Baltimore police guilty of robbing citizens

BBC:–  A Baltimore jury has found two police officers guilty for their role in a sprawling police corruption case that involved robbing city residents.

Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor were convicted of racketeering and robbery charges and cleared of others.

They were part of an elite unit tasked with seizing illegal firearms. But instead the squad went rogue, stealing cash and guns and reselling drugs.

Six other officers had already pleaded guilty, some who testified in court.

Baltimore police have struggled to regain public trust after the 2015 death of Freddie Gray, a young black man in custody.

The city’s police department is currently subject to federal monitoring as part of court-ordered reforms due to discriminatory and unconstitutional policing.

The verdict follows three weeks of explosive testimony in a federal courtroom.

Additional officers named in the testimony have either been suspended or announced their retirement.

A jury deliberated on Thursday and Monday over an array of charges stemming from an FBI investigation of the Baltimore Police Department unit, the Gun Trace Task Force (GTTF).

In additional to the guilty findings, they cleared Hersl and Taylor on charges of possession of firearm in furtherance of crime of violence,

All but one member of the GTTF were indicted and arrested in March 2017.

Six former officers pleaded guilty, and four of those – Maurice Ward, Jemell Rayam, Evodio Hendrix and Momodu Gondo – were called to the witness stand to testify against their former colleagues.

They detailed a series of thefts that went back years, including pilfering cash during street arrests, cracking safes, stealing kilograms of drugs to resell and armed robberies committed by wearing masks and brandishing guns.

“These two things – legitimate police work and criminal conduct – did occur side by side,” US Assistant Attorney Leo Wise said in his opening remarks.

“They were, simply put, both cops and robbers at the same time.”

“Pretty much any individual we came across, if they had money, money was taken,” Rayam told the jury.

Over the years, the thefts amounted to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Although Hersl and Taylor were on trial, much of the most shocking testimony centred on the actions of the unit’s officer-in-charge, former sergeant Wayne Jenkins.

Ward testified Jenkins liked to stop anyone over the age of 18 carrying a backpack, and pulled over specific vehicle models he called “dope boy cars” without cause.

The unit routinely filed false police reports to cover their tracks, according to court testimony.

Former detectives also testified they went into houses without search warrants for so-called “sneak and peeks” to see if there were money or drugs inside.

Jurors were shown Halloween masks, an 18-inch (46cm) machete and a grappling hook the men said Jenkins intended to use in home invasions.

“That’s what [Jenkins] thrived on, taking large amounts of drugs,” Gondo said on the stand. “He used the job for for greed.”

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