Federal prosecutors have agreed to free a former Safe Streets anti-violence worker who was sentenced to eight years in prison and claims he was wrongly arrested by members of the Baltimore Police Department’s corrupt Gun Trace Task Force.
Prosecutors did not concede that Levar Mullen had been wrongly convicted. But in an agreement struck with the federal public defender’s office, and approved Thursday by a federal judge, the government said the “unique circumstances of this case warrant some relief.”
U.S. District Judge Ellen Hollander reduced Mullen’s sentence to time served, with no period of supervised release.
Paresh Patel, a federal public defender handling Mullen’s appeal, said he was happy with the agreement struck with the government but called the result “bittersweet.”
“He’s been sitting in prison for over 40 months now based on an illegal search,” Patel said.
The case continues the fallout from the Gun Trace Task Force case, in which eight members of a gun unit were charged with stealing from citizens, lying on paperwork and taking unearned overtime pay. Some of the officers have admitted to committing home invasions and burglaries, taking huge amounts of cash and expensive watches, and reselling drugs back onto the streets. Six have pleaded guilty, while two others are contesting the charges at a trial slated for next week.
More than 125 cases in state court have been overturned or dropped since the indictment was filed. Two men arrested by Sgt. Wayne Jenkins in 2010 and sentenced to federal prison time had their convictions vacated, and received an apology from the federal judge who sentenced them.
Mullen was working for the Safe Streets anti-violence program in 2014 when he was stopped by Jenkins, who has pleaded guilty to a wide range of crimes, and Detective Ben Frieman, who has not been charged in the federal racketeering case. Mullen says another convicted gun task force officer, Evodio Hendrix, was also involved in his arrest.
The officers said in charging documents that they saw Mullen driving without a seat belt, and asked him for permission to search his vehicle. When he said no, Jenkins said he observed Mullen using his hands to push an object into his waistband, and the officers removed Mullen from the car and said they found a gun in his waistband.
Mullen’s attorneys say the officers “lied ... in order to justify his stop and arrest.”
Mullen’s original public defender on the case, Elizabeth Genevieve Oyer, said in an affidavit that “from the outset” Mullen said he had been pulled over without basis, and the officers had pressured him to give up information about shootings in the area, “which he declined to do because of the confidentiality rules with the Safe Streets program.” Only after his refusal to cooperate was he searched, she said.
At the time, Mullen’s public defender argued in court papers that the officers lacked justification to stop his car, but he was facing a mandatory minimum of 15 years in prison and ended up taking a plea deal for eight years.
The arrest also caused problems for the Safe Streets program, which was suspended following Mullen’s arrest.
“Until the government revealed [the Gun Trace Task Force indictment] to the public, it was impossible to corroborate Mr. Mullen’s assertions about the trio’s lies. But now, everything has changed,” his attorneys wrote in the motion to vacate his conviction.
At least one other man convicted in federal court after being arrested by a Gun Trace Task Force officer has a pending appeal. Christopher Jones said he asserted that Det. Daniel Hersl had falsely accused him of possessing drugs and a handgun in East Baltimore in November 2013, but saw no option other than to plead guilty, and received 41 months in prison.
The defense attorney for Hersl, one of the officers taking the Gun Trace Task Force accusations to trial, previously noted that none of the allegations against his client involve planting evidence. Attorney William Purpura said “defendants are attempting to avoid prosecution by making these claims.”