Public defender: Every case touched by indicted Baltimore gun task force officers 'irreparably tainted'

The Maryland Public Defender’s Office in Baltimore urged renewed attention on incarcerated defendants whose cases were investigated by members of the corrupt Gun Trace Task Force in light of new allegations that the supervisor of the unit planted drugs on a suspect seven years ago.

Federal authorities say then-Detective Wayne Jenkins planted drugs on a suspect following a high-speed chase in 2010, and prosecutors released a man from federal prison who had served seven years of a 15-year sentence related to the arrest.

Jenkins, charged along with seven other members of his unit, was already facing a number of allegations that he robbed citizens, participated in reselling seized drugs, falsified court paperwork and earned fraudulent overtime.

Deborah Katz Levi, head of the Baltimore City Public Defender Special Litigation Section, said Thursday that her office has identified more than 2,000 people with a pending case or conviction that involves the indicted officers. “Several hundred” involve Jenkins, she said.

“The new indictment shows how every case touched by Jenkins and the other indicted officers is irreparably tainted,” Levi said in a statement.

In addition to tacking more allegations onto the sprawling Gun Trace Task Force corruption case, the new charges against Jenkins have drawn attention because they involve Detective Sean Suiter, who was killed one day before he was scheduled to testify about the case before a federal grand jury. Prosecutors said Jenkins planted drugs and then had an unsuspecting Suiter find them.

“Engaging an unsuspecting officer to identify planted drugs still leads to an illegal arrest and wrongful conviction,” Levi said. “The continued incarceration of people subject to this aggressive and unethical police abuse is unconscionable.”

Levi said that the public defender’s office has so far helped secure the release of 75 people incarcerated on charges that were either dropped or reversed because of the indicted officers’ involvement.

The Baltimore state’s attorney’s office said earlier this year it was undertaking a review of cases involving the unit, as well as cases involving officers involved in questionable incidents caught on body cameras. Prosecutors did not immediately have updated data to share about their review.

The charges against Jenkins also detail the role of two other officers besides Jenkins and Suiter. Neither has been charged with a crime.

“The fact that those officers may not have been indicted does not minimize their misconduct,” Levi said. “Rather, it further expands the web of BPD officers involved in serious misconduct and the number of individuals wrongly incarcerated. As the number of implicated officers increases beyond imagination, the need for systemic reform to address deeply embedded police misconduct can no longer be ignored."

Suiter’s killing remains unsolved despite a $215,000 reward. Police Commissioner Kevin Davis, who asked the FBI on Friday to take the lead in the investigation into his death, has said police have no evidence to suggest there is a connection between Suiter’s scheduled testimony and his killing, saying it appears to be the result of a spontaneous interaction in which his own gun was used on him.

jfenton@baltsun.com

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