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Baltimore Gun Trace Task Force police officers appeal conviction as victims are re-arrested

A victim of the Gun Trace Task Force who testified at the corruption trial of two police officers was re-arrested by Baltimore Police this week in a bust that netted $138,000 cash, two guns and drugs, court records show.

The arrest of Dennis Armstrong came just days after former detectives Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor appealed their convictions, arguing that the federal indictment of another victim who testified at their trial — Antonio Santiful — suggested prosecutors had withheld information.

Hersl and Taylor were convicted of racketeering and robbery charges in February after a trial in U.S. District Court that laid out a bevy of accusations against their former unit, including regularly violating people’s rights, stealing large sums of cash during arrests and traffic stops, falsifying paperwork and taking home unearned overtime. Eight police officers have been convicted in the case, and the first officer to be sentenced received 15 years in prison last week.

Several of the victims who took the stand at trial admitted they were drug dealers, who had cash taken by the officers instead of being submitted as evidence.

Among the victims was Armstrong, who testified that in August 2016 he was leaving a storage facility where he kept drugs when officers tried to pull him over. He fled, throwing chunks of cocaine out of his window along the way, until he bailed out and was apprehended.

Armstrong testified that the officers stole a large amount of cocaine, as well as $5,200 cash — an account bolstered by cooperating defendants that included an officer, Det. Jemell Rayam, who said he split the money with Hersl.

“I taxed him a little bit. He won’t say nothing,” Rayam was recorded saying on a wiretap that night.

Now Armstrong is being held without bail after being arrested on Tuesday, after city officers and members of the Harford County Sheriff’s Department executed a search and seizure warrant on several properties they say are associated with his alleged drug operation.

His defense attorney, Paul Polansky, said no drugs were found on Armstrong and that there’s “no nexis” between him and the illegal items recovered. “The only place that really connects with him, they found a bunch of money,” Polansky said.

Electronic court records show Det. Timothy Romeo was involved in the arrest, though he is not listed in the statement of probable cause as one of several officers who executed the search warrants. Romeo worked in the same unit as Hersl at one time, and testified as a defense witness for Hersl.

Polansky said the officers who arrested Armstrong were aware of his involvement in the Gun Trace Task Force case. “It may become an issue,” Polansky said.

At a home in the 900 block of N. Glover St., police say they found two handguns and 210 rounds of ammunition inside of a backpack stored in a washing machine. Officers said they recovered $108,920 in cash and cocaine after opening up a safe in an apartment in the 1600 block of E. Chester St. At Armstrong’s home in the 1000 block of New Hope Circle, police said they found an additional $32,000 cash. An ounce of cocaine was found in a storage garage, police said.

Police wrote in charging documents that they have photos and videos showing Armstrong at the residences.

The officers’ appeal, filed May 12, argues not just that Santiful remained a drug dealer but that he was under active federal investigation at the time he took the stand. If prosecutors knew, that would constitute a discovery violation.

Santiful was one of 12 people indicted by federal authorities earlier this month following an investigation by the ATF and Baltimore Police. In a news release, authorities said the investigation began in November 2017. Santiful took the stand in late February, testifying that when Hersl and other officers arrested him in 2014, he had $700 on him. Only $218 was submitted as evidence, prosecutors said.

“At trial, the Government went to great lengths to emphasize that … Santiful was a just a hard-working, innocent man, when he was suddenly ‘robbed’ by Mr. Hersl,” defense attorney William Purpura wrote. “The United States did not reveal to the undersigned that Mr. Santiful was a subject of a criminal investigation.”

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Leo Wise and Derek Hines, who prosecuted the Gun Trace Task Force case, responded in a court filing that they did not learn of the investigation until it was publicly announced.

“If Mr. Santiful was selling drugs, and if we had known that Mr. Santiful was selling drugs, we would have elicited that fact from him like we did with every other witness where undersigned counsel had such information,” they wrote.

Taylor was not accused of being involved in the robberies of Santiful or Armstrong, but his attorney is also appealing the case citing Santiful’s arrest.

Taylor previously filed a handwritten appeal on his own in late April. He wrote to U.S. District Court Judge Catherine C. Blake that his “conviction by the respected jury was based upon frivolous evidence and testimony, that the government knew wasn’t truthful.”

“I have come to the realization that I have to stand up for something, and if I don’t then I will fall for anything,” Taylor wrote.

Sentencing dates were set last week for the officers. Former Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, who faces a minimum of 20 years and a maximum of 30 years, is set to be sentenced on June 7, as is Taylor.

Former detectives Evodio Hendrix and Maurice Ward are scheduled to be sentenced the following day, June 8. Hersl is set to be sentenced June 20. No sentencing dates have been set for Rayam and his partner, Momodu Gondo.

Sgt. Thomas Allers was sentenced to 15 years in prison last week.

jfenton@baltsun.com

twitter.com/justin_fenton

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