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Baltimore State’s Attorney Mosby has no choice but to throw out cases related to corrupt Gun Trace Task Force cops

The Office of Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby has said it wants to throw out 800 cases that were compromised by officers from the now-defunct Gun Trace Task Force, now imprisoned for racketeering and other offenses related to planting criminals and falsifying documents to justify arrest. Prosecutors said Sgt. Wayne Jenkins was the ring leader of the rogue squad.
The Office of Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby has said it wants to throw out 800 cases that were compromised by officers from the now-defunct Gun Trace Task Force, now imprisoned for racketeering and other offenses related to planting criminals and falsifying documents to justify arrest. Prosecutors said Sgt. Wayne Jenkins was the ring leader of the rogue squad. (Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun)

After months of combing through cases, the office of Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby has identified 800 cases in which the deceitful cops of Baltimore’s now-defunct Gun Trace Task Force handled evidence or investigations in ways we can’t trust.

That’s hundreds of people who may or may not have actually committed the crimes they were charged with. We’ll never know their true innocence or guilt because work done by the eight cops from the task force — now serving prison sentences that range from 7 to 25 years for racketeering and other crimes — may have been unreliable.

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For the sake of justice, Ms. Mosby’s office has no choice but to seek to throw out these cases. It’s entirely possible that some of the 800 cases really were solid, and it is yet another a tragedy of the Gun Trace Task Force corruption that the guilty may now be freed or have their convictions vacated. But prosecutors and the courts are right to err on the side of protecting any innocent individuals caught up in the task force’s illegal activities by overturning convictions in cases where evidence against a defendant can’t be corroborated by other means.

We’re glad to see movement in that direction and that a new state law to take effect next month gives Ms. Mosby’s office the authority it needs to go forward. We urge judges, some of whom she said denied such motions in the past on the grounds that a prosecutor couldn’t make such a request, to allow the cases to be vacated.

The officers, two convicted at trial and the others who entered plea agreements, have admitted to planting guns and lying to justify arrests when they were the ones really breaking the law. Let’s not forget: They were stealing money from those they arrested and charging the city for false overtime. We don’t know how many innocent people they have saddled with criminal records, which can disrupt or ruin lives. Some indication is that more than 60 people have already filed notice they intend to sue the city. Hundreds more could do the same.

Attorneys with Ms. Mosby’s office seem to have done their due diligence in identifying the truly questionable cases. Deputy State’s Attorney Janice Bledsoe told a state courts rule committee that prosecutors were able in some cases to verify the evidence provided by the corrupt cops through other witnesses. That significantly brought down the number of potential cases that could have been thrown out from thousands to hundreds.

For the unverifiable cases, Ms. Mosby has an obligation to right the wrongs of the past. Many of these victims have long since served their incarceration terms and been released from prison, but that doesn’t mean the long term consequences aren’t still there. A prison record can haunt people for years, making it hard to get a job (87% of employers conduct criminal background checks) or secure housing.

The American Bar Association Criminal Justice Division, which has studied the issue, has found the collateral consequences are deep-seated, affecting adoptions, housing, welfare, immigration, employment, professional licensure, property rights, mobility and other opportunities. The “collective effect,” the organization found, is recidivism and the increased likelihood that people will end up back in prison after committing crimes again.

These criminals could now have the chance to erase their criminal past. Throwing out cases could make it easier to expunge records and open the door for new jobs and other opportunities.

Many of these defendants are already seeking financial compensation from the city, which Baltimore attorneys are fighting because they say the officers’ rogue behavior was outside their scope of employment.

We would suggest that the city follow the lead of Ms. Mosby and take more responsibility. At least one attorney who represents victims has suggested the city set up a fund in preparation of the lawsuits that might be pursued.

It’s not fair for the victims to be the only ones to suffer the consequences of the Gun Trace Task Force. Many of them have been through enough. Throwing out cases is one way to provide them with a reprieve. It is an important step, but more can be done.

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