Crime reporter Justin Fenton gives an update on the second day of the Gun Trace Task Force trial.
Shawn Whiting had large stacks of cash spread throughout his bedroom when Baltimore police came crashing in one morning in January 2014: $8,000 from his job as a house painter — and nearly $16,000 he acknowledged was from selling cocaine.
But when Whiting received a letter after his arrest outlining how much had been seized, it showed just $7,650. Whiting immediately called the internal affairs unit to report the theft.
“If you steal candy from the store, you’re going to keep doing it,” Whiting, 52, testified Thursday in U.S. District Court.
Four years later, Detective Marcus Taylor is on trial for that robbery and four others, charged with Detective Daniel Hersl with being part of a racketeering conspiracy as members of the police department’s Gun Trace Task Force.
Earlier, Detective Maurice Ward — another task force member, who has pleaded guilty in the case — testified that Taylor found the money in Whiting’s closet, asked Ward to “look out for him” and they split $3,000.
Whiting’s contacts with internal affairs add to the list of instances in which people tried to report the corrupt officers for misconduct to no avail.
The second day of trial for Taylor and Hersl brought a raft of new disclosures, including that police recovered a replica gun from the glove box of Taylor’s vehicle after his arrest last year. The gun, shown to jurors, is nearly indistinguishable from Taylor’s service pistol.
Ward said the unit’s supervisor, Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, instructed the officers to carry replica guns to plant if they found themselves in a jam.
Prosecutors previously said that the officers were tipped off to an investigation into their unit. Ward said Thursday that Taylor had a “source” in internal affairs who informed them that their overtime was being investigated and their phones and vehicles were being tracked. He also said that Jenkins told them that a sergeant named Ryan Guinn had informed Jenkins that federal agents investigating two of their colleagues had visited him.
Guinn, a former member of the task force who has not been charged with a crime, has come up previously in connection with the federal investigation of the officers. In 2010, he took part in an arrest in which federal prosecutors say drugs were planted on a man who fled and got into a fatal crash. He was suspended after the allegations arose in November, but reinstated a couple of weeks later.
Former Commissioner Kevin Davis, in an interview earlier this year, said he had spoken with the FBI about Guinn, who is assigned to the training academy, and was “absolutely confident that there are no administrative sanctions to pursue against” him. But it was not clear whether he knew about the allegation that Guinn might have tipped off the officers.
The officers also are charged with theft of overtime for hours they did not work. Ward said that before joining the Gun Trace Task Force, he learned a lieutenant named Ian Dombroski would authorize eight hours of overtime pay that officers did not have to work, as a reward for officers who recovered guns.
Dombrowski continues to serve as the head of the Police Department’s internal affairs unit.
Asked about the claims Thursday, police department spokesman T.J. Smith said: “There are currently active internal investigations into anyone who may have enabled any members of the Gun Trace Task Force and their criminal actions.”
Smith did not elaborate on whether the department had taken any new actions against officers whose names have come up during the trial.
Detective Maurice Ward, one of the Gun Trace Task Force officers who has pleaded guilty to his role in a racketeering conspiracy, took the stand Tuesday on the first day of trial for two of his co-defendants and laid out a wide array of astonishing corruption he said the officers took part in.
Ward is one of four officers charged in the federal case who have pleaded guilty and are expected to testify against their colleagues. Ward’s testimony Tuesday outlined astonishing misconduct: He said the officers stole thousands of dollars and drugs, used illegal GPS tracking devices to track targets, pretended to be federal agents, and profiled certain vehicles and people.
Ward testified about additional misconduct Thursday, saying he and Taylor once conducted a “trash run” on a home in preparation for obtaining a search warrant. They found marijuana residue in the target’s trash, but realized the trash can belonged to another resident. They proceeded anyway, submitting an affidavit for a search warrant falsely claiming the drugs had been found in the target’s trash can.
Though Ward had been charged only with robberies dating back to 2014, he has testified that he had been stealing money and lying on paperwork for far longer.
“For the better part of a decade, professionally, you’ve been lying?” asked Taylor’s defense attorney, Christopher Nieto.
“Yes, sir,” Ward responded.
Defense attorneys worked to poke holes in Ward’s account, and question his motives. Nieto expressed disbelief at Ward’s account of discarding $20,000 in stolen money along a wooded path behind his home. Ward testified that he was uncomfortable having such a large amount of stolen funds.
“You just took a bag of $20,000, dumped it out on a path, and walked away?” Nieto asked.
“Pretty much,” Ward said.
The defense attorneys also sought to paint a Baltimore Police Department in turmoil following the 2015 riots that followed the death of Freddie Gray, with overtime pay flowing unchecked to those who were willing to work hard to quell the violence.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Leo Wise countered: “Did anyone tell you you could steal money after the death of Freddie Gray?” Ward responded no.
The robbery of Whiting left lingering questions. Ward said that a group of up to nine officers raided Whiting’s home. Whiting, who said he no longer deals drugs, testified that in addition to the stolen money, officers reported seizing three kilograms of cocaine when he was certain he had four-and-a-half kilograms. He also said officers stole items such as a Gucci belt, expensive cologne, and rare Air Jordan sneakers.
Ward, who is cooperating with the government in hopes of reducing his sentence and has admitted to a broad range of crimes, said he and Taylor did not take those items or any drugs.
Back at the Western District station, the money seized at Whiting’s residence was taken into a secure area of the district. Before helping himself to the $3,000, Ward said that he noticed the stack of cash “had gotten small.”