Don’t miss Trey Mancini and Joey Rickard guest bartend at the first Brews & O’s event June 10th. Get your tickets today!

Federal judge orders six officers indicted on racketeering charges to be held pending trial

Federal judge orders officers indicted on racketeering charges to be held pending trial.

A federal judge ordered Thursday that six Baltimore police officers be held in jail pending their trial on racketeering charges, saying no conditions of release were sufficient to ensure public safety.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephanie Gallagher said the allegations against Sgt. Wayne Jenkins and Detectives Momodu Gondo, Evodio Hendrix, Daniel Hersl, Jemell Rayam and Maurice Ward, six of seven officers indicted Wednesday in the alleged scheme, suggested "an egregious breach of public trust" and a "flagrant disregard of consequences of their actions."

She said the detectives' extensive law enforcement experience provided them with an "unusual ability to find ways around" any potential conditions of release, and that the allegations against them — including witness intimidation — suggested a "serious risk" that they would seek to obstruct justice in their cases were they released.

Gallagher issued the detention orders during a series of hearings in U.S. District Court in downtown Baltimore, during which Gondo, Hendrix, Hersl, Rayam and Ward also were arraigned and pleaded not guilty to the charges against them.

Jenkins was not arraigned, and made no pleadings. The seventh officer charged in the scheme, Detective Marcus Taylor, has a detention hearing scheduled Friday.

Federal prosecutors in the office of U.S. Attorney for Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein allege that the officers, all members of an elite unit tasked with getting guns off the streets, robbed Baltimore residents, fabricated court documents and filed fraudulent overtime claims. Gondo also is accused in a separate case of being involved in and assisting an illegal drug organization.

"This is not a case of overzealous policing," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Leo Wise in court Thursday. "These are robberies and extortions."

Several allegations were leveled by Wise in court Thursday for the first time. For example, Wise said, Rayam suggested in a recorded conversation that he would expose a criminal informant as a snitch — thereby possibly endangering his life — if the informant were to cooperate with internal affairs investigators.

The officers' families declined to comment, though their attorneys offered varying defenses and reasons during the hearings for why their clients should be set free pending trial.

Attorneys for Hendrix and Ward, who had a joint hearing, both questioned their clients' involvement, pointing to places in the indictment where allegations were made about the other five officers committing illegal acts, but not their clients.

"It's not enough," said Paul Enzinna, Ward's attorney. "You can't rely on guilt by association to hold Mr. Ward in custody."

Dennis Boyle, Rayam's attorney, said allegations in the indictment were "taken out of context or blown out of proportion."

Several of the officers' attorneys said there was nothing to suggest their clients represented a danger to the public, noting they had been suspended by the Police Department and had their police powers revoked and firearms taken away.

Wise said witnesses in the case are "terrified" they will face retribution from the officers. He said the officers have shown they are capable of evading supervision by the Police Department, its internal affairs division and the U.S. Department of Justice, which was investigating the department during the time of the alleged crimes. He said they would not think twice about evading whatever conditions were put on them by pretrial services if they were released.

Wise said the officers are well-trained in "counter-law enforcement tactics."

He also alleged that other officers in the Police Department and an assistant state's attorney in the Baltimore state's attorney's office had tipped the officers off to the federal investigation into their actions before the investigation was concluded. He said that suggests they could have connections in law enforcement they could continue to use inappropriately if they were released before trial.

Appearing at an event Thursday, Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said there would be widespread fallout in the agency as a result of the indictments. He said he already has ordered some plainclothes officers to wear uniforms, and said there would be "a lot of reviews, a lot of investigations and a lot of audits" with regard to overtime pay and other areas of the agency.

"That scandal, and that's exactly what it was, has ramifications, and it has ramifications for policies, procedures, protocols. It has ramifications for people who were in leadership positions as well," Davis said.

Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby said her office was continuing to review cases brought by the indicted officers. One case was dropped Wednesday and prosecutors said three more cases were dropped Thursday.

"The cases that we can save, that aren't dependent on just the credibility of these officers, we are going to attempt to salvage," Mosby said. "For those cases in which it is just going to rely on the credibility of these officers, we don't have a choice but to get rid of them. It's something the city has to understand."

Mosby said she was not aware of the claim that a member of her office had tipped the officers to the investigation.

Pressed on the issue, Melba Saunders, a spokeswoman for Mosby's office, said the office "was not a part of the investigation that led to these indictments nor have we been made privy to any additional information or persons involved."

Rosenstein said, "Federal authorities are continuing the investigation and coordinating with the State's Attorney to determine whether or not there was an unlawful disclosure by a state prosecutor."

The officers' attorneys said their clients had never been in trouble before, and described them as family men with deep roots in their communities who have put their lives on the line to protect Baltimore and the citizens of some of its most dangerous neighborhoods. Several suggested the officers would not be safe in jail, and Jenkins' attorney said the Black Guerrilla Family gang had a hit out on him.

Wise said the evidence against the officers is "overwhelming" — including wiretapped telephone conversations, recordings captured by a device placed inside of a police vehicle, city and private surveillance video from around the city, financial records, GPS coordinates of the officers' phones during alleged crimes, statements by victims that are corroborated by jail phone recordings, and statements from other police officers who have not been charged.

Gallagher cited a number of reasons for why it was hard to trust that the charged officers would follow the conditions of release were they let out of jail. For example, they were part of a special unit charged with taking guns off the streets at a time of intense gun violence in the city. Their alleged crimes also occurred while the Justice Department was investigating the Police Department for civil rights violations and the department was trying to mend its relationship with residents.

"The scope of the breach" in public trust in the case, Gallagher said, "cannot be overstated."

krector@baltsun.com

twitter.com/rectorsun

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
70°