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Ex-Baltimore Police commander testifies he didn’t know of Gun Trace Task Force crimes or investigate afterward

A former top Baltimore Police commander who held key leadership roles during the reign of the corrupt Gun Trace Task Force told a state commission Monday that he didn’t know of the officers' crimes — or look into them after they were revealed.

Dean Palmere, who served as a deputy Baltimore Police commissioner for five years following a career in the department’s hard-charging plainclothes units, told members of the Commission to Restore Trust in Policing that over the years he never received information from internal affairs about problems with officers he was pushing onto the streets.

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“I think, in a sense, you are working in a silo,” Palmere said.

When the officers were indicted on federal racketeering charges in March 2017, Palmere said, he did not ask questions of supervisors beneath him who worked more directly with the officers or initiate an “after-action” review: “At the time, I didn’t really think about it, because you’re handling other day-to-day operations and the investigation was still pending.”

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Palmere announced his retirement in 2018 in the middle of the federal racketeering trial, and his testimony is believed to be his first public remarks since.

The task force officers were members of the department’s plainclothes units, and had been committing crimes for years before being brought together in the gun unit in the summer of 2016. Such plainclothes squads had long been a source of citizen complaints and lawsuits.

Palmere worked in the department’s organized crime division and held leadership posts over such units across multiple administrations. He led the Violent Crimes Impact Division under Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III, then was elevated to deputy commissioner in 2013 under Anthony Batts, and retained that position when Kevin Davis took over in 2015.

Convicted officers who cooperated with the government said that during that time, they falsified probable cause and did searches without warrants. They admitted to stealing cash, and some admitted taking and re-selling drugs. In some cases, officers have admitted to planting BB guns or moving drug evidence to justify a search.

In his sworn testimony Monday, Palmere said he didn’t know about such crimes.

“I come from a family of law enforcement officers that served in Baltimore for many years. I take a lot of pride in the Baltimore Police Department,” Palmere said. “Most appalling is the victims in this, that were victimized as a result of their actions. It’s disgusting to me, because I am proud of my profession. And I think, as we look at the environment we live in today with law enforcement and the distrust between the community and law enforcement, this just compounds it tenfold.”

Palmere is named as a defendant in several lawsuits alleging “pattern and practice” violations of civil rights by the Police Department related to the Gun Trace Task Force scandal.

Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison talks about putting in systems of accountabliities to prevent future Gun Trace Task Force problem officers.

“Dean Palmere oversaw many of the BPD’s plainclothes units throughout his tenure, and had actual or constructive knowledge of the Officer Defendants' misconduct, yet he did nothing to stop their practices," attorneys wrote in one lawsuit.

Federal prosecutors did not accuse Palmere of wrongdoing, and convicted officers who cooperated with the government never said that top commanders knew of their crimes.

Members of the commission said Monday they have been told by officers who they interviewed that Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, who is serving 25 years in prison, had a direct line to Palmere, and that top brass didn’t take a closer look at Jenkins because he was productive.

Palmere denied having any direct relationship with Jenkins. He said he didn’t consider the Gun Trace Task Force as any more productive than other similar squads.

The GTTF was taking the most guns off the street of any unit and was recognized in a department newsletter in late 2016.

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Department emails show Jenkins asking Palmere for a new car in late 2015, which Palmere provided. Palmere said he didn’t recall specific communications with Jenkins.

Another convicted officer, Sgt. Thomas Allers, worked directly with Palmere for a time as part of his administrative staff. Allers is serving 15 years in prison.

Palmere said the Baltimore Police Department’s internal affairs unit reports directly to the police commissioner, and that he would not have meetings with internal affairs commanders to review issues with officers. He said it was set up that way to keep investigations confidential.

“Even some of the things I read about after the fact regarding their IA backgrounds, I was not aware of at all," Palmere said. "I was quite surprised by the length of some of their frequency with internal affairs.”

Following the indictments, he said he did not ask questions of then Col. Sean Miller or Lt. Marjorie German, two of Jenkins’s supervisors. Though Commissioner Davis demoted Miller, both remain with the department in supervisory positions.

Commission member Sean Malone asked Palmere why he didn’t want to know more.

“In retrospect, maybe [I] should’ve asked questions. At the time, you relied on that side of the house [the internal affairs bureau] to do the investigation,” Palmere said.

One of the convicted officers, Momodu Gondo, testified that Palmere “coached” detective Jemell Rayam on what to say after he fatally shot a man in 2009. Palmere denied the claim at the time, and again Monday. He said he didn’t recall being involved in the investigation or knowing of Rayam, though documents from the investigation show reports were sent to him.

The state Commission to Restore Trust in Policing is winding down its two-year review of the circumstances that led to the GTTF scandal. Despite having subpoena power, it has called few witnesses publicly with intimate knowledge of the department culture. Most of its interviews have been conducted behind closed doors.

Palmere was subpoenaed initially but agreed to appear voluntarily, the commissioner’s attorney said. He’s also spoken with Michael Bromwich, who is conducting another investigation of the scandal for the Police Department.

Palmere said Monday that the GTTF scandal is “something that bothers me every day.”

“It’s not how I wanted my legacy or family legacy to end. It’s just tragic what these guys did.”

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