A bail bondsman and admitted drug dealer testified that Baltimore police Sgt. Thomas E. Wilson III once provided security as he met with a drug supplier. (Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun video)
Among days of explosive allegations in the corruption trial of two Baltimore police officers, there emerged the name of a sergeant little known to the public.
A bail bondsman and admitted drug dealer testified that Sgt. Thomas E. Wilson III once provided security as he met with a drug supplier at a Baltimore strip club.
But Wilson has long been known to the police department’s Internal Affairs division.
Documents obtained by The Baltimore Sun show that the unit recommended in 2005 that then-Officer Wilson be fired for allegedly entering and searching a home without a warrant, getting a warrant after the fact, and then falsifying paperwork to suggest that the warrant had been obtained before entering the home. A trial board found Wilson guilty of misconduct and neglect of duty, and recommended a 15-day suspension without pay.
In a separate case in 2003, Wilson was accused by a federal judge of lying in court. A police trial board recommended he lose five days of leave and be trained in search and seizure. And in a third case, in 2012, he was criminally charged with perjury. He was acquitted by a city jury.
Wilson remains a city officer. The allegations against him, and the recommendations that he be disciplined, did not prevent the Baltimore Police Department from promoting him to sergeant, or from assigning him to supervise and teach officers in the Western District.
The department says it put Wilson on administrative duties after his name emerged in the testimony this month of bail bondsman and drug dealer Donald C. Stepp pending an internal investigation. Stepp did not testify that Wilson committed any crime. Wilson has not been charged with any offense.
At least a dozen other Baltimore police officers and an assistant state’s attorney also participated in crimes or helped cover them up as they floated in and out of the Gun Trace Task Force unit's orbit, according to GTTF members' testimony and comments from federal prosecutors in the ongoing case.
Wilson could not be reached for comment. Michael E. Davey, who represented him in the 2005 incident, said Wilson would have no comment “on any issues that were raised in the trial until he is officially under investigation and required to make a statement by the BPD.”
Wilson is the latest example of a police officer with a troubled past remaining on the force to emerge amid the federal prosecution of Baltimore’s Gun Trace Task Force.
Det. Jemell Rayam, who has pleaded guilty to federal racketeering charges in the corruption case, was charged with lying to Internal Affairs in a 2009 case in which $11,000 was stolen from a Baltimore man. And in 2015, a city judge questioned Rayam’s credibility and prosecutors asked Internal Affairs to investigate.
Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, who has also pleaded guilty to federal racketeering charges in the Gun Trace Task Force case, came under scrutiny in a separate case in 2014. Then-Assistant State’s Attorney Molly Webb said surveillance footage of a suspect appeared to conflict with the accounts that Jenkins and another officer gave in charging documents. She dropped the case and reported the incident to her supervisors and Internal Affairs.
Detective Daniel Hersl amassed dozens of complaints, and the city paid three settlements to resolve claims against him. A jury is deliberating charges against him in the gun task force case.
Wilson has not been charged in the task force case, and did not appear in court during the trial.
Stepp, the bail bondsman and drug dealer, has pleaded guilty to federal charges of possession with intent to distribute cocaine, heroin and other substances. In his plea, he said he partnered with Jenkins for years to sell drugs that the task force members had stolen. Stepp faces a maximum sentence of life in prison and a mandatory minimum of 10 years, but could receive less time for cooperating with prosecutors.
Stepp testified that he hired Wilson to provide private security when he met with a New York drug supplier at the Scores strip club at an undisclosed date. Stepp said he socialized with Wilson, and that Jenkins and Wilson had a private security business together. Court records show Wilson and Jenkins made at least 24 arrests together between May 2011 and September 2012.
In internal affairs records obtained by The Sun, investigators describe a series of errors by officers in March 2005. Four officers would be charged with wrongdoing.
Wilson and Officer Daryll Coates told investigators they had received a report of a man dealing drugs in the 3400 block of Paton Avenue, investigators wrote. The officers stopped a car and recovered marijuana and cocaine, and obtained search warrants to enter a home in the block.
They used a battering ram to storm the home. They were met by an elderly woman.
Her 48-year-old daughter described the scene: “Men were hollering and screaming, ‘Open the f---ing door, open the door now!”
The officers showed the residents the warrant. They said a person had been seen leaving their house every morning and going to another block to sell drugs.
The residents said the officers’ observations couldn’t be true, and the officers apologized. She suggested they try the house next door.
The officers entered that home without a warrant. They told investigators they believed it was vacant. They said they looked around for 15 minutes before checking the refrigerator and seeing it was on with food inside, a sign that the home was inhabited.
A resident of the second home called Internal Affairs to complain. The officers told investigators that their supervisor then ordered them to get a search warrant for the house. A District Court judge signed it without being told the officers had already conducted the search and had no intention of using the warrant.
“So you wrote a search and seizure warrant for 3405 Paton Avenue just because [Internal Affairs] called to ask where the paperwork was?” an investigator asked Wilson, according to a transcript.
“Was Judge [H. Gary] Bass ever told that the dwelling had already been searched and entered?” the investigator asked.
“No, just given the search warrant,” he said.
Officer Coates, records show, said he was not actually given information about a specific home, but told only that drug dealing was taking place in the block. Coates told investigators he couldn’t identify the confidential source because he couldn’t find the name in his paperwork.
Internal Affairs officials charged Wilson with neglect of duty, making a false report and two counts of misconduct, and they recommended he be fired. Wilson fought the charges before a police trial board.
The three-member board heard the case, dismissed one count of misconduct and making a false report, sustained the others, and reduced the recommended punishment. The board recommended that Wilson be suspended for 15 days without pay and issued a “severe letter of reprimand.”
That recommendation went to then-Police Commissioner Leonard Hamm for a final decision. The records obtained by The Sun do not indicate how Hamm responded. Hamm, now chief of police at Coppin State University, told The Sun this week that he doesn’t remember the case.
Pay records show Wilson made $187,000 last fiscal year on a base salary of $95,700.
“The allegations have been adjudicated and we have no mechanism to revisit them,” police spokesman T.J. Smith said. “Police officers are afforded due process by the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights. The police commissioner cannot arbitrarily terminate or discipline police officers regarding allegations from the past that have already been adjudicated.”
City prosecutors said in court in December that they will not call Wilson as a witness because he has credibility issues.
Davey, who has represented scores of officers before trial boards, said police officers are afforded due process to protect against false allegations.
“I think the system is working,” Davey said. “Departments who bring administrative charges have an absolute duty to prove that these officers violated a policy or did something wrong. It’s really on the department.”
One of the officers who served on Wilson’s trial board was Maj. Dean Palmere, who rose to the rank of deputy commissioner. Palmere’s name also came up in testimony during the Gun Trace Task Force trial: An officer said he was told by two officers that Palmere had “coached” them on what to say after a fatal shooting in 2009.
Palmere this week announced his retirement. He denied the claim he had coached officers, and said his departure was unrelated.
Coates left the department soon after the 2005 incident. He told The Sun this week that the case was blown out of proportion. He said he did not face termination like Wilson, but declined to discuss the case in detail.
Dameon Carter, the supervisor who Wilson and Coates said told them to get a warrant after the search, left the agency last fall and is now a lieutenant with the University of Maryland, Baltimore police department. Carter said he didn’t order the officers to obtain a search warrant after the fact.
“They didn’t consult me about it,” he said.
The women in the first home the officers entered were relatives of a police officer. Wilson and Coates purchased materials from Home Depot and fixed the door.
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In 2012, an assistant state’s attorney complained that Wilson had made claims on a search warrant that did not match up with private security footage. In this case, prosecutors brought criminal charges against Wilson.
Wilson said he saw a man carrying a bag, but no bag was visible in the video. The target of the search warrant, Thomas Foster Jr., was charged with gun and drug offenses. He was jailed for more than six months before prosecutors dropped all charges. Fosters sued in federal court; a judge ruled in favor of Wilson and dismissed the case.
Internal Affairs chief Rodney Hill wrote that Wilson should be charged internally with misconduct, as well as another officer involved, who Hill said was in his estimation clearly covering for Wilson.
“It is my belief that Det. Wilson claimed to have observed Foster leaving the residence carrying the bag in order to strengthen his probable cause to obtain a warrant to search the residence,” Hill wrote.
Documents obtained by The Sun do not show an outcome for that case.