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Convicted Baltimore Gun Trace Task Force ringleader speaks out, denies taking money or planting evidence

Body camera footage of the Gun Trace Task Force’s Sept. 28, 2016, arrest of Andre Crowder. The footage is courtesy of Wayne Jenkins.

Convicted Gun Trace Task Force leader Wayne Jenkins is speaking out for the first time, saying in a letter from prison that he was coerced into taking a plea and that he never stole money or planted evidence.

Jenkins, who pleaded guilty and is serving a 25-year sentence in federal prison, says federal prosecutors “badgered” him into entering a plea. Though he appears to admit to a long-running scheme to sell drugs he had taken off the street, Jenkins says he “never planted drugs, firearms or stole money.”

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The letter, sent to The Baltimore Sun and addressed to “American citizens and public media abroad,” appears prompted by the dismissal of a civil lawsuit against Jenkins last month by a man, Andre Crowder, who said Jenkins had stolen money and planted a gun.

Crowder’s attorney Tony Garcia confirmed that he withdrew Crowder’s lawsuit last month after being provided body camera video. He agreed that the footage refutes Crowder’s claims.

“Before anything went too far, we immediately withdrew the complaint,” Garcia said in an interview.

Jenkins provided a copy of the video, recorded on another officer’s body camera, which shows a traffic stop in which Crowder quickly admits to possessing the gun, saying he had acquired it after overpowering someone who tried to rob him. Crowder asks why he was pulled over in the first place, and Jenkins says it was because Crowder wasn’t wearing a seat belt.

In a three-part series last year, The Sun documented how the gun unit frequently cited seat belt violations to search the vehicles of scores of people in downtrodden neighborhoods.

Crowder was not one of the victims in the case that federal prosecutors built that resulted in Jenkins’ guilty plea and sentence, but he spoke out at a news conference after the Gun Trace Task Force trial.

Garcia’s firm has three other pending civil claims against Jenkins, and said Jenkins is trying to use Crowder’s failed claim to refute the larger case against him. “Out of the hundreds or thousands of people he was a predator on, he found one and wants to call all the attention to it,” Garcia said.

Jenkins’ civil attorney, Neil Duke, appointed to represent him by the city, said the claims will continue to be vetted. “To me, it is inconceivable to believe that each and every arrest over the course of a number of years was tainted by improper motive. That’s why the merits of each of these lawsuits have to be investigated and dealt with on a case-by-case basis," Duke said.

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While civil claims against Jenkins have flooded in since he was charged, the federal racketeering case relied not just on the accounts of victims but on testimony from four officers he supervised. They testified that Jenkins was generally out of control, driving recklessly, searching people without probable cause and hatching robbery schemes. A bail bondsman who dealt drugs for Jenkins also flipped, outlining how Jenkins included him on some of the larger robberies.

Former detectives Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor took their cases to trial and were convicted by a federal jury. They continue to assert their innocence, with Hersl sending letters to a state commission investigating the case in which he compares himself to famed New York City cop Frank Serpico.

In his letter, Jenkins claims prosecutors pressured co-defendants and witnesses to make certain statements to secure convictions.

“This is why, myself, Detective Hersl, and Detective Taylor ended up with no cooperation deal at sentencing and excessive terms of imprisonment. Because we refused to lie on others!" he wrote.

Jenkins also says in his letter that federal prosecutors pressured him to say that a former city drug prosecutor, Anna Mantegna, had tipped him off about the FBI investigation while it was ongoing.

“This state’s attorney, whose professional name has been tarnished, never informed myself of any such information,” Jenkins wrote.

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Mantegna was fired by the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office after federal prosecutors disclosed that they believed Mantegna had tipped off Jenkins. Mantegna has said she never knew about the ongoing investigation, and had instead warned Jenkins that some of the officers in his squad were problems. She filed a wrongful termination and defamation case that was thrown out by a judge last month.

Jenkins has been publicly silent since he was sentenced in June 2018. At that hearing, he tearfully apologized for his misconduct but rebutted one claim against him: that he had planted drugs at the scene of a fatal crash in 2010.

A lengthy statement of facts was read at that hearing, outlining how he had dealt drugs, robbed people of cash and had even stolen dirt bikes. It also said he planted drugs on Umar Burley and Brent Matthews in 2010 after they fled a traffic stop and got into a crash that killed an elderly man.

Jenkins’ attorney at the time, Steve Levin, spoke up after the statement of facts had been read and said Jenkins denied he had been the officer who planted the drugs. He instead claimed he knew drugs had been planted by someone else — who he did not name — and that he provided false information on court paperwork.

Detective Sean Suiter was fatally shot in the head in November 2017 on the day before he had been scheduled to testify in front of a federal grand jury about the Burley incident.

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