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Crime

Trial begins for former Baltimore Police detective accused of helping to plant evidence, conducting illegal searches

Former Baltimore Police Detective Robert Hankard received a call March 26, 2014, from another officer asking him if he had a toy gun on hand.

The officer, former Det. Carmine Vignola, along with former Sgt. Keith Gladstone, was looking to frame a man another officer, Wayne Jenkins, had hit with his car in order to help Jenkins.

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Since then, Vignola and Gladstone have pleaded guilty to their roles in the incident, admitting they helped plant the BB gun. Jenkins, the disgraced leader of the department’s rogue Gun Trace Task Force, pleaded guilty to charges unrelated to the incident and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Hankard was the only one to not plead guilty and his federal trial began Monday morning. Prosecutors say he conspired with other officers to deprive Baltimoreans of their civil rights, conspired to lie to a grand jury, did lie to the grand jury, and altered records during a federal investigation.

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In 2019, Hankard told a grand jury Vignola called him about needing a toy gun, but he said he replied that he didn’t have one.

“I tried to block it out of my mind” he said about the call. “I’m just one of those cops that I do everything by the book and I just didn’t even want to think about it.”

Hankard told the grand jury he had his suspicions about why they needed a toy gun, but decided not to report it to his superiors because he couldn’t be “100 percent” sure.

As part of their plea agreements, Gladstone and Vignola identified Hankard as the person who gave them the toy weapon. About 14 people could be called to testify during Hankard’s trial, including Vignola and Gladstone.

The prosecution in this case is an offshoot of the larger Gun Trace Task Force investigation, which alleged widespread corruption in the ranks of the Baltimore Police Department.

Jury selection began Monday morning and the trial is expected to last until next Monday or Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Catherine Blake said.

Lawyers asked prospective jurors in Hankard’s trial a series of questions — most of them having to do with their feelings toward police and if they had any experience with the criminal justice system.

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The jury selection process was closed to the public. Once a jury is selected, lawyers will make their opening arguments before presenting evidence and calling witnesses. Blake read a list of 14 possible witnesses to potential jurors.

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The allegations against Hankard aren’t limited to the gun planting episode. Prosecutors identified two potentially illegal searches, and claim Hankard later lied on his applications for search warrants to cover up his actions.

In both instances, Hankard and other officers searched residences without warrants where illegal drugs were present.

In one of the cases, prosecutors say Gladstone, Vignola and Hankard went to a motel to arrest a man they thought was a cocaine dealer. When Hankard and Vignola arrested the man, identified as D.B. in court documents, they didn’t find any drugs in his pickup truck.

Gladstone searched D.B.’s motel room without a search warrant where he found a large amount of cocaine, according to court filings. When Vignola and Hankard told him there weren’t any drugs in the truck, Gladstone asked if should plant some of the cocaine from the room in the truck to justify the arrest and search, according to court records.

Prosecutors say Hankard later applied for a search warrant for D.B.’s room without disclosing Gladstone already searched it.

Gladstone pleaded guilty to his role in the gun planting case in 2019 but has not yet been sentenced. His conviction carried a maximum sentence of 10 years, but he could receive a lighter punishment for cooperating with prosecutors. Vignola was sentenced to 18 months in prison for the gun case and for conspiring to lie to the grand jury. He was released in November.


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