Opening statements in the racketeering case against Baltimore police officers Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor began with the delivery of bombshell after condemnable bombshell detailing gross misconduct within the Baltimore Gun Trace Task Force yesterday.
Detective Maurice Ward, a member of the now defunct squad, revealed multiple examples of gross misconduct by the eight officers charged with getting guns and drugs off the streets of Baltimore. Ward is one of four officers who pled guilty to charges and are expected to testify against Hersl and Taylor.
As reported by the Baltimore Sun, Ward’s testimony detailed daily practices such as “door pops”, which saw officers drive toward groups of men, slam on the brakes and pop open their doors just to see if anyone would flee. Any person that fled was chased down, detained and searched by officers. This would occur up to twenty times on slow nights, and up to 50 times on other nights.
The task force’s sergeant, Wayne Jenkins, profiled what he termed “dope boy cars” — cars he thought to likely be driven by drug dealers. He used drummed-up reasons—such as claiming he saw people not wearing seat belts or a vehicle’s windows’ tinting was too dark—to pull these cars over.
Jenkins, who also pled guilty, routinely profiled men over eighteen years of age who carried backpacks — stopping them in the belief that the only reason they had backpacks was to transport illicit items — and kept BB guns on hand to plant on people if officers hit someone or got into a shootout.
The squad also skimmed money off the top of busts. Ward described one instance from January 2014 where he and Taylor executed a search warrant and split $3,000 from an amount of cash found during the search before submitting the money to federal task force officers for counting.
The skimming ultimately led to outright robbery. As a video showing the squad forcing a safe open revealing multiple stacks of bills, Ward testified that the officers had already pocketed half of the $200,000 found inside of the safe before the camera began rolling. Ward said he dumped his share of the money in a wooded area near his home out of paranoia.
He also detailed Jenkins practice of asking people he stopped who they would rob if they could put together their own crew and rob the biggest drug dealer known. Jenkins would then rob the person named. Jenkins would even utilize illegal GPS trackers to see when people weren’t home so he could rob their homes. Prosecutors dumped a large black bag that alledgedly belonged to Jenkins on the floor of the court room, revealing a collection of masks, black clothes and tools such as a grappling hook and rope.
Jenkins would also listen to phone calls made by inmates from inside jail. One story involved an inmate from whom the squad had stolen $100,000. Jenkins heard the man tell his wife about the officers’ theft and that he would hire a good lawyer to go after them. In order to sabotage the inmate’s plan, Jenkins had an officer write a note falsely attributed to another woman the inmate spoke with on the phone saying the woman was pregnant, and delivered the note to the wife. All of this was done in an effort to discourage the wife from aiding the inmate from the outside and force the inmate to be represented by a public defender.
For what it’s worth, Hersl’s defense attorney, William Purpura, isn’t claiming his client is innocent, but that the prosecutors overcharged the case. “The evidence will show Detective Hersl committed the crime of theft, not a crime of violence,” said Hersl.
All of this is coming from just the first of four former members of the Gun Trace Task Force set to testify, and it all but confirms more shocking examples of police corruption are sure to be revealed as the trial continues. Speaking to jurors, Assistant U.S. Attorney Leo Wise said, “The Gun Trace Task Force wasn’t a unit that went rogue … it was a unit of officers who had already gone rogue.” Wise added, “They were, simply put, both cops and robbers at the same time.”