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Baltimore's city solicitor presses case to get taxpayers off hook for Gun Trace Task Force misconduct claims

Security footage of an incident where Sgt. Jenkins and Detectives Hersl and Gondo raid an apartment.

Repeatedly calling the convicted former Gun Trace Task Force officers “thugs” and “gangsters,” Baltimore’s city solicitor pressed the city’s case to a judge Monday morning that taxpayers should not have to foot the bill for their criminal misconduct.

City Solicitor Andre Davis told Circuit Judge Gregory Sampson that the officers’ conduct was so far outside the “scope of employment” that an agreement with the police union to cover officers’ lawsuit damages shouldn’t apply.

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Such a ruling, Davis said, could deter people from suing the city because it would limit the amount of money the alleged victims could collect.

“Lawyers are going to say to potential claimants … if the city’s not going to pay, I’m not going to invest the money to seek redress,” Davis said.

Sampson said he would issue a written ruling within 30 days.

The city filed the case against the eight former GTTF members serving federal prison sentences for federal racketeering convictions. The officers — six of whom took pleas and two who were convicted by a federal jury — stole money from citizens, lied on official paperwork and took unearned overtime. They are serving prison sentences of between seven and 25 years.

The city is paying for lawyers for the officers, as part of the union contract, and those lawyers are arguing that the city’s efforts are premature.

A. Dwight Pettit, a veteran civil rights attorney who has been in a long-running battle with the city over indemnification of officers in an unrelated police misconduct case, blasted Davis in an interview.

“I thought [Davis] would come in with an open mind to make a bridge between the citizens and the Police Department, and he’s done just the opposite,” Pettit said. “He’s become a total obstructionist. I’m shocked that this administration and this mayor would continue to tolerate it.”

Davis said the city’s position relates to 29 crimes outlined in the federal case against the officers, and doesn’t bar anyone from bringing a claim. He said there are 13 pending lawsuits filed, with 63 other notices of potential claims filed. He said the city still may settle some cases, too.

Some of the claims have been brought as federal “Monell claims” that seek to show the Police Department’s policies and practices fostered the behavior, or failed to control it. Davis said city taxpayers should foot the bill if such a case can be made — but he opined that they would not be able to prevail.

“I haven’t seen any evidence that these gangsters … behaved the way they did because of policy or practices of the Baltimore City Police Department,” Davis said.

The police department is operating under federal consent decree after the Department of Justice documented a pattern of practice of abuses and unconstitutional policing, as well as a failure to supervise and discipline officers.

Davis hinted that efforts to discipline the officers had been thwarted, and lamented that such records can’t be publicly disclosed because the “Fraternal Order of Police has the city in a chokehold.”

The police union, also a defendant in the city’s case, could not be reached for comment Monday evening.

Davis also called the police internal disciplinary panels, called trial boards, “outrageous” and noted civilians not prohibited from speaking out about such cases will start serving soon on the boards.

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