For nearly three weeks, former police officers, drug dealers who were granted immunity to testify, a bail bondsman and others have painted a picture of a Baltimore Police Department where officers routinely robbed citizens, planted evidence and falsified time sheets.
Now a jury is deliberating whether to convict two of those officers, members of the now disbanded Gun Trace Task Force, of federal racketeering, robbery and wire fraud.
Officers Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor are the only two of eight task force members who were indicted in the case who have gone to trial. Six have pleaded guilty and four have testified against Hersl and Taylor.
Doug Colbert, who has been on the faculty at the University of Maryland law school for 23 years and has been following the trial, said the testimony has exposed years of corruption.
“I think what’s surprising here is that this testimony has come out in the federal courtroom under oath and subject to cross examination,” he said. “That is something our elected officials and police union ought to take seriously and build from there.”
He called the revelations an opportunity to clean up the department.
While police officials have tried to portray the officers as a few bad apples, Colbert said they couldn’t have done what the officers who testified admitted to for as long as they said they did it and kept those actions solely among those eight.
Momodu Gondo, one of the task force members who has pleaded guilty, testified for hours that he and others used their police badges to search homes illegally, detain citizens illegally and targeted people they thought had large amounts of cash in their homes for robberies.
During closing arguments, defense lawyers sought to minimize the charges and discredit prosecution's witnesses.
Hersl’s lawyer, William Purpura, said what his client did wasn’t robbery, but theft, which carries a lesser penalty. And he argued that so many city police officers falsify time sheets that it shouldn’t be considered a crime.
“Where’s the fraud if it’s allowed?” he asked reporters after his closing argument.
Jennifer Wicks, Taylor’s lawyer, pointed out that many of the prosecution’s 32 witnesses had committed crimes themselves and were only looking to get lighter sentences by testifying.
But prosecutors played tape of Hersl and Taylor at a car crash failing to help the victims while they discussed how they would change their timesheets to look as if they weren’t at the scene.
The jury began its deliberations Thursday, took Friday off and is expected to resume work Monday.