In 2014, a new Baltimore police unit created to investigate officers’ use of force began looking at an incident in Northeast Baltimore in which a city police sergeant had run down a man with his vehicle.
Investigators took stock of the officers at the scene, eventually interviewing eight officers about their roles. At no point, according to their files, did they learn that another sergeant, Keith Gladstone, had stopped by.
Gladstone now faces federal civil rights and witness tampering charges for allegedly planting a BB gun at the scene to help the driver, Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, justify striking the man. According to a federal indictment, Jenkins, who is serving 25 years in federal prison for robbing people and dealing drugs, called Gladstone in a panic, and Gladstone left a restaurant and brought the replica weapon to the scene, dropping it under a nearby truck.
Gladstone has pleaded not guilty.
The Baltimore Sun requested and obtained the investigative file for the incident earlier this year, after officers cooperating with federal authorities in the Gun Trace Task Force scandal testified that officers who worked with Jenkins from 2015 to 2016 said he told them to carry a BB gun that they could plant in the event they needed to justify their actions. The man who was arrested in 2014, Demetric Simon, had told The Sun that he never had a weapon and it had been planted on him.
“That file, with the conspicuously missing officer’s name, exemplifies the lack of transparency and the appearance of impropriety that calls into question the validity of [internal] investigations,” said state Sen. Jill P. Carter, a Baltimore Democrat, who said independent, non-law enforcement bodies should investigate such cases.
The 500-page file showed there were questions even as the incident was investigated at the time. Jenkins’ partner said he saw no gun being brandished by Simon, even though he wrote in his statement of probable cause that Simon had a gun. Federal authorities now say it was Jenkins, not Detective Ben Frieman, who authored the probable cause statement purported to be written by Frieman.
There were also challenges: Simon said he stopped cooperating with the internal investigation on the advice of his attorney.
Because internal disciplinary records are shielded in Maryland, there is no publicly available information about what — if anything — happened to Jenkins as a result of the case. It is not even clear whether investigators spoke to Jenkins for the use-of-force investigation, because the department heavily redacted certain pages, even though officers’ statements in a criminal investigation are not protected by the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights and other statutes.
Simon, in an interview from prison Tuesday night, told The Sun he was pleased that charges had been brought.
“They took advantage of their power, their strength, their authority, and punish guys like me with a past,” Simon said.
The incident unfolded March 26, 2014. Simon said he was driving an Audi and saw what appeared to be police in an unmarked car shadowing him. He said he parked and started walking. When Jenkins pulled up and asked to speak with him, Simon said they looked like officers, but “they looked up to something.” Nervous, he took off running.
Simon remembers looking back and seeing Jenkins’ car becoming airborne, then landing on steps.
“I was under the car, and the wheel was spinning by my face,” he said.
Simon said he looked up and saw Jenkins and Frieman standing over him. He said Frieman “looked at Jenkins like, ‘Why’d you run him over?’ Jenkins grabbed him by the wrist and was like, ‘Don’t freeze up on me.’ ”
Simon said he was unable to move, though he ultimately had no serious injuries. Jenkins “kept patting me down, kept asking, ‘Why’d you run?’ ”
The statement of probable cause signed by Frieman said the officers started following Simon after watching what they believed to be a drug transaction. Once Simon ran, Frieman got out and pursued him on foot. Jenkins reported to have seen Simon holding a gun in his right hand and looking back toward Frieman.
“At this time Detective Sergeant Jenkins who was in great fear for Detective Frieman’s life drove into the driveway and struck Simon with the front of his vehicle,” the report says.
The case was among the first investigated by the Force Investigation Team, or FIT team, created by then-Commissioner Anthony Batts to create a new level of scrutiny and transparency to use-of-force investigations. A similar unit with a different name continues to handle such cases.
According to the investigative file, the FIT team investigators identified eight officers at the scene: Jenkins, Frieman, Jason DiPaola, Ryan Guinn, Benjamin Hernandez, Gary Klado, Charles Sills, Adam Storie and Anthony Warren Theodore. Hernandez was identified as having found the weapon under the vehicle “while canvassing the scene and notified dispatch of his discovery.”
On Tuesday night, the Police Department suspended Guinn and Storie, as well as two other officers who have a history of working with Gladstone: Carmine Vignola and Robert Hankard.
Acting Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said Wednesday night that the officers have been suspended “for knowing about” the incident. He said preventing corruption in the department will hinge on a cultural change that puts good supervisors in place and holds officers accountable.
The officers, through a union attorney, have denied wrongdoing.
Guinn told investigators in 2014 he went to the scene after hearing Jenkins calling for help, and said he saw Simon on the ground moaning. Guinn said Jenkins’ vehicle was still atop Simon, and that Guinn backed it away.
“I didn’t want to leave the car over top of him,” Guinn told them.
Dispatch recordings show Jenkins calmly asking for a medic.
“I got a number one male that was hit by my vehicle,” Jenkins tells the dispatcher, who asks whether the man is conscious. “Yes, ma’am, yes ma’am he is … He’s moving around a little bit.”
There’s no reference to a gun at first. An unidentified officer gets on the radio and refers to the incident as a “traffic accident.”
Later, another officer says a firearm has been found. Jenkins gets on the radio: “You do have a firearm? Do not touch it, wait for crime lab!” Jenkins says.
Frieman said he had lost Simon around a corner when Jenkins drove into him. He took part in two interviews with the investigators. In the first, Frieman said Simon had grabbed his waistband area as if he might be securing a weapon, but he never saw one.
“I didn’t see it until it was recovered. He didn’t pull it out while he was running from me,” Frieman said.
He also said he didn’t see the moment of impact when Simon was struck.
In a second interview, conducted nearly a year later, Frieman was asked why he wrote that Jenkins feared for his safety.
“He [Jenkins] said that’s why he hit him,” Frieman said.
Simon was taken to a hospital for treatment, where police said hospital staff found drugs in his body. After he was taken to Central Booking and read the charging papers alleging he had a gun, he said he called internal affairs to complain.
The next morning, Simon said, Jenkins and Frieman raided his mother’s home and found a gun, which Simon said did not belong to him. Police wrote they received “information from a confidential source,” but Simon believes they were listening to his calls from jail, in which he told his wife to “get the bang bang,” which Simon claims referred to “knives.”
Simon said he stopped talking to internal affairs. His attorney at the time, Paul Polansky, said Wednesday that he did not recall telling Simon not to cooperate, but he said, as a practical matter, people in Simon’s position have to make difficult choices out of fear anything they concede could be used against them in court.
“I tell my clients: Keep your damn mouth shut unless they’re willing to offer you some kind of deal that’s going to be to your advantage,” Polansky said.
Former Col. Garnell Green, who supervised the FIT team at that time, did not return a phone call seeking comment. The Police Department did not make Chief of Patrol Col. Richard Worley, who was the commander of the Northeastern District at the time, available for an interview Wednesday.
Gladstone has pleaded not guilty to the federal charges that could result in a maximum possible sentence of 20 years in prison if he’s convicted.
According to the charges, he was with two unidentified officers when Jenkins called him, and he first asked those officers if they had a BB gun. Gladstone then visited the scene with one of those officers, and Gladstone dropped the gun on the ground. Another unidentified officer allegedly heard Gladstone tell Jenkins, “It’s over by the truck.” Per the indictment, Jenkins then had a fourth unidentified officer move the gun closer to the victim. The charges indicate Hernandez then saw the gun and reported its existence.
The charges against Simon were dropped eventually, though he is now serving a 10-year sentence for assault. He said he has been pleading with the judge in his case to enter him in a drug treatment program after staying out of trouble in prison and earning a GED.
“I’m really trying to get some help,” he said.