After Jaw-Dropping Testimony, Baltimore Police Corruption Trial Heads To Jury
Jurors are now deliberating in the federal trial of two Baltimore police officers who are charged with rampant corruption, in a case that has brought forth stunning allegations of misconduct in the department.
The case centers on the Gun Trace Task Force, an elite unit that was supposed to be taking illegal guns off the street. Instead, witnesses say its members were reselling the guns and drugs it seized right back onto the streets.
Only one member of the task force wasn't charged. Of the eight officers who were indicted, six pleaded guilty, and four testified in this case as government witnesses.
Former detectives Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor are on trial in this case, both having pleaded not guilty to charges of racketeering and robbery.
Hersl's attorney did not deny his client took money, The Associated Press reports, but says his actions did not constitute robbery or extortion. Taylor's attorney said the government went "to the depths of the criminal underworld" to find witnesses for their case, The Baltimore Sun reports.
The Sun has highlights from each day of the trial.
One of the members of the Gun Trace Task Force who had already pleaded guilty, Detective Maurice Ward, testified that officers would use illegal GPS devices to track targets, break into homes to steal money, and keep BB guns in their vehicles "in case we accidentally hit somebody or got into a shootout, so we could plant them."
Some of the incidents Ward described are mind-boggling, as the Sun reports:
"In one incident, police took a man's house keys, ran his name through databases to find his address, went into the home without a warrant and found drugs and a safe. The officers cracked open the safe, which had about $200,000 inside. They took $100,000 out, closed the safe back up, then filmed themselves pretending to open it for the first time. 'Nobody touch anything,' [The unit's Sgt. Wayne Jenkins] can be heard saying on the video, which was played for jurors."
"They were simply put, both cops and robbers," lead federal prosecutor Leo Wise said in his opening argument, according to The New York Times.
"These men were supposed to be sentinels guarding this city from people that would break the law," Wise said in his closing rebuttal, the Sunreports. "Instead, these men became hunters."
The witnesses' accounts in the trial further strain a city where many already have a deep distrust of the police, especially since Freddie Gray died in police custody in 2015. Six officers were charged in his death, but after four trials ended without convictions, prosecutors dropped all remaining charges.
Some residents say that the police have further distanced themselves from the community after the death of Gray. Many Baltimore City police officers don't live in Baltimore City.
In 2017, Baltimore had 343 homicides – breaking the city's previous record of killings per capita. Last month, the mayor named a new police commissioner, the city's third in five years.
The Sun's Justin Fenton, who has been covering the trial, spoke to NPR's All Things Considered on Wednesday about what the trial was indicating about the Baltimore Police Department at large.
"I think one of the challenges here is that these officers have demonstrated that with great ease they were able to deceive judges," Fenton said. "They were able to deceive juries. They were able to deceive internal affairs. It doesn't mean that every officer on the force is lying. It doesn't mean they're committing misconduct. But it shows that it's hard to tell who is."
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