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Baltimore Police officer charged in BB gun planting incident as Gun Trace Task Force fallout continues

Federal prosecutors have charged a third Baltimore Police officer in connection with a BB gun planting incident from 2014, and also accused him of being involved in a separate incident of planting drugs a year later.

The charges announced Wednesday afternoon are the latest in the slow-burning fallout from the Gun Trace Task Force scandal.

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Detective Robert A. Hankard, a 12-year veteran, was charged with conspiring to deprive civil rights, falsifying records and making false statements to a federal grand jury. The charges against another officer come more than 10 months after charges were first filed in the case against Hankard’s former sergeant, Keith Gladstone, who pleaded guilty last year.

Baltimore Police said Hankard was suspended without pay, but declined to comment further. Hankard’s defense attorney also declined to comment.

Hankard and Gladstone were not members of the Gun Trace Task Force, but plainclothes officers who worked alongside eventual task force Sgt. Wayne Jenkins when they were members of the Special Enforcement Section in 2014.

In the spring of that year, Jenkins struck a man with his vehicle in Northeast Baltimore and placed a panicked call to Gladstone, a former mentor, seeking help. Gladstone has admitted that he retrieved a BB gun and visited the scene, dropping it underneath a vehicle, in order to help justify Jenkins’s actions.

The indictment against Hankard said his partner, Carmine Vignola, called him and asked if Hankard had any “toys” or “replicas," to help Jenkins, who he said had been “hemmed up." Gladstone and Vignola then drove to Hankard’s home to pick up the BB gun, the indictment alleges.

Hankard told a federal grand jury in February 2019 that he was putting together an IKEA shelf at home when Vignola called, and that he told Vignola that he did not have a replica gun and hung up.

“That was a weird call. I didn’t think anything of it at the time,” Hankard told the grand jury. “I had my suspicions, but nothing to me — nothing came about it.”

Vignola has pleaded guilty to lying to a grand jury about the incident and is awaiting sentencing.

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While the BB gun planting allegations appeared to be in motion for months, the indictment contains new allegations about a drug planting incident from the fall of 2015 in which prosecutors say Gladstone, Hankard and Vignola entered a motel room without a warrant and then falsified evidence and planted drugs.

The indictment alleges that Hankard arrested a man staying at a motel, and Hankard and Vignola searched his pickup truck in the motel parking lot. They found no drugs.

The officers then entered the man’s motel room without first obtaining a warrant and discovered a large amount of heroin and a smaller amount of cocaine, according to the indictment.

Gladstone, identified in the indictment by his initials K.G., then “took the cocaine to the pickup truck and asked Hankard if he was ‘okay’ with K.G. planting the cocaine in the pickup truck in order to justify the arrest” and entry into the motel room. Gladstone “then planted the cocaine in [the man’s] truck, where it was subsequently recovered by another BPD officer,” the indictment says.

In court paperwork, Hankard lied about the series of events, writing that Vignola saw cocaine in plain view while outside of the man’s pickup truck, the federal indictment alleges. He wrote that the detectives only tried the motel key to see whether it worked, but waited for a search warrant before entering.

Court records show the man who was arrested pleaded guilty to drug charges in May 2016, and received a sentence of 10 years with all but 18 months suspended. His attorney declined to comment Wednesday.

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In the Gun Trace Task Force trial, convicted officers cooperating with the government spoke of performing illegal searches called “sneak and peeks” in which they entered homes or other property without a warrant to see what was inside.

Before Wednesday’s charges, Hankard was already on a list of two dozen officers whose cases were being reviewed and reversed by the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office.

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