Baltimore resident Tierra Jones reacts to the news that the Baltimore Police officers were found guilty in the Gun Trace Task Force corruption case. (Sarah Meehan & Jonas Shaffer, Baltimore Sun video)
After jurors on Monday convicted two Baltimore police officers who conspired to rob citizens, many city leaders condemned their actions but saw the verdict as a springboard for reform.
Detectives Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor, former members of the Baltimore Police Department’s Gun Trace Task Force, were found guilty of multiple federal charges, including racketeering conspiracy and racketeering. Many leaders said the verdict was not surprising given the blistering testimony over several weeks. But many also said the end of the trial could lead to a new era in the Police Department, bolster reform efforts and place new emphasis on community trust.
“The verdict rendered by jurors in this disturbing trial is clearly the right one, given the abundance of compelling and damning evidence,” said Mayor Catherine Pugh in a statement. “I want all of our citizens to know that I have likewise been appalled by the level of dishonesty and betrayal that these individuals, and others also implicated, perpetrated here in our community.”
Pugh sought to reassure residents of measures, such as the consent decree reached between the city and the U.S. Department of Justice, which would usher in an era of reforms. She stressed her “commitment to changing the culture and practices” of the department.
In response to Monday’s verdict, Gov. Larry Hogan’s spokeswoman Amelia Chasse said “he believes corruption must be exposed and rooted out wherever it occurs.”
Baltimore Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa said the trial revealed some of the most “egregious and despicable acts” committed by law enforcement but also expressed his commitment to reforms.
“Our job moving forward is to earn back the trust and response of the community. It will be a process and I understand the doubt, fear and pessimism,” De Sousa said in a statement. He pledged to pursue officers who think “they can tarnish the badge and violate our citizen’s rights.”
Lt. Gene Ryan, president of the local police union that represents rank-and-file officers, said the officers’ convictions “show you that nobody is above the law. If you break the law, you’re going to have to pay just like everybody else.”
He called actions by the unit “disgraceful,” and said the “rogue group” is not representative of the police force overall or its other members.
Several city leaders also condemned the officers’ actions, and said they hoped the verdict would serve as a deterrent against future misconduct.
City Councilman Brandon Scott, chair of the public safety committee, said he was shocked at hearing during the trial some of “the most despicable acts I’ve ever seen from someone who was supposed to uphold the law.” He called for the officers to receive the “strictest sentence possible.”
He said the officers’ conduct has caused lasting consequences for them, the department and city as a whole.
“The first thing I think about is all the lives that they ruined, all the families they’ve caused harm, the damage to the city and the Police Department, all of this in the wake of them thinking they were higher than the law,” Scott said.
Scott said the trial testimony, in which allegations were made against current members of the department, must be investigated thoroughly to stamp out further corruption.
Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said in a statement that the trial has also raised doubt in residents’ faith in the criminal justice system, and “we must continue to drive out corruption and shine a light on callous criminals that dishonorably wear a badge.”
The Maryland public defender’s office said the trial “vindicates our clients who have been reporting these officers’ abuses for years.” The office said it continues “to seek justice” for individuals who may have been wrongly convicted because of the officers.
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund President Sherrilyn Ifill said the police department and city leadership must take this opportunity to train officers on constitutional policing and developing an early intervention system to identify problem officers.
“This corruption went on unabated for nearly 10 years and was only brought to light as a result of a federal investigation. Neither City Hall, BPD’s Internal Affairs, nor the State’s Attorney’s Office was able to uncover and hold accountable the officers at the heart of this criminal conspiracy. Residents deserve new procedures, practices, regulations, safety valves, and training across city agencies – including the State’s Attorney’s office – to ensure that this cannot happen again,” Ifill said in statement.
With the federal prosecution of the Gun Trace Task Force in Baltimore concluding, an obvious question remains: What is being done to prevent more police corruption in the future? The answer is a lot, though the efficacy of the efforts is still to be seen.
State Del. Bilal Ali of Baltimore called for disbanding the police department entirely, citing Camden, N.J., as an example where the police force was rebuilt. He said the corruption and wrongdoing highlighted in the trial is an “ongoing experience” for many residents, and have not been sufficiently addressed by the consent decree or other efforts at reforms.
Del. Curt Anderson, chairman of the city’s House delegation in Annapolis, said he hopes the verdict “will send a message to police officers across the state, across the country, that you are placed in a position of trust and we expect you to be better than the average citizen.”
Anderson said he still has faith in the department for two reasons — the first one being, “I don’t have a choice.” The second reason is he believes Hersl and Taylor represent “a few bad apples.”
“I’ve been on the street and talked to officers,” Anderson said. “They’re just as aghast as the rest of the citizenry is. I think we’ve got a lot more good apples than we have bad apples,” he said.
Peter Moskos, who teaches at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said the two convictions aren’t likely to end the scandal.
“There are the other officers that were named,” Moskos said.
There remains plenty of skepticism about the testimony of convicted officers who implicated others. Still, De Sousa formed a unit to investigate the allegations swirling around the trial.
Some community leaders said they were not surprised by the verdict and hoped it will help propel reform efforts.
“This exposure of the corruption … will be a catalyst for the new commissioner,” said Ray Kelly, director of the West Baltimore-based No Boundaries Coalition, which has advocated for police reforms.
After years of residents’ complaints about police officer misconduct, he said he was not surprised by the verdict.
“I feel like it’s well deserved, just listening to the testimony,” Kelly said.
Adam Jackson, the CEO of Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, a Baltimore social activist organization, said the testimony merely confirmed what many residents already knew.
“Unfortunately, it takes extreme cases like this” for others to take notice, he said.
Jackson said he remained skeptical of any meaningful improvement in accountability without changes to the law. He said the state must change laws to provide more oversight and give residents the ability to hold officers accountable.
Sitting at a bus stop outside the Penn-North Metro station, Tyrone Fitzgerald, 45, said he does not think the guilty verdict will improve relationships between police and the communities they serve.
But Fitzgerald said he thinks more rigorous hiring standards and more intense training would help improve the police force.
“I hate to bring up the Freddie Gray thing – it does go back longer than that – but that’s [when] people’s eyes were really opened up to the situation,” Fitzgerald said.