Selection of Gun Trace Task Force legislative commission member already under reconsideration

A retired federal judge is among seven members tapped Friday to sit on a legislative panel investigating the circumstances surrounding the Baltimore Police Gun Trace Task Force corruption scandal.

But legislative leaders already are re-evaluating one of those picks, after it was revealed he had represented at least three of the convicted officers in workers’ compensation claims.

Mitchel M. Gordon, a former city police officer and prominent workers’ compensation attorney, did not tell the Senate president’s office — which submitted his name as one of their picks — that he had represented convicted detectives Momodu Gondo, Daniel Hersl and Jemell Rayam in injury claims. He represented Hersl in five claims, records show, including most recently in 2016, a period when federal authorities say Hersl’s misconduct was in full swing.

Gordon said in an interview that he didn’t believe the work would impair his ability to be impartial and improve the Police Department. An aide to Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller initially told The Baltimore Sun that Miller’s office stood behind the pick, then later said they would confer with elected officials from Baltimore and re-evaluate his selection.

Leading the panel is retired U.S. District Judge Alexander Williams Jr., who served from 1994 until 2014. It also includes a former city police union president, the chief operating officer of a group that advocates for West Baltimore residents, and a lobbyist who at one time prosecuted internal police misconduct cases and more recently defended one of the officers accused in the death of Freddie Gray.

The panel has subpoena power and is expected to hold public hearings on how the officers’ misconduct was able to flourish without accountability prior to the federal racketeering indictments. Unlike police internal investigations, which continue to be shielded under state law, its findings will be public.

Eight officers from the Gun Trace Task Force were sentenced to prison terms as long as 25 years after a federal wiretap investigation found they had been robbing citizens for years. Some of the officers dealt drugs they had seized off the street and committed home invasions.

“The experience of the Gun Trace Task Force has been so horrific, and so expansive, that I think there was a broader statewide appreciation of the structural and systemic challenges within the department as it exists today,” said State Sen. Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat who pushed for the creation of the commission. “This state commission will use the Gun Trace Task Force as a launching pad to really examine the institution of the police department.”

The legislative task force will issue a preliminary report at the end of the year, but most of its work is expected to take place next year. The panel is authorized to call witnesses to testify and compel the production of written and electronic records. They are not being paid.

Mayor Catherine E. Pugh opposed the task force, which passed the General Assembly unanimously.

Williams was nominated to the federal bench by President Bill Clinton. Before that, he was the State’s Attorney for Prince George’s County. Williams could not be reached for comment Friday. He is a member of the Silverman, Thompson, Slutkin & White law firm, which has brought a lawsuit against convicted Gun Trace Task Force member Sgt. Wayne Jenkins.

In addition to Williams and Gordon other members are:

» Gary McLhinney, a longtime Baltimore police union president, former chief of the Maryland Transportation Authority police department, and currently director of the office of professional standards for the state prison system. He tendered his resignation Friday as the city police union’s representative in upcoming contract mediation discussions.

» Sean Malone, a lobbyist and attorney who successfully defended Officer Caesar Goodson, the van driver in the Freddie Gray case, on internal department charges. For three years, he was also the Baltimore Police Department’s chief legal counsel and chief of professional standards, prosecuting police misconduct cases.

» Ashiah Parker, a Sandtown resident who is chief operating officer of the No Boundaries Coalition, an advocacy organization for Central West Baltimore .

» Inez Robb, the longtime president of the Police Community Relations Council for the Western District.

» Alicia Wilson, a Baltimore native who is vice president and legal adviser for Sagamore Development Company. (The Baltimore Sun Media Group leases its printing plant and new headquarters in Port Covington from a group that includes Sagamore.)

Williams was a joint appointment to the panel by Gov. Larry Hogan, Miller, and Busch. Hogan appointed McLhinney and Wilson. Miller appointed Gordon and Parker, and Busch appointed Malone and Robb.

“The charge to the Commission is to review internal policing practices, the consent decree and the Department’s interface with the community to make recommendations on the best structure and oversight of the Department moving forward,” said Alexandra Hughes, the chief of staff for House Speaker Michael E. Busch. “Given these goals, the Speaker’s appointments were chosen so that the Commission has some expertise on both policing operations and improving community interaction and community policing practices.”

Baltimore City Councilman Ryan Dorsey is vice chair of the council’s public safety committee and was not involved in the selection of the state commission’s members.

While Dorsey said it was necessary for the commission to include members familiar with the police department’s inner workings and culture, he called it “unfortunate” that it did not include members from the public defender’s office or civil liberties groups who have been “outspoken on the side of the people.”

Gordon is one of the area’s most successful workers’ compensation attorney, largely from representing city police officers. He was a Baltimore police officer for 12 years, leaving in 1988.

He dismissed his representation of some of the officers as a conflict, and said he has not spoken to them since they were indicted.

“That was prior to this scandal that came out,” Gordon said in an interview. “I personally don’t see it as a conflict of interest. I just want to do the right thing and help make this department a better police department, like it used to be.”

Jake Weissman, Miller’s deputy chief of staff, said Gordon “came highly recommended both as a member of the bar and former police officer, and we thought he would provide a good perspective to the Commission’s important work,” he said.

Aside from the criminal trial of the charged defendants, there has been no public accounting offered by police of the Gun Trace Task Force scandal. If there have been any internal investigations, they are kept confidential under state law.

In the immediate aftermath of the indictments, one high-ranking official who oversaw the specialized units where the officers worked was demoted, while other top leadership moved on when former Police Commissioner Kevin Davis was fired. But other supervisors, and officers accused by indicted members of the task force as taking part in robberies and other misconduct, remain with the agency.

Two Baltimore County police officers implicated in the case left that department amid investigations into their conduct, county police said.

jfenton@baltsun.com

twitter.com/justin_fenton

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