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Baltimore reaches settlements in at least 12 lawsuits against Gun Trace Task Force

Baltimore has settled at least 12 lawsuits related to the Gun Trace Task Force scandal, court records show.

City Solicitor Dana P. Moore declined to provide details, saying city attorneys were “working through the process of finalizing the agreements that have been reached.”

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Settlements orders for nine cases appeared Friday afternoon in filings from the federal lawsuits filed in U.S. District Court. Attorneys confirmed an additional three cases also had been settled.

The cases include a man who reported to police that officers robbed him of $11,000 in 2009, a crime that one of the officers admitted to on the witness stand during the Gun Trace Task Force trial nine years later.

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It also includes a lawsuit brought by a woman who, along with her husband, in 2016 was abducted and taken to their home in Westminster, where members of the task force stole more than $20,000 despite having no evidence of a crime. The incident was among those picked up by an FBI wiretap.

Joshua Insley and Hannah Ernstberger represent the plaintiffs in nine of the known settled cases. Insley said they were “happy that we were able to bring these matters to a close to provide some sense of justice and healing for our clients, and the city.”

He declined to provide specifics on the amount of the settlements.

Michael Glass said he reached settlements for three of his clients, but others remain pending.

“If the offer is not sufficient, we’re prepared to go to trial,” Glass said. “The goal is to work them out with the city.”

The city is facing dozens of claims related to the actions of the corrupt GTTF officers, who were convicted of racketeering and sentenced to between seven and 25 years in federal prison. In the fallout of the case, federal investigators have charged several other officers with ties to the convicted officers.

City attorneys previously settled two lawsuits related to the officers, hoping to use them as test cases before the appellate court where they argued that the officers’ actions were so far outside the scope of what they were expected to do as officers, that city taxpayers should not be liable.

The Court of Appeals rejected the argument, and the two test cases were settled for $400,000 and $200,000. In both cases, the plaintiffs accused the officers of planting guns on them.

“Given the egregiousness of the conspiracy, the length of time of the conspiracy, the number of former members of the department’s Gun Trace Task Force who participated in the conspiracy, and the department’s acknowledgment that examples of members of the Gun Trace Task Force planting evidence were plentiful, it is reasonable to conclude that the Department should have known of the misconduct by former members of the Gun Trace Task Force,” Court of Appeals Judge Shirley W. Watts wrote for the court.

One of the newly settled cases involves Gary Brown, who was pulled over in 2009 by Detectives Jemell Rayam, Jason Giordano and Michael Sylvester. Brown said Sylvester stole $11,000 before the officers let him go without charges.

Brown filed a complaint with internal affairs, whose investigators gave a lie detector test to Rayam, which he failed. Rayam also told investigators he didn’t know Sylvester, though the internal affairs detectives learned Rayam and Sylvester had been in the same police academy class, and phone records showed they’d communicated hundreds of times.

Rayam was promoted to the Gun Trace Task Force following the investigation. Sylvester was charged with stealing money during a subsequent internal affairs sting in 2009, though the charges were dropped and he resigned from the department. Giordano remains with the Police Department.

The lawsuits charge “pattern and practice” violations by the Baltimore Police Department for failing to stop the officers’ crimes, noting the agency’s overall history of misconduct that in 2017 finally led to a consent decree with the Justice Department. The task force’s crime spree took place during the federal civil rights investigation of the police department, underscoring their lack of fear of being caught.

The cases settled involving clients of Glass include those of Nancy Hamilton, Albert Brown and Javon Walker. Hamilton was abducted by Rayam and officers Wayne Jenkins, Daniel Hersl and Momodu Gondo in 2016 while leaving a Home Depot and taken to her Carroll County home, where the officers stole money; Brown, a Safe Streets worker, claimed Jenkins, Rayam, Hersl and Marcus Taylor planted a gun on him in 2016; and Walker said Jenkins and Sgt. Keith Gladstone stole $20,000 from him in an illegal search in 2010.

Insley’s other settled cases includes Shawn Whiting, who testified at the Gun Trace Task Force trial that he was robbed by officers Taylor and Maurice Ward. Ward cooperated with the government and admitted to the crime; Taylor was convicted by a jury and maintains his innocence.

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