German, according to the Internal Affairs report. “Command created the monster and allowed it to go unchecked.”
The commission has held 11 meetings. State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby has appeared twice; defense attorney Ivan Bates testified about clients he represented whose rights were violated by the officers. Public defender Deborah Levi and members of the Civilian Review Board in Baltimore also walked through the challenges of getting information on problem officers.
While Bromwich said he’s making good progress, he called on Palmere and other holdouts to participate.
Breaking News Alerts Newsletter
As it happens
Get updates on the coronavirus pandemic and other news as it happens with our free breaking news email alerts.
“We’ll keep plugging away. We’re not giving up by any stretch of the imagination,” Bromwich said Monday. “It’s unfortunate people in such significant positions in the department and who presumably have a lot to say about what they think are some of the Institutional causes of the corruption, won’t step forward. They owe that to department; they owe that to the city.”
Bromwich said he’s so far struck out with the convicted officers themselves. He said Detective Jemell Rayam asked, “What’s in it for me?” and said he traded messages with a surrogate for Jenkins that has not materialized in a conversation with the ringleader of the group. Others simply said no.
Bromwich said his team has interviewed 26 people, with five additional conversations slated for this week alone. While he declined to discuss information he is gathering or the direction of his investigation, Bromwich did offer some observations.
He said he was struck by the “bitterness many prior commissioners feel to this day towards the City of Baltimore and, to a lesser extent, the Police Department.”
He said the commissioners wanted to put their experience behind them, and also felt their successors hadn’t shown interest in learning from them. Nor does the department have a process for capturing institutional knowledge of senior members who have departed.