The Baltimore Police Department’s Gun Trace Task Force trial is underway, and the testimony of several officers is bringing disturbing revelations to light.
According to the Baltimore Sun, six of the eight officers indicted have pleaded guilty, and four are cooperating with government investigators. The two pleading not guilty are BPD officers Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor, who both face charges of racketeering conspiracy, robbery, and possession of a firearm in a crime of violence. Hersl’s lawyer is actually attempting to argue that robbery charge should be dismissed, since Hersl committed theft instead:
Attorney William Purpura is also arguing that as a police officer, Hersl is allowed to seize money from a person when he has probable cause to suspect the person has committed a crime. Seizing money legally and then keeping it for for himself would be theft, he says, not robbery.
However, perhaps the most disturbing testimony that has emerged from the Gun Trace Task Force trial is what officers are instructed to do if they find themselves “in a jam.” According to Detective Maurice Ward’s testimony, Sgt. Wayne Jenkins — who served as supervisor for the unit — members of the task force were encouraged to keep toy guns in their squad cars in the event they killed an unarmed citizen.
Ward said the officers kept BB guns in their vehicles “in case we accidentally hit somebody or got into a shootout, so we could plant them.” He did not say whether the officers ever planted a BB gun on anyone.
Ward said the unit’s supervisor, Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, instructed the officers to carry replica guns to plant if they found themselves in a jam. Police recovered a replica gun from the glove box of [defendant Marcus] Taylor’s vehicle after he was arrested last year. The gun, shown to jurors, is nearly indistinguishable from Taylor’s service pistol.
As Michael Harriot of The Root pointed out, this detail casts doubt on official police reports filed following controversial police shootings like that of a 13-year-old boy who was shot and killed by Baltimore police in 2016. According to the report, the boy ran when he saw the officers, and was shot and killed when officers reported they saw a gun. Given that the replica gun shown to jurors in the Gun Trace Task Force trial was “nearly indistinguishable from Taylor’s service pistol,” there’s no telling how many reports of suspects killed due to reportedly having a weapon are actually credible.
It’s important to remember that such practices are not new for the Baltimore Police Department. In a 2016 report, the Department of Justice — then run by Attorney General Loretta Lynch — concluded that Baltimore Police Department “engages in a pattern or practice of conduct that violates the Constitution or federal law,” citing practices like:
(1) making unconstitutional stops, searches, and arrests;
(2) using enforcement strategies that produce severe and unjustified disparities in the rates of stops, searches and arrests of African Americans;
(3) using excessive force; and
(4) retaliating against people engaging in constitutionally-protected expression
In addition to Baltimore, the Obama DOJ also issued similar damning reports for the Ferguson, Missouri and Chicago, Illinois police departments. Shortly after his confirmation as Attorney General, Jeff Sessions ordered a review of all DOJ actions against local police departments, including consent decrees issued to police departments found to have engaged in depriving citizens of constitutional rights and profiling certain racial groups.
The Baltimore Gun Trace Task Force trial is expected to continue into February.
Jordan Shaw is a New Jersey-based freelancer specializing in national and state government issues. When he’s not writing, you can find him volunteering in Camden, New Jersey, or hiking the Wissahickon Valley Park.