BALTIMORE – Two Baltimore police detectives were convicted of robbery, racketeering, and conspiracy Monday in a trial that’s part of an ongoing federal investigation into corruption among rogue members of the city’s beleaguered police force.
After the jury foreman read the verdict following two days of deliberations, Detectives Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor were shackled and led out of U.S. District Court in Baltimore. Some of Hersl’s relatives burst into tears, while one of his victims called out: “Justice.”
The two detectives were each convicted of racketeering conspiracy, racketeering and robbery under the federal Hobbs Act, which prohibits interference with interstate commerce. They face up to 20 years on each count, for a total of 60 years.
On Monday evening, acting U.S. Attorney Stephen Schenning said he was hopeful that the police corruption case “will begin a long difficult process of examining how” the Baltimore force polices its own.
“We hope that police officers live up to the honour and privilege of the badge,” Schenning said on the courthouse steps.
The trial was dominated by four ex-detectives who testified that the police department’s elite Gun Trace Task Force was actually made up of thugs with badges who stole cash, resold looted narcotics and lied under oath to cover their tracks. They detailed acts of astonishing police criminality, including armed home invasions, stretching back to 2008.
Acting Police Commissioner Darryl DeSousa said in a statement immediately after the verdict that the department will move to fire Hersl and Taylor, who have been suspended without pay since being indicted and arrested in March.
“We recognize that this indictment and subsequent trial uncovered some of the most egregious and despicable acts ever perpetrated in law enforcement,” DeSousa said.
William Purpura, Hersl’s lead attorney, said the family was disappointed in the verdict but noted that the jury “did acquit him of one of the more serious crimes.” He said a decision about a possible appeal would be made later.
Both men were cleared of possessing a firearm in pursuance of a violent crime.
Taylor’s defence team and his relatives did not immediately speak to reporters after the Monday evening verdict.
Much of the testimony during the trial focused on Gun Trace Task Force members who pleaded guilty, including the out-of-control unit’s onetime supervisor, Sgt. Wayne Jenkins. He was portrayed as a wildly corrupt officer leading his unit on a tireless quest to shake down civilians and find “monsters” — bigtime drug dealers with lots of loot to steal.
His subordinates testified that the onetime amateur mixed martial arts fighter told his officers to carry BB guns in case they ever needed to plant weapons and occasionally posed as a federal agent when shaking down targets.
Former colleagues said Jenkins’ sledgehammer approach to policing extended to having actual sledgehammers — along with crowbars, grappling hooks, black masks and even a machete — stored in his police-issued car to ramp up illegal activities.
It’s not clear when Jenkins and the other ex-detectives who pleaded guilty will be sentenced by a federal judge. Four disgraced ex-officers testified for the government in hopes of shaving years off their sentences.
The defence teams for Hersl and Taylor had asked jurors to distrust the motivations of the government’s witnesses, including a number of convicted drug dealers who received immunity for their testimony in the case.
Schenning said he was thankful the jurors saw through that.
“That was the business model for this organization: They thought if you rob drug dealers they have no place to go,” he said.
Purpura did not deny that his 48-year-old client took money but said the thefts didn’t rise to the more serious charges of robbery or extortion. The two defence teams also attacked the veracity of the four disgraced detectives, noting that they’ve admitted to lying for years to juries, judges, colleagues and their families.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Leo Wise reminded jurors that the central question in the trial was the actions of the rogue police unit, and whether some of their robbery victims made money “selling drugs or Girl Scout cookies” was irrelevant.
Public defenders say there could be a few thousand tainted cases stretching back to 2008 involving the jailed members of the disbanded Gun Trace Task Force. So far, roughly 125 cases involving the eight indicted Baltimore law enforcers have been dropped.
“Beyond the sheer credibility issues that should have been raised at the time, given how embedded their crimes were in their police work, all cases involving these officers are tainted,” said Debbie Katz Levi, head of special litigation for Baltimore’s Office of the Public Defender.
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