Review of Baltimore Police Gun Trace Task Force cases slows; defense lawyers criticize delay

The Baltimore state’s attorney’s office has slowed the pace for undoing convictions related to the Gun Trace Task Force police scandal, drawing criticism from defense lawyers.

But prosecutors say they are continuing to methodically review cases and are seeking to preserve “viable” convictions.

Earlier this year, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby said her office had determined that thousands of cases involving the convicted officers had been potentially compromised.

But since May, city prosecutors have moved to vacate just 23 convictions while cutting down the number of cases they believe are tainted to about 1,300. Prosecutors say their review is continuing, but complicated.

“Our primary goal is public safety, and so we need to look at each case individually,” said Deputy State’s Attorney Janice Bledsoe, who is leading the review. “It’s not as easy as, ‘I’m going to throw all these cases out.’ ”

Prosecutors and defense attorneys have been trying to work together to reopen cases they agree are tainted. Deborah Katz Levi, who is leading the case review effort for the Maryland Public Defender’s Office, said defense attorneys say they may have to start bringing more contested petitions.

A large number of tainted cases remain, she said, “and we should still be regularly moving forward on these cases, and I can’t figure out the justification for them not moving on” more, Levi said. She said the primary election appeared to be a turning point when the pace slowed. Mosby won a contentious three-way Democratic primary for state’s attorney in June and has no challenger in next month’s general election.

The eight convicted officers of the Gun Trace Task Force had been praised for their work getting guns off the street and making hundreds of arrests. But a federal racketeering case revealed they had been routinely lying on official documents, violating people’s constitutional rights and stealing drugs and cash. At least two officers admitted to misconduct stretching back nearly a decade.

Baltimore Police Gun Trace Task Force scandal: Complete coverage »

Bledsoe said the state’s attorney’s office has hired six part-time law clerks to help gather and review documents that are passed on to two assistant state’s attorneys working with Bledsoe and Tony Gioia, the chief counsel for the state’s attorney’s office. In concert with the public defender’s office, they have sought to prioritize cases in which the defendant is still incarcerated.

Bledsoe said cases aren’t being dropped simply because the corrupt officers were involved. She said officers could play varying roles in a case, or there might be evidence that corroborates the case beyond the corrupt officers’ word.

“What if you have a fact pattern in which an officer is merely the end of the ram for a search and seizure warrant, and in that house we find six guns and a mother lode of drugs? Should we automatically dismiss that case, or should we be deliberate? … My answer is that the public would expect us to be looking at a case and making a decision based on collected facts, collected documents, and public safety.”

Bledsoe declined to comment on whether prosecutors were gaining any insight into their office’s role into the corrupt officers’ conduct’s going undetected for so long. Prosecutors screen evidence for trial and often dropped the gun unit officers’ cases. They also had access to internal affairs files raising serious questions about some of the officers but continued to call them as witnesses.

“What we’re concentrating on is our task. Our task is to go through these cases,” Bledsoe said.

At the corruption trial earlier this year, additional names surfaced of officers allegedly involved in stealing. Bledsoe said she would not identify the officers whose cases were part of the review, and refused to even say how many officers’ cases are being looked at by the state’s attorney’s office.

“We have information given to us that makes us look at other officers. It’s constantly in motion,” she said.

Levi said the public defender’s office's own efforts to review cases had slowed in recent months because of trials and vacation, but that defense attorneys have been working with the University of Baltimore to cultivate a list of tainted cases. She said that though few people remain in prison based on arrests made by the GTTF officers, others remain on probation from such cases and find themselves being locked up for minor infractions.

She noted that prosecutors in Massachusetts recently dismissed 20,000 cases because of misconduct in the drug laboratory there, and cited reforms under way in Philadelphia, where longtime defense attorney Larry Krasner is now the district attorney.

“You want to instill confidence in the criminal justice system,” Krasner said. “If you’ve acknowledged out loud that these officers couldn’t be trusted and you’ve said you’re going to do something, there’s a responsibility to follow through on your word to do something.”

jfenton@baltsun.com

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