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How the GTTF Cops were Caught - And Why Didn't Local Authorities Catch 'Em?

Eric Minor

By the end of this week, five of the eight convicted cops from the Baltimore Police Department's disbanded Gun Trace Task Force will have been sentenced and could be serving anywhere from 10 to 30 years in federal prison.

Six of them pleaded guilty and two were found guilty by a jury on federal charges of racketeering, conspiracy to racketeer and wire fraud for falsifying overtime claims. The case has left some wondering why it took federal, rather than local, Baltimore  authorities to catch this crew.  

At least part of the reason can be seen in how they were caught.

Federal investigators were searching for the source of a series of fatal overdoses in Baltimore and Harford counties. Their digging brought them to a drug cartel that operated out of Baltimore city. 

Leo Wise, one of the federal prosecutors in the Gun Trace Task Force trial, says investigators were listening to tape from a wiretap they'd put on now convicted drug dealer Anthony Shropshire's phone in 2016 when they heard an interesting call.

Shropshire had taken his car to a mechanic and found a GPS tracking device federal authorities had put on it.

"The first person he called was Detective Gondo, who told him essentially to take it off, that he was being tracked," Wise recounted.

He says that was a turning point in the case. Investigators had had a theory that something was askew - that the drug dealers they were tracking had connections to a police officer.  And that call confirmed it. 

So, they started following Detective Momudo Gondo, one of the Gun Trace Task Force officers. 

Gondo knew some high level drug-dealers because he was good friends with one from childhood, Glen Wells. Wells introduced Gondo to his friends, including Shropshire. And Gondo tipped them off to police whereabouts. Wells gave Gondo the names of their drug rivals - guys the Gun Trace Task Force could rob - on duty or off duty.

Wise says they eventually learned that Gondo and the other cops on the task force robbed people whenever they had the opportunity.

"Sometimes it was in traffic stops, sometimes it was on the streets. Often it was during the executing of search warrants," he said.

Wise says they were always on the prowl.

"Their intent was there. It's just a question of whether conditions were right to do it. Were other officers watching? Were civilians watching?"

When officers Maurice Ward and Evodio Hendrix testified in the trial of two of their former colleagues, they said Sergeant Wayne Jenkins, their supervisor, was always looking for those big time drug-dealers. And Donald Stepp, a bail bondsman who also testified in the trial of Marcus Taylor and Daniel Hersl, confirmed it.

"Ward and Hendrix testified that Jenkins routinely stole drugs from arrestees," Wise said. "And then Stepp testified that it got so frequent that Jenkins would drop off the drugs in Stepp's shed. And then if Stepp came out the next morning and the shed was locked, he'd go in, retrieve them and sell them. So, that was very very frequent." 

Other witnesses against Taylor and Hersl--former task force members--said they'd all been robbing citizens, falsifying search warrants, stealing-and reselling drugs - for years.

So, if it had been going on that long at such a high rate, why didn't Baltimore authorities notice?

Michael Schatzow, Deputy State's Attorney for Baltimore City, says for one thing the feds got lucky. They were "in the right place at the right time."

Even if the state's attorney's office had heard complaints about these cops, they would have turned them over to the police department's internal affairs division, Schatzow said.

"The problem is that the Baltimore Police Department investigates itself. The Internal Affairs Division is part of the Baltimore Police Department".  

The State's Attorney's office has it's own investigators, Schatzow says, but they don't have police powers. They can interview people, analyze data bases, look for people, "but they can't go out on the street with police power and conduct an investigation, protect themselves and make arrests and execute search warrants." 

Still, critics, say, those investigators have access to an officer's entire internal affairs file. They can find out about allegations, get the complainant's address, look at body-camera footage and any other evidence that was collected. They can file an original charging document with the circuit court and ask the court for an arrest warrant. 

Deborah Levi, a former assistant public defender for Baltimore City, says the Gun Trace Task Force officers had been "on our radar" for some time, that they had heard complaints about them.

She says her office tried aggressively to get the files of many of those officers when cases in which they had made the arrests came up for trial.

But Maryland law shields officers' internal affairs files. Levi says the State's Attorney's Office has access to those files and they're supposed to seek them and disclose them. But it didn't happen.

And because she couldn't get hands on the files, she couldn't use the internal affairs complaints to raise questions about the officers' credibility during cross examination.

Levi says she continued fighting to get the files and eventually, she started to win some of those battles.

"When we finally pierced the veil, we saw all kinds of misconduct that should have previously been disclosed," she says. "The repercussion is that people like the Gun Trace Task Force go unchecked and unexposed and people are allowed to abuse their power and their authority".

In Levi's new job--Director of Special Litigation in the Maryland Office of the Public Defender--she focuses solely on police misconduct and getting into the officers' internal files. She has a list of officers for which her office has active litigation against. There are 21 names on the list.

Meanwhile, as the convicted officers are being sentenced, a new city police corruption unit has begun investigating officers who were implicated in wrong-doing by testimony in the Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor trial. But it's unclear whether the findings will be made public.

Mary Rose is a reporter and senior news producer for 88.1 WYPR FM, a National Public Radio member station in Baltimore. At the local news desk, she assigns stories, organizes special coverage, edits news stories, develops series and reports.
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