Judge rules defense can call former Gun Trace Task Force officers in 2016 Baltimore shooting case

Four former Gun Trace Task Force officers could be called by defense attorneys to testify against a man charged in a 2016 shooting, a judge ruled Thursday.

Baltimore Circuit Judge Marcus Z. Shar ruled against the Baltimore State’s Attorneys Office, which sought to keep former Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, Detective Maurice Ward, Detective Evodio Hendrix and Detective Marcus Taylor from being called to testify before jurors. Prosecutors said the federal corruption case against the officers would unfairly prejudice jurors.

Defense attorneys for Charles Smith, 51, who is charged with attempted murder, however, said they should have the ability to question the officers who were first to the scene, then chased Smith, and wrote an initial statement of probable cause against him.

“The entire prosecution is based on their observations,” said assistant public defender Deborah Katz Levi. She said that Taylor and Hendrix chased Smith, which led to Smith’s arrest. The officers also said they saw Smith drop a gun, she said.

The defense, Levi said, should have the ability to question the officers on the stand about the chase and discrepancies between the officers’ accounts of that day and what Smith told investigators. For instance, she said there were differences about the clothing the officers said Smith was wearing.

Assistant State’s Attorney Natalie Hynum argued that the officers were not central to the state’s case and that putting them before jurors would only confuse jurors and call their integrity into question. The accusations against the officers in the federal case are not related to the 2016 shooting investigation, she argued.

“Those issues aren’t at issue in this case,” she said.

Taylor and a second officer not involved in Smith’s case were found guilty of racketeering, racketeering conspiracy and robbery by federal jurors on Monday. Hendrix, Jenkins and Ward previously pleaded guilty to similar charges. A total of eight former Gun Trace Task Force officers were indicted and all await sentencing. The officers face between 20 and 60 years.

Hynum said there was cumulative evidence in the case against Smith that doesn’t rely on the officers’ testimony, including that the victim identified Smith as the shooter, a surveillance video that captures the shooting and a recorded interview Smith had with investigators in which he admitted to being at the scene.

Levi argued, however, that “credibility is a central issue to any case.”

In his ruling, Shar also agreed that the testimony is related to the shooting case, and required that the lawyers must discuss what testimony will be discussed before jurors at trial. Hynum also asked the judge to require the defense to provide proper clothing for the officers they plan to testify, instead of allowing them to wear prison uniforms in the courtroom.

An additional motions hearing has been set in the Smith case for March 19.

The federal case against the former Gun Trace Task Force officers has already resulted in hundreds of dropped court cases that relied on the word of the officers, the state’s attorney’s office has said. The public defender’s office has said thousands of cases have been compromised.

jkanderson@baltsun.com

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