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City Spending Board Approves 30th Gun Trace Task Force Settlement

The Baltimore City Board of Estimates at their virtual meeting Wednesday. They unanimously approved the thirtieth settlement related to the Gun Trace Task Force.
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The Baltimore City Board of Estimates at their virtual meeting Wednesday. They unanimously approved the thirtieth settlement related to the Gun Trace Task Force.

Baltimore’s spending board unanimously approved Wednesday a $525,000 settlement for a man who spent years in prison after an encounter with the Gun Trace Force, the infamous rogue Baltimore City Police Department unit.

Robert Johnson was a passenger in a car stopped by GTTF Detectives Momodu Gondo and Jemell Rayam in August 2014. According to Deputy City Solicitor Darnell Ingram, Gondo recovered a gun from Johnson, who was on probation for firearms-related crimes.

Johnson pled guilty to a gun charge and served four years in prison.

“As we all know, Officers Gondo and Rayam were felony charged with RICO violations and also other criminal charges, to which the State Attorney's Office moved to withdraw the plaintiff's guilty plea, to which all his charges were dismissed,” Ingram told the Board of Estimates.

Gondo and Rayam were part of a so-called elite unit tasked with recovering illegal firearms, but in fact robbed residents, lied to officials and claimed overtime hours they never worked. More than 12 of those officers have gone to prison and prosecutors had to drop scores or criminal cases.

Johnson sued Gondo, Rayam, the Baltimore Police Department and former police Commissioners Anthony Batts and Frederick H. Bealefeld III in 2019, alleging no probable cause for the traffic stop, false imprisonment and torture, infliction of emotional distress and other federal civil rights claims.

Ingram requested the spending board approve the settlement “in the best interest of the city,” noting that moving forward with the lawsuit would lead to high costs and risks of further litigation.

Johnson’s case was the 30th related to the GTFF settled by the city for a total of nearly $14.4 million, and there are four more cases in active litigation, said deputy chief of legal affairs Justin Conroy.

Members of the Board of Estimates bemoaned the costs of former and pending cases and the trust in public safety officials shattered by the GTTF, but did not challenge Johnson’s settlement.

“It's been very frustrating for a lot of people that the taxpayers are on the hook to defend officers who have already been convicted of serious crimes,” Comptroller Bill Henry said. “That's even more money that isn't available for the city to be doing positive things.”

The Democrat asked law department officials how much money the city has spent providing defense counsel for the officers; they did not have an answer readily available.

City Council President Nick Mosby called the settlements “inexcusable, unacceptable, particularly when we talk about the men and women of the Baltimore Police Department who risk their lives on a daily basis to help make our city safe.”

“Individuals who were called to protect and serve, who have murdered or maimed or hurt our citizens, the fact that they can go on, be convicted and as the comptroller noted, provided defense...and, potentially collect pensions is a major, major problem and concern of mine,” the Democrat said.

Emily Sullivan is a city hall reporter at WYPR, where she covers all things Baltimore politics. She joined WYPR after reporting for NPR’s national airwaves. There, she was a reporter for NPR’s news desk, business desk and presidential conflicts of interest team. Sullivan won a national Edward R. Murrow Award for an investigation into a Trump golf course's finances alongside members of the Embedded team. She has also won awards from the Chesapeake Associated Press Broadcasters Association for her use of sound and feature stories. She has provided news analysis on 1A, The Takeaway, Here & Now and All Things Considered.