Seven Baltimore Police officers, including members of an elite unit tasked with taking guns off the city’s streets, were arrested Wednesday and indicted on federal racketeering charges, accused of robbing local residents, filing false affidavits and making fraudulent overtime claims.
One officer was also charged in a separate drug distribution indictment.
Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein, whose office brought the charges, said the officers were involved in “a pernicious conspiracy scheme that included abuse of power” and involved uniformed officers robbing law-abiding residents on the street — conduct he said “tarnishes the reputation of all police officers.”
The investigation of the officers began about a year ago and involved electronic surveillance, Rosenstein said — including a recording device placed in a Baltimore Police vehicle.
Rosenstein was joined by special agent in charge of the Baltimore FBI field office Gordon B. Johnson, special agent in charge of the Baltimore Drug Enforcement Administration Office Don A. Hibbert and Police Commissioner Kevin Davis. Rosenstein said most police officers in the city will be pleased that the alleged corruption had been exposed.
Davis, who has touted increased gun arrests as a major part of his strategy to reduce crime in the city, said the indictments were embarrassing for the department, but also part of its ongoing efforts to root out bad actors and reform.
The alleged criminal activity occurred throughout 2016, a time when the Baltimore Police Department was under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.
The Justice Department released a scathing report in August that found the department routinely violated individuals’ constitutional rights by conducting unlawful stops and using excessive force, among other problems. The report found those practices overwhelmingly affected residents of poor, predominantly black neighborhoods.
In January, the Justice Department and Baltimore reached a consent decree agreement outlining sweeping reforms to the department. That agreement is pending in U.S. District Court, where a judge must approve it if it is to become binding.
“We wouldn’t be under a consent decree if we didn’t have issues. We have issues,” Davis said.
Baltimore Deputy Public Defender Natalie Finegar said she wasn’t surprised.
“The majority of these officers have been known to my attorneys as having significant credibility issues and we have aggressively been pursuing personnel records to be able to highlight the issues with their credibility on the force ,” she said.
The indictments, she said, could have massive implications for her office’s clients.
“The majority of our felony gun cases are coming from this squad. This calls some serious questions into those arrests,” she said.
In a Baltimore Police newsletter from October, Lt. Chris O’Ree highlighted the team, known as the Gun Trace Task Force, for its prolific arrest numbers in its work tracking “trigger pullers” in the city and the guns they use.
O’Ree wrote that over the course of 10 and a half months, the team had made 110 arrests for handgun violations and seized 132 illegal handguns.
“This is no small task,” he wrote. “Their relentless pursuit to make our streets safer by removing guns and arresting the right people for the right reasons has made our City safer.”
With the indictments, all of those cases are suspect, Finegar said.
“I’m going to go over these indictments with every one of our clients with a fine-toothed comb, and it could very well mean that those cases end up dismissed,” she said. “If you can’t rely on those officers’ credibility, and you can’t call those officers as witnesses, then what are you going to rely on for evidence?”
In one alleged incident said to have occurred in March 2016, four of the indicted officers allegedly stole $200,000 from a safe they opened and from two bags they seized, along with other property.
In another, said to have occurred in August 2016, four of the indicted officers allegedly stole narcotics and $1,700 from a man during a traffic stop before letting him go. The same day, three of the officers also allegedly stole $1,500 from another man — money he had earned as a maintenance supervisor at a nursing home and intended to use to pay his rent.
In September 2016, six of the officers allegedly stopped a man leaving the parking lot of a storage facility, lied and said they had a warrant to search his unit when they did not, then stole $2,000 of $4,800 in cash they found in a sock in the unit. One of the officers allegedly told another that they had only “taxed” the man “a little bit.”
Other information alleged the officers filed for overtime they didn’t work during the same time period. On one day in July 2016, one of the officers allegedly told another about being in the poker room at the Maryland Live Casino in Anne Arundel County. The second officer said he was going to get a drink. Both allegedly filed for overtime that day.
In a statement issued Wednesday, police union president Gene S. Ryan said, “We are very disturbed over the charges filed against our members by the U.S. Attorney today. These officers are entitled to due process and a fair trial in accordance with the Constitution and the laws of our state. It would be inappropriate for me to make any further comment until the charges leveled against these officers are finally resolved.”
This story will be updated.
(c)2017 The Baltimore Sun
Visit The Baltimore Sun at www.baltimoresun.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.