A Carroll County woman is suing members of a rogue Baltimore Police Department unit, the first civil claim since the officers were indicted over a series of robberies and extortions.
The complaint filed in Baltimore Circuit Court by Nancy Hamilton seeks at least $900,000 in damages, and the city has appointed lawyers to defend the officers. With other attorneys exploring similar legal claims, taxpayers are on the hook for legal fees and potential damages awarded in the civil courts.
While running errands with her husband in Baltimore County, Hamilton was pulled over by men in police vests who put them in handcuffs, placed them in separate vehicles and took her husband into a darkened old school building for an hour, according to the lawsuit and federal prosecutors. Hamilton said she thought she had been abducted by police impersonators.
The officers later drove the couple to their Carroll County home and allegedly pocketed more than $20,000 in cash.
The four officers named in the complaint are among eight members of the Baltimore Police Department's elite Gun Trace Task Force who have been charged with racketeering and other federal crimes. Two of the eight have pleaded guilty. Two others are expected to plead guilty in coming weeks, including two of the officers named in Hamilton's complaint. The rest have pleaded not guilty. .
Hamiton's allegations involve an incident documented in detail in the March indictment and partially captured by wiretaps. Taken together, they provide new insight into how far some officers allegedly went in pursuit of their targets.
Wiretaps captured the supervisor of the unit instructing another officer to tell the Hamiltons he was a federal prosecutor, according to the federal indictment, while both the complaint and indictment say Ronald Hamilton was interrogated inside the former Pimlico Middle School building, which is used as the police training academy facility. The Police Department refused to discuss whether the facility is regularly used for interrogations.
"They never cut on any of the lights," Hamilton's attorney, James Rhodes, said in an interview.
Attorneys hired by the city to represent the officers in the civil case declined to comment.
The four officers named in the complaint are Detective Jemell Rayam, Detective Momodu Gondo, Sgt. Wayne Jenkins and Detective Daniel Hersl.
On July 8, 2016, Rayam applied for and received a search warrant of the Hamiltons' Carroll County home using information federal authorities now say was falsified. The affidavit claimed that Rayam, Gondo and Jenkins had conducted a full day of surveillance on Ronald Hamilton, but prosecutors say Gondo and Rayam were at their homes when they claimed to be watching him.
"He [Jenkins] gave the order; we're pulling them over," Rayam was recorded saying around 3 p.m., according to the indictment. "We pull them over, bring them back to the academy. That's per Sergeant Jenko," he said, allegedly referring to Jenkins.
Rayam, Gondo and Hersl conducted a traffic stop of the Hamiltons on or near Reisterstown Road in Baltimore County, and they were removed from their vehicle "without consent and in fear of being beaten or worse," Nancy Hamilton's complaint alleges.
Jenkins and Hersl have pleaded not guilty; Rayam and Gondo also have pleaded not guilty but have rearraignment hearings scheduled later this year to change their pleas.
Prosecutors say Rayam asked Ronald Hamilton, who has twice served federal prison sentences for drug convictions, "Where's the money?" Federal prosecutors say he had $3,400 in cash on him, which Rayam allegedly stole.
Nancy Hamilton's complaint says the couple were handcuffed and placed in separate vehicles.
"We are headed down now [to a BPD off-site facility]," Gondo said in a phone call to Jenkins, according to the indictment. "We go, um, got the package," he said, using coded language for having taken Hamilton into custody. "I got the, um, male, and they got the female."
"Okay, hey, uh, did you tell them anything at all?" Jenkins asked.
"No," Gondo said.
"All right. Just tell them you gotta wait for the U.S. Attorney. When I get there, treat me like I'm the [expletive] U.S. Attorney. Like, hey sir, how are you, we got our target in pocket," Jenkins said. "And then introduce me as the U.S. Attorney."
The off-site facility was the training academy. Specialized units within the agency use trailers on the property as offices, but a spokesman for the Police Department could not point to any policies or procedures that allow such units to interrogate suspects at the training academy.
According to the indictment, Ronald Hamilton was interviewed by Rayam and Jenkins, who pretended to be a federal agent. Outside, Nancy Hamilton complained that she needed to use the bathroom and she was taken inside. The building was "very dark and appeared to be closed," her complaint says. She "continued to be nervous and fearful for her life as she was taken in the training facility."
During the interrogation, the officers asked if Hamilton had any money in his home, and Hamilton said he had $70,000 in cash.
"Jenkins told him, you take care of us, we take care of you, or words to that effect," and asked Hamilton to identify someone the officers could rob, federal prosecutors wrote in the indictment.
Ronald Hamilton has a long record of drug offenses, and in the late 1990s was described by federal agents in court documents as "the person who controlled most of the drug trafficking in West and Southwest Baltimore City and county." But Ronald Hamilton would later say he has stayed out of trouble since his release three years ago, and was making money buying vehicles at auctions and selling them for a profit, as well as renting out properties.
After the officers drove the Hamiltons to their home, Ronald Hamilton directed the officers to a master bedroom closet, where he had $70,000 in two heat-sealed bundles, according to the federal indictment. One package allegedly contained $50,000; another had $20,000. The officers allegedly took the $20,000 bundle, then contacted a Carroll County drug task force to join in the operation. The $50,000 package was seized by the Carroll officers as alleged drug proceeds.
Prosecutors allege that Rayam called Gondo at 10:45 p.m. that night to discuss the money they had stolen. Rayam allegedly wrote a false incident report, without disclosing the money that had been taken at the traffic stop or from the home. Three days later, Gondo deposited $8,000 in cash into his personal bank account, the indictment says.
Ronald Hamilton fought to get the money seized by Carroll authorities back. In court, county prosecutors alleged that Hamilton had obtained the money from a heroin deal. Hamilton said that the money was legitimate and that his prior criminal record had caused him to be "unfairly and unjustly" targeted.
He was able to produce what Carroll prosecutors believed was sufficient documentation for $30,000 of the cash, which was returned to him, but officials kept the other $20,000.
Hamilton's attorney in the forfeiture case, Gary Desper, said that changed when the indictment against the officers came down. Carroll prosecutors then returned the $20,000 as well, saying, "We don't want anything to do with that," Desper said.