Baltimore’s police department already was notorious.
But last year, eight former police officers were convicted on federal racketeering charges stemming from an FBI investigation. They belonged to an elite task force charged with getting guns off the city’s streets. Instead, the plainclothes cops roamed Baltimore neighborhoods, robbing people on the street; breaking into homes to steal money, drugs or guns; and planting evidence on their victims.
The Gun Trace Task Force targeted both drug dealers and ordinary residents. In one of their favorite tactics, they’d drive their car toward a street corner where a group of men were standing. Then they’d chase whoever ran and shake them down. On top of all this, the officers falsified their timesheets to almost double their salaries.
This episode of Reveal asks whether the task force was simply a rogue operation or whether the officers were aided and abetted by fellow cops and even supervisors within the department.
Cops On a Crime Spree was reported by Mary Rose Madden; Deborah George was the senior editor.
Our producer was Anayansi Diaz-Cortes and we had research help from Ben Spier at WYPR.
Reveal transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. Please be aware that the official record for Reveal’s radio stories is the audio.
Al Letson: From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson.
Speaker 1: Hey Sarge, hey come downstairs right quick! The about to get it open.
Al Letson: This is a scene shot with a police officer’s cell phone camera. Four or five cops are prying open a safe with a crowbar.
Speaker 1: They almost got it.
Al Letson: They crank a few times.
Speaker 1: [inaudible 00:00:28]
Al Letson: The safe opens.
Speaker 1: All right.
Al Letson: And reveals bundles of cash wrapped in rubber bands.
Speaker 1: [inaudible 00:00:37] now
Al Letson: That’s their Sergeant.
Wayne Jenkins: Take a picture of it Dale, we’ll record it right now.
Speaker 4: Hold on.
Wayne Jenkins: Nobody touch this, you understand me right now?
Al Letson: He’s telling them to do everything by the book, everything they learned at the police academy. Take photos, don’t disturb a crime scene.
Wayne Jenkins: Keep the camera on. Don’t touch and stand next to it, we’ll call [inaudible 00:00:58] Keep recording, don’t touch any of this money. Keep your … camera on that [crosstalk 00:01:05]
Al Letson: It looks like a police raid in progress. But, it was all a show. You see, moments before the cops shot this footage, they’d already opened the safe.
Wayne Jenkins: [inaudible 00:01:15] take pictures of them.
Al Letson: And stolen $100,000. They left 100,000 behind to stage their phony cop work and fake everyone out. For years, these cops were part of a specialized, elite unite in Baltimore, MD, called the Gun Trace Task Force. Six detectives and two sergeants were supposed to be in charge of getting bad guys with gus off the streets. Instead, they used their badges to get into homes and cars, searching wherever they wanted and taking whatever they wanted. They robbed people, stole drugs and planted evidence. They covered all this up and then faked their time sheets to almost double their salaries while they doing it.
Al Letson: Baltimore was already notorious. On TV, The Wire introduced Americans to the city’s drug economy. In 2015 Freddie Gray died in police custody setting off days of protests. Baltimore’s per capita homicide rate is among the highest in the nation. On top of all this, the Gun Trace Task Force operated their eight man crime ring. They were caught after a year long FBI investigation and tried on federal racketeering charges. Mary Rose Madden, a reporter for WYPR in Baltimore is going to pull apart the story of this police unit gone rogue.
Mary Rose M.: Momodu Gondo grew up in Baltimore and was a Baltimore cop for 12 years. He testified in hundreds of trials. On February 5th 2018, he sat on the witness stand not wearing police blue but instead prison orange with a bushy beard he’d grown in jail. He was hoping for a lighter sentence by testifying against two fellow officers in the Gun Trace Task Force. Marcus Taylor and Daniel Hersl. During the trial, prosecutors played tape from wire taps they’d put in Gondo’s phone and car.
Momodu Gondo: What’s up Wayne?
Wayne Jenkins: Hey G. I just want to give you and Rayam a head’s up of what’s going on today.
Momodu Gondo: All right.
Mary Rose M.: That’s Sergeant Wayne Jenkins, leader of the Task Force. He’s giving Gondo the daily rundown of what the Task Force cops would be doing that day.
Wayne Jenkins: Me and Taylor’s going to go to the joint. We’re going to watch the joint and try to get something big coming out
Momodu Gondo: Right.
Wayne Jenkins: Whatever you and Rayam want to do.
Mary Rose M.: On the stand, Gondo described how he and the other Task Force cops would operate. Sometimes they’d shake people down by driving up fast to a random group of black men standing on a street corner. The cops would open their doors, jump out and chase whoever ran. Then, they’d steal whatever the person was carrying. They’d call these door-pops street rips, or rip and runs.
Momodu Gondo: Wayne is mad as a bitch yo. Just said “If you don’t go out here and rip and run for me tonight, I’m a kick him out the squad.”
Mary Rose M.: Wayne Jenkins was furious that one of his detectives was late for a planned rip and run.
Momodu Gondo: I said Wayne “Listen, don’t be emotional-“
Mary Rose M.: These cops operated in plain clothes and they’d rip and run anywhere from 10 to 50 times a night. Sometimes if they found drugs, guns or money, they’d take them and make no arrest, tell the victim he got off easy or, got taxed. Other times, they’d go after what they called big dudes. Suspected drug dealers they thought would have lots of money.
Speaker 2: We got another … we could go after.
Momodu Gondo: Who?
Speaker 2: Herbert.
Momodu Gondo: Oh! Herbert. He back out?
Speaker 2: I think he did his time, time served. He’s back out.
Momodu Gondo: He ain’t even going to be hard. He easy to get.
Mary Rose M.: Sometimes they’d arrest them, pocket a portion of the drugs or money and turn in the rest. Gondo said he preferred to do it this way to skim off the evidence. He said on the stand “What drug dealer is going to complain that some of his drugs have gone missing?” It was with this in mind the Task Force cops started following an example-convict named Ronald Hamilton. The new Hamilton had gone to prison before for drug charges and he had a serious gambling habit. Hamilton seemed like a perfect target. So the cops lied to get a search warrant for his home. Ronald Hamilton was a witness at the trial. There was not recording allowed in the courtroom so I drove out to his house in the rural suburbs 45 miles outside of Baltimore. It sits on a cul-de-sac overlooking farms.
Mary Rose M.: Here at Hamilton’s house. There’s a trampoline in the yard and a basketball hoop in the driveway. A car is in the driveway, that’s a good sign. Hi.
Ronald Hamilton: How you doing?
Mary Rose M.: Good how are you?
Ronald Hamilton: I’m doing pretty good.
Mary Rose M.: Hamilton lets me into his house and we sit in his living room. He seems nervous.
Mary Rose M.: When I first came you weren’t totally sure if you wanted to talk.
Ronald Hamilton: I feel that my life was in jeopardy. I do. I’m not going to sit here and sugarcoat nothing.
Mary Rose M.: I ask him to repeat the story he told on the stand. How in July 2016 he was at Home Depot shopping for window blinds with his wife when he noticed a man hovering around them. He looked away.
Ronald Hamilton: Then I turned back and I looked back. He was still there. Went to the register, came back, sat back with my wife. Noticed the guy was still there. Still didn’t think nothing of it. Left out of Home Depot.
Mary Rose M.: After a few minutes, he and his wife turned into the parking lot of a dry cleaners.
Ronald Hamilton: That’s when I was surrounded. Four, four unmarked cars surrounding me.
Mary Rose M.: Oh wow.
Ronald Hamilton: Snatched me out the vehicle.
Mary Rose M.: He recognizes the guy from Home Depot jump out of one of the cars. It’s Detective Gondo’s partner, Jemell Rayam.
Ronald Hamilton: He didn’t ask anything but where’s my money at? I’m like what? So he took the money out of pocket and stuck it in his vest. From there they put me in one car, put my wife in another car.
Wayne Jenkins: What’s up G?
Momodu Gondo: Hey what’s up. We-
Mary Rose M.: A wire tap catches what happens next. Gondo calls the Task Force leader, Wayne Jenkins and tells him they have Ronald Hamilton and his wife.
Momodu Gondo: Yeah, I got the male and they got the female.
Wayne Jenkins: Did you tell them anything at all?
Momodu Gondo: No.
Wayne Jenkins: Just tell them you got to wait for the US attorney. When I get there you could introduce me as the US attorney. Treat me like “Hey sir how are you? We got our target in pocket.”
Momodu Gondo: I got you.
Mary Rose M.: The cops drive Hamilton and his wife to another location.
Ronald Hamilton: As I was getting out the car, another officer walked up to me and identified himself as a federal agent.
Mary Rose M.: Wayne Jenkins pretends to be a US attorney. The cops tell Hamilton they’d seen him do three controlled buys. That’s three drug deals.
Ronald Hamilton: They took me inside, talking about we got you under surveillance. “We got you, you know, where your hand?” I said okay.
Mary Rose M.: But Hamilton calls their bluff.
Ronald Hamilton: You got me doing that, well, let’s go down to the federal courthouse.
Mary Rose M.: They put Hamilton and his wife in one car and get on the highway. But, they pass the exit for the courthouse.
Ronald Hamilton: So I said “Where are we going?” He said “We’re going to your house.” I had leaned over to my wife, I said “Be quiet they about to rob me.” She said “What?” Like hushed. She was like “What’s going on?” I said “Just be quiet, don’t say nothing.”
Mary Rose M.: They pull up to the Hamilton’s house and the cops let his wife call the children. They have two young kids and a teenager. She tells them to leave the house. The cops search the kids book bags on the way out.
Ronald Hamilton: Brought us in, set me aside, set my wife next to me in the chair.
Mary Rose M.: Hamilton and his wife sit in the living room handcuffed while a cop with a gun watches them. The rest of the crew do what they call a sneak and peak. They case the house. In the Hamilton’s bedroom they find $50,000 in a heat sealed package and another 20,000 in loose hundreds under a towel in the closet. They leave the 50,000 behind and pocket 20. Hamilton says the money was all legitimate. That he has receipts for all of it. He says the cash is from his businesses. He owns several rental properties plus he buys and sells used cars.
Ronald Hamilton: I said “Man I’m not doing nothing like that man. I stay in my own lane, I stay to myself.” I was like, I asked them can they just get out.
Mary Rose M.: They do. Hamilton runs upstairs and looks for his cash in his closet, it’s gone. He runs out his front door and yells to them.
Ronald Hamilton: I cussed at them and said “You robbed me anyway. You crooks.”
Mary Rose M.: The four officers meet in a bar in south Baltimore and split the money. Hamilton tells me since that day his wife doesn’t want to be alone in their house. His kids won’t even come to the house, they’re so scared they stay with his ex.
Mary Rose M.: Ron Hamilton was one out of 32 witnesses who testified at the trial. Some were drug dealers, others law-abiding citizens. Defense attorneys painted them all as professional liars. They also downplayed the cops behavior. Detective Daniel Hersl was one of the defendants. His lawyer, William Purpura said some of the things his client did were common practice in the Baltimore police department. Like lying on time sheets.
William Purpura: It’s condoned with a wink and a nod. Therefore, where’s the fraud if it’s allowed?
Mary Rose M.: Detective Hersl stole from people, yes, but he didn’t plan to.
William Purpura: If you didn’t intent to take money and it became an after thought once the money’s there and it’s on it’s way to evidence then it’s a theft. Simple as that.
Mary Rose M.: Robbery carries a heavier sentence.
William Purpura: Robbery is a crime of violence. If he intended from the beginning to take money and you have your badge and your gun then it becomes a robbery.
Derek Hines: They robbed people while acting as police officers because it gave them cover.
Mary Rose M.: That’s Derek Hines, one of two federal prosecutors in the case. He argued that it was the other way around. The cops did plan and they used their police badges to operate as a gang of robbers.
Derek Hines: That’s why they did it when they were working. Essentially they could rob with impunity because they believed that no one would believe the potential criminal or drug dealer that they took the money from over their own words.
Mary Rose M.: Leo Wise was the other federal prosecutor in the case. In his closing argument he said that Ronald Hamilton’s lifestyle was not on trial. Same for the other witnesses.
Leo Wise: At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter, you can’t rob drug dealers, you can’t rob people who aren’t drug dealers. However he made the money, whether he made it selling drugs or selling girl scout cookies, it was a question of what had the defendants done and had they taken the money?
Mary Rose M.: The trial lasted eight days. The jury found Marcus Tailor and Daniel Hersl guilty of racketeering and robbery. They faced up to 60 years in federal prison. The other six cops, Wayne Jenkins, Thomas Allers, Momodu Gondo, Jemell Rayam, Maurice Ward and Evodio Hendrix pled guilty. Allers is the only one who’s been sentenced so far. To 15 years.
Al Letson: That’s Mary Rose Madden of WYPR in Baltimore. Mary Rose, after listening to that story, I don’t know I mean, it just, it seems hard to believe that no one knew that the Task Force was doing before they got busted. Did anyone raise any concerns before the trial?
Mary Rose M.: Before the trail it was an open secret that some of the Task Force cops were problems. The Baltimore Sun had reported that the city settled police brutality lawsuits naming Daniel Hersl but Hersl remained of the police force. He was even promoted to the Gun Task Force. Once he was there he has almost unlimited power to roam the city and shake people down.
Mary Rose M.: Rapper Young Moose and his father Big Kev own a store in East Baltimore called Out the Mud. They sell custom tees, hoodies and mixed tapes. CDs of local rap artists. Big Kev says Detective Hersl targeted his family repeatedly over several years. It started when Young Moose was a teenage and hanging out with a friend Hersl had his eye on.
Big Kev: Hersl was really was really after this guy that my son was friends with.
Mary Rose M.: Big Kev says Hersl planted drugs on his son and his friend.
Big Kev: Both of them winded up getting locked up. My son winded up coming home on bail and the young man, he winded up getting 15 years.
Mary Rose M.: When Young Moose got out, he began writing songs about Hersl’s reputation. (singing)
Big Kev: He was talking about how Hersl harassed him, how Hersl planted drugs on him. I was like man. I said “Yo,” I said “Moose, that’s one thing we cannot do. We can’t make a song about the police that’s going to bring us trouble.” He’s so young so he made that song and once it got out there it went crazy. (singing) It got back to Hersl and it embarrassed him. (singing) Now it’s on.
Mary Rose M.: Hersl put the pressure on. He arrested Moose again in 2014 and his parents and brother the same year. Big Kev calls them junk arrests. He says Hersl would follow them around, park his car in front of the store. Big Kev tried to report what Hersl was doing. He called Internal Affairs. That’s the branch of the police department that investigates complaints against their officer.
Big Kev: They was like “Well he’s a cop. He can sit in front of the store as long as he’s not bothering you.” I said “Well I have my video cameras in the store.” I said “If he come in and try and put something on me, it going to be on videotape.” They was like “You can’t videotape him unless the video camera is where he can see it.” I started cussing them out. He said “All right Mr. Evans, calm down, calm down. I understand where you’re coming from.” I be crying in tears because he was after my whole family.
Mary Rose M.: Big Kev says he called Internal Affairs several times but he never got anywhere. He says he even talked to Hersl about it.
Big Kev: I said “Is you racist Hersl?” I said “Why is you bothering my family?” He said “No, I’m not racist. My girlfriend black.” I said “Why you do what you do?” He said “Because I’m the police. I do what I want to do.”
Mary Rose M.: Some of the Task Force Cops were black, some were white. Most, but not all of their victims were black and from the inner-city. Unlike police brutality we’ve heard about in other cities around the country, these cops were relentless, motivated by greed as well as racism.
Al Letson: How did these cops get so much power in the first place?
Speaker 3: They could go any and everywhere they wanted in the city. Any and everywhere. They had a key to the city.
Al Letson: How many of the people they sent to prison were innocent of the charges brought against them?
Mary Rose M.: Our estimate is loosely at this moment, around 2,000.
Al Letson: That’s coming up on Reveal.
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Al Letson: From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson. Eight cops who once belonged to Baltimore’s Gun Trace Task Force are behind bars. Before they were caught …
PART 1 OF 3 ENDS [00:19:04]
Al Letson: -his Gun Trace Task Force are behind bars. Before they were caught in an FBI investigation, they spent years shaking people down, stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from them. They even stole drugs, and put them back on the streets. After the death of Freddie Gray in 2015, the Justice Department and the FBI came to town to investigate the police department. Now, it’s a little mind blowing to think that the cops of the Gun Trace Task Force were operating their illegal racket during the very same time investigators were in town. It’s beyond brazen.
Al Letson: It opens up a lot of question. Did they get help? Were others in the department protecting them? Were there people tipping them off when the investigation got too hot? And, did the corruption end with the conviction of the task force officers? That brings us to the mysterious death of a police officer. His name was Detective Sean Suiter. He died several weeks before the trial of the Gun Trace Task Force officers began. He wasn’t on the task force, but they knew him.
Speaker 5: Good Afternoon. Just after noon today 18 year veteran Homicide Detective Sean Suiter was pronounced dead. 43 years old, married, father of five. His wife Nicole is here.
Al Letson: Detective Suiter was found lying face down in a vacant lot with a bullet hole in his head. Shot with his own service revolver. Thousands of people came out to Suiter’s funeral. Almost the entire Baltimore force was there to mourn him.
Speaker 6: As a homicide detective his heart, his mind was the one at work. Dedicated to bringing peace to the families.
Al Letson: Suiter’s death remains unsolved despite an intense ongoing investigation, and a hefty reward for information. Mary Rose Madden WYPR looks into Suiter’s death and the questions that remain around Baltimore’s police force.
Mary Rose M.: Sean Suiter’s death seems to haunt the Baltimore Police Department and the city. Was it murder? Was it a suicide? Was it just a coincidence Suiter was shot the night before he was to answer questions, under oath, about the Gun Trace Task Force? It was grand jury testimony that never happened. The task force trial hadn’t begun yet, but prosecutors still had threads they wanted to follow, possibly additional charges. They wanted Suiter to talk about a night from April 2010. He was in an unmarked car racing down the streets of West Baltimore. In a car ahead Sergeant Wayne Jenkins and Detective Ryan Guinn. Jenkins would later become the head of the Gun Trace Task Force.
Mary Rose M.: During the chase the man they were pursuing was in a crash and a bystander was killed. Later, 32 grams of heroin and a digital scale were found in his car. The man the cops were chasing was Omar Burley. Burley insisted the drugs were planted, but he had a criminal record and his lawyers told him no one would believe him, so he pled guilty to manslaughter and the drug charge. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison. That’s where he was in March 2017. He was watching television when he saw a newsflash.
Omar Burley: I just briefly caught it. It had that polices from Baltimore city were indicted on criminal charges for a slew of things. The guys was like, “No, Baltimore, is any of them your police?” But it flashed so fast the names I couldn’t really tell who they actually was.
Mary Rose M.: Omar didn’t catch Sergeant Wayne Jenkins photo flash on the screen, but 10 minutes later he got an email from someone he knew.
Omar Burley: “Yes. They finally got him, man. You might be coming home. They finally got them corrupt cops.”
Mary Rose M.: Omar did get to come home. After they were indicted in 2017, some of the Gun Trace Task Force cops started pleading guilty. They opened up about the past. They said Wayne Jenkins told them he once planted drugs after a car chase. Federal prosecutors followed that lead and figured out it was Omar. After spending more than seven years in prison a judge vacated Omar’s charges and he walked out of the court house a free man.
Omar Burley: From day one I said that the drugs was planted, but no one paid me any attention, and I got [inaudible 00:23:38] this. It’s been pure hell.
Mary Rose M.: Wayne Jenkins confessed to setting Omar up. He signed a plea agreement, and in it he said he told an officer to get drugs and plant them in Omar’s car. That cop is referred to in his plea as Officer #2. Then Jenkins said he sent another officer, referred to as Officer #1 to find them. The police commissioner at the time said Officer #1 was Sean Suiter. He said Jenkins duped Suiter into finding the drugs, but Omar Burley has another story. He says all the cops were in on it. His lawyer Steve Silverman says, when the three officer first came out of their cars and approach Omar their faces were covered.
Steve S.: They came out in black clothes, masks. He was being robbed. Burley hit the gas because he didn’t know what the heck was going on, and was truly terrified, and didn’t know who these people were with no badges, no marked cars, no nothing.
Mary Rose M.: Silverman says the cops had to plant the drugs in Omar’s car. They had to justify why they chased him in the first place. Plus, they had to explain the car crash that killed a bystander.
Steve S.: So, they had to. There was a homicide. There was a dead person. They would have never been able to explain why they were in a high speed chase to begin with because obviously they’re not going to say they were going to rob him, so that’s when they called another officer to come and bring some heroin to plant it in the vehicle.
Mary Rose M.: In this scenario, Detective Suiter is an accomplice, not an innocent dupe. What about the third cop who was there that day, Detective Ryan Guinn? Is he Officer #2, who according to Jenkins, was sent to get the drugs to plant in Omar’s car? Prosecutors told me they believe he’s innocent, and didn’t charge him. He’s still on the force. Outside the courthouse a reporter asks Omar how he feels about that?
Speaker 7: How does that sit with you now?
Omar Burley: It doesn’t sit well with me at all because my life was affected by this. I’ll never be able to be the same again, but he gets to continue on in his job, and continue on his life like nothing happened. That’s not fair at all.
Mary Rose M.: That officer is one of a dozen Baltimore cops whose names came up during the trial of the Gun Trace Task Force. Witnesses said those 12 committed crimes with the task force, or helped cover them up. There were others who weren’t identified at the trial. For example, one task force cop said they were tipped off to the FBI investigation by someone in Internal Affairs. Federal Prosecutor Leo Wise says someone in the states attorney’s office alerted the cops too.
Leo Wise: There was evidence that they were tipped off at various points that there was an investigation, but it didn’t stop them. I mean in a remarkable way it didn’t cause them to even slow down really.
Mary Rose M.: As you can imagine, when an entire police unit goes to federal prison for racketeering there are a lot of problems left. Wise says the FBI is still digging through the information they gathered in the Gun Trace Task Force investigation. There could be more federal indictments. Local attorneys are combing through all the arrests the task force cops made between 2006 and 2017. Debra Levy is in the public defender’s office. She is in charge of calling up these possibly tainted cases.
Debra Levy: Our estimate is loosely at this moment around 2000 because we think when we started adding in the officers who were implicated at the trial we’ll expand to approximately 2000.
Mary Rose M.: That could mean 2000 cases where people were falsely imprisoned. Levi says, since defense attorneys weren’t able to see an officer’s internal records they weren’t able to see if they had prior complaints of misconduct.
Debra Levy: The conduct was going undisclosed, and people were just missing out on a fair trial.
Mary Rose M.: Omar Burley and his lawyer say they’re going to sue the city and the police department. And those 2000 cases, some of those could turn into lawsuits against the city too. Usually city taxpayers are on the hook for settlements involving officer misconduct, but in this case …
Andre Davis: We will argue that the city is not responsible for the harms caused by these officers.
Mary Rose M.: Judge Andre Davis is Baltimore’s City Solicitor.
Andre Davis: These ex-officers were acting outside the scope of their employment. They were acting with malice. They were pursuing their own purposes and anyone who was harmed will have to look to the individual assets of those former officers in order to seek compensation.
Mary Rose M.: The judge in each lawsuit will decide if that argument stands. If it does, the victims of the Gun Task Force cops will likely receive less money than if they were able to settle with the police department and the city. On the other hand, making individual cops dig into their own pockets to pay for lawsuits might affect how police officers behave when they hit the streets. There is a lot for them to do in Baltimore. The city’s crime rate is heartbreaking on a daily basis. Three teenager were shot in just one day recently. Poverty, drugs, and violence are triple threats that hit poor and black communities in Baltimore, and corrupt cops make it so much worse.
Anthony Batts: There’s enough narcotics on the streets of Baltimore to keep it intoxicated for a year.
Mary Rose M.: That’s Anthony Batts. He was the Police Commissioner during the unrest in 2015 after Freddie Gray’s death. He was talking about the 27 pharmacies where prescription drugs were looted.
Anthony Batts: Criminals are selling those stolen drugs. There are turf wars happening, which are leading to violence and shootings in our city.
Mary Rose M.: But the criminals were aided by corrupt cops. At the task force trial jurors heard that during the unrest Wayne Jenkins, the task force leader, brought trash bags full of prescription drugs to a friend who then resold them. He wasn’t the only task force member who resold drugs back to the streets. Another said he’d been tipping off drug dealers to police whereabouts for 16 years, protecting them from the good cops doing real police work, and from the other cops who wanted to rob them. The day the verdicts came down in the task force trial Alex Hilton came to the federal courthouse. He was close to tears.
Alex Hilton: A lot of people don’t believe these stories are true, but they are. It’s crazy because we talking about cops.
Mary Rose M.: Hilton said he needed to see these officers tried and in handcuffs because one of them used to torment him years ago. Enough to make him move out of his East Baltimore neighborhood.
Alex Hilton: Every time I see a police car or a narco car I’m looking to see if he in there. I can’t get his face out of my mind. It just was that bad. It just was that bad.
Mary Rose M.: Hilton was trying to figure out if he felt any closure now that eight police officers were in prison.
Alex Hilton: Is it totally over with? Probably not because there’s a lot of more work to be done.
Mary Rose M.: No one thinks the Gun Trace Task Force could have done what it did as a party of eight. As someone told me, “In Baltimore there are drug kingpins, and crooked cops, and there’s a large supply of both.”
Al Letson: That was reporter Mary Rose Madden from WYPR in Baltimore. Federal prosecutors may bring more charges related to the Gun Trace Task Force in the coming months, but they won’t be able to charge all of the people who say, look the other way, or gave them a wink and a nod. There were red flags alerting people in the criminal justice system to problems with the task force members. For instance, when task force officers testified as witnesses in court about the arrest they’ve made, their behavior should have come into question, but it didn’t.
Al Letson: We talked to Michael Schatzow. He’s the Chief Deputy States Attorney for Baltimore. His office prosecutes crimes in the city. There’s a lot of places that we could look in this story about the Gun Trace Task Force and see that the system failed. I’m curious, where do you think that your office failed?
Michael S.: Well I don’t think our office did fail. Would it have been helpful if we had, had the same kind of information that the feds stumbled upon, and we would have done the same thing with it. They got on to that investigation because they happened to be in the right place at the right time.
Al Letson: But what if they weren’t at the right place at the right time? Would the Gun Trace Task Force still be doing what they are doing? And how would you find out unless you did your own investigation?
Michael S.: We have an investigations unit that has investigators, but they do not have police powers. The investigators we use to investigate crimes are the Baltimore Police Department, and even officers who have no involvement in corrupt activity are not going to be particularly eager to assist us in investigating whether other officers are engaged in illegal activity. So, how do you do it? You either do it through the Internal Affairs Department of the Baltimore Police Department, or you get a federal agency involved in conducting such an investigation.
Al Letson: But over the years there’ve been complaints to the Internal Affairs at the police department about members of the Gun Trace Task Force. Your office had access to those files, so if you guys had followed up on those complaints maybe you would’ve found this out before the FBI came in under your watch.
Michael S.: Having access to files doesn’t mean very much when all that’s in the file is a mere allegation.
Al Letson: But when the task force officers made an arrest, and they were called to testify as witnesses wouldn’t you have known about the records of complaints that were lodged against them at that point?
Michael S.: We would know about some of the complaints, and some of those officers were officers about whom we made disclosures to defense counsel. That information was then either utilized or not utilized by the defense attorneys as they saw fit.
Al Letson: Michael Schatzow is the Chief Deputy State’s Attorney of Baltimore. Since we did the interview we learned about a civil rights lawsuit against the State’s Attorney Office, as well as the City of Baltimore and the police department. It’s brought by a man who said members of the Gun Trace Task Force broke his jaw and stole his money. The Gun Trace Task Force weren’t the only police who were ripping and running in Baltimore.
Speaker 8: He said to me, “You need to calm down. It’s just one less drug dealer we got to worry about. One less piece of.”
Al Letson: We revisit a story of man who died while he was running from the police next on Reveal.
Al Letson: In this era of Me Too a lot of stories have begun to surface and actually a lot of women’s voices are being heard that may otherwise have been pushed aside. In this podcast, She Says, is a story of just that. It’s about a woman named Linda who was sexually assaulted by a stranger nearly three years ago. She has to do her own detective work to try and track down the man who did it. You’ll hear conversations she recorded with the police while she struggled to get them to work on her case. You’ll also hear from the cops too, and forensic scientist, and attorneys to learn how the system works, and why victims like Linda say it needs to change. Find the, She Says podcast now on NPR1 or wherever you get podcasts. Learn more at wfae.org/shesays.
Al Letson: From the center of investigative reporting in PRX this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson. Eight cops from a specialized Baltimore police unit are now in prison for racketeering and robbery. One of their rackets was chasing people through the street and then robbing them, but it wasn’t just the task force cops who chased people and victimized them. Our next story first aired in April of 2017. Reporter Mary Rose Madden of WYPR was pouring over old cases brought against the city for police misconduct when she ran across this one. It’s about a man who died while he was running from the police. Mary Rose decided to investigate further. The story begins in an alley in West Baltimore.
Mary Rose M.: It was the middle of the afternoon in August of 2007. Jay Cook was getting into his car to go get a money order to pay his rent. He could have walked. The grocery store is just a short walk away, but he was skidish. A week earlier Jay was robbed at gunpoint right here behind his apartment building, and so when he saw two people in the alley watching him, he took off.
Speaker 9: Foot chase going South on Fulton. [inaudible 00:37:04] Black male, white t-shirt. [crosstalk 00:37:09].
Mary Rose M.: Black male, white t-shirt. That’s the description the police called in. Later they’d report that Jay was holding his arm tightly against his body, which to them signal he was concealing a gun. Did Jay know they were cops? Accounts differ about whether or not they were in plain clothes or uniform, but it might not have matter even if he knew they were cops. It’s not uncommon for black men in Baltimore to take off running when the police start for them. Jay had some brushes with the law in the past.
Speaker 10: [inaudible 00:37:38]. Franklin and Fulton.
Speaker 11: You said Franklin and Fulton?
Mary Rose M.: Jay was running through streets and alleys. Finally, he reached this overpass bordered by this chain link fence.
Speaker 12: 1800 block of Franklin. There’s something down on the underpass on the [inaudible 00:37:53].
Speaker 13: [inaudible 00:37:53] there with her?
Mary Rose M.: Route 40 runs through West Baltimore. Jay squeezed through a narrow opening here and clung to the fence 70 feet above the highway.
PART 2 OF 3 ENDS [00:38:04]
Mary Rose: Here and clung to the fence 70 feet above the highway. Back at the apartment, Jay’s fiance, Linda Hammond, who everyone calls Precious, started wondering what was taking Jay so long. She went outside to look for him.
Linda Hammond: Well, I see one of Jay’s friends and he’s crying and he’s running through the back alley and he’s crying and he’s just saying, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” And I just kept asking him what’s wrong and he wouldn’t tell me what was wrong.
Mary Rose: Precious found the spare key, jumped in the car, and followed police sirens and helicopters to the bridge.
Speaker 14: He just jumped off the overpass.
Linda Hammond: And I looked down and I see a shoe.
Speaker 14: He’s hanging.
Linda Hammond: I see a sheet. And he was covered up.
Speaker 14: [inaudible 00:38:54] he fell over and was hit by a car.
Linda Hammond: I see his hand outside of the sheet.
Speaker 15: You said he got hit by a car?
Linda Hammond: And the police officer asked me do I know who this person is? And they took the sheet off of him.
Mary Rose: Jay had fallen from the fence he was clinging to and was hit by a car.
Linda Hammond: Only thing I was told on that day was he fit the description of a drug dealer that robbed somebody.
Mary Rose: So how did Jay end up dead and what happened in the minutes before he fell onto the highway? The radio dispatches that day tell only part of the story. I went to see Jay’s father.
John G.C.: My name is John Gideon Cook the third. My son’s name was John Gideon Cook the fourth. We always called him Jay.
Mary Rose: Mr. Cook and I sat together at the dining room table. I asked Mr. Cook to tell me what he remembered about the day Jay died.
John G.C.: As I went up Fulton Avenue, I saw some police activity. I had no idea it was about my son who had just passed away. When I got to the house, Precious informed me and shortly thereafter my wife came up and we had to tell her. It hurt so much. So, so, so, so much. We didn’t know why. We didn’t know what happened. We had no idea, but all we knew is that our son was no longer here.
Mary Rose: Mr. Cook said he went to the police station for answers.
John G.C.: Couldn’t even get an incident report because they kept on stalling me with the, “Well, we’re still working on it. We haven’t completed it yet.”
Mary Rose: The cops did tell Mr. Cook that they found a gun on Jay. That’s impossible, his dad thought. No way was his son packing a gun.
John G.C.: We wrote letter to the Department of Justice, to our congressmen, to the governor asking everybody for some kind of help on what took place here.
Mary Rose: Years went by and the Cook family wasn’t any closer to finding out what happened to Jay.
John G.C.: That’s why we dug in, and initially we weren’t looking to sue the city. We just wanted answers, but because we couldn’t get answers, we then felt as if we needed to get some legal counsel.
Mary Rose: The Cooks hired a lawyer who’d been recommended by a relative.
Mary Rose: Hi.
Olu Abiona: Hi, how are you?
Mary Rose: Good, I’m Mary Rose.
Olu Abiona: How are you doing? Nice to meet you.
Mary Rose: Nice to meet you.
Mary Rose: Olu Abiona works out of a row house in Philadelphia. His first floor office is crammed with secondhand furniture. He sits down at a large oak desk and starts to describe the case that he says blew his mind when he first heard about it.
Olu Abiona: When I think back to what happened to Mr. Cook, sometimes it gets me upset.
Mary Rose: Abiona told the Cooks to consider a civil lawsuit, but he told them they didn’t have much time.
Olu Abiona: Let me make it clear. This incident happened back in 2007, but it was sometime in 2009 that my clients first contacted me about it.
Mary Rose: The years the Cook family had spent trying to get answers on their own had put them dangerously close to the three year mark when the statue of limitations would run out. Abiona had to act quickly, but he didn’t have much to go on. First, he sent out a private investigator and he found two witnesses who said they saw what happened that day at the fence. The Baltimore police had finally given the Cook family the incident report from August 2007. It said, quote, “Officer Dwayne Green was in the area when he noticed an individual who he suspected was in possession of a handgun. A slight foot pursuit ensued.” With just the two witnesses and the police report, Abiona filed a suit. It claimed that Jay’s constitutional rights were violated, starting when the police first spotted Jay in the alley and chased him.
Olu Abiona: I mean, this said that the way he appeared it looked like he might have had a weapon on him. They didn’t say they saw a weapon. That stop in and of itself was racially motivated and in violation of his constitutional rights.
Mary Rose: Abiona filed a civil rights suit against the police commissioner, officers Dwayne Green and Raymond Howard, who were named in the incident report, and the City of Baltimore.
Mary Rose: The pre-trial process got underway with discovery. Both sides are supposed to turn over evidence to each other by a mutually determined date, but the police department didn’t turn over much at all, so Abiona filed a subpoena to get them to produce everything they had related to the Cook case. He also asked for the department’s policy and procedures on excessive force, stop and frisk, and how officers determined reasonable suspicion. Abiona says this information was crucial to his case.
Olu Abiona: If you’re looking at a police department where they have a custom and practice of just stopping and frisking black people, more than 80% of that stop and frisk does not in fact result in an arrest. That is discriminatory stop and frisk. It is racial profiling, which is part of my client’s case. So I’m asking them to produce information that might support that claim.
Mary Rose: The police said the documents about the department’s policies and procedures were privileged, but they said they would provide the files relating to Jay’s death. The judge quickly ruled. He said the police didn’t have to turn over anything, even the materials related to Jay Cook. The pre-trial process wasn’t going well for Abiona. He had to begin the depositions with little evidence and only one of his witnesses would testify against the police.
Speaker 16: [inaudible 00:45:41] number one in the deposition of Shamika Summers.
Mary Rose: Shamika Summers lived across the street from the route 40 overpass and said that on the afternoon of August 14th, 2007 she was sitting outside on the steps to her house.
Olu Abiona: Tell the jury what did you observe. What did you see?
Shamika Summers: I observed him running.
Mary Rose: Shamika had a bad toothache. She speaks slowly and in the deposition video, you can see her holding her cheek. A warning, there’s some offensive language here.
Shamika Summers: And I saw cops running behind him. I saw him walk up like on the bridge part.
Olu Abiona: And then what happened when you saw that?
Shamika Summers: He was trying to hide in the bushes on the fence from the police, but they saw him. And they was shaking the fence.
Olu Abiona: Who was shaking the fence?
Shamika Summers: Was a white cop shaking the fence. He was shaking the fence and calling him names.
Olu Abiona: Calling who names?
Shamika Summers: Jay, saying he was a dumb nigga.
Olu Abiona: Who was saying Jay was a dumb nigger?
Shamika Summers: The cop, [inaudible 00:46:45], the red hatted one, white cop.
Mary Rose: The lawyer for the Baltimore Police Department also questioned Shamika.
Speaker 17: Well, given that you were an eye witness to this man falling, did you think it was important to go over and to tell the police what you saw?
Shamika Summers: At the time, no, sir.
Speaker 17: And why not?
Shamika Summers: I didn’t wanna talk to the police, sir.
Speaker 17: Why not?
Mary Rose: In the video deposition, you see Shamika look at the lawyer for the police department in disbelief. Her eyes wide as if she’s saying, “Are you serious?”
Shamika Summers: ‘Cause I didn’t want to talk to them. They coulda did me the same way they did him.
Speaker 17: So you were afraid to talk to the police because they would throw you over the wall to the highway below?
Shamika Summers: I don’t know what they may do to me, sir.
Mary Rose: But back to the cop with the red hat that Shamika mentioned. Abiona showed her photos the police had taken.
Olu Abiona: Now I want you to go through the pictures one at a time. Tell us if you recognize any of the people there that was around the fence that day.
Shamika Summers: Yeah. I recognize that cop.
Olu Abiona: Who’s that?
Shamika Summers: That’s the one was chasing him.
Olu Abiona: That was the one chasing Jay?
Shamika Summers: Yeah. Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Mary Rose: The officer Shamika Summers circled was Jared Fried. Abiona hadn’t named him in the lawsuit because his name wasn’t in the police report. The cops who were named in the report were Officer Raymond Howard and Officer Dwayne Green. So what did they say in their depositions? Abiona questioned Green first. In the report, he’s the one who chased Jay to the fence.
Olu Abiona: Did you ever participate in any way, shape, or form regarding an incident at the route 40 overpass on August 14th, 2007?
Dwayne Green: Yes, sir. Upon hearing the foot pursuit, I drove on the highway in the event that he was going to proceed to run on the highway.
Mary Rose: Green said he didn’t chase Jay. He wasn’t even at the fence. That same day, Officer Raymond Howard gave a deposition. He’s the officer who wrote and signed the incident report.
Olu Abiona: In preparing your report, did you talk to any police officers to get information as to how the accident happened?
Raymond Howard: Yes.
Olu Abiona: Which officers did you talk to?
Mary Rose: Howard told Abiona that he talked to a detective who had arrived after Jay’s death.
Olu Abiona: Who else did you talk to?
Raymond Howard: I didn’t talk to anybody else. The information that was given to me was that Officer Green was the person that was chasing the gentleman.
Mary Rose: So Officer Howard wrote the police report using only secondhand information. One more officer gave a deposition, Officer Haywood Bradley testified that he heard the dispatcher on his radio and arrived to see Jay hanging from the ledge of the highway overpass. He said he immediately started trying to rescue Jay.
Haywood Bradley: I cut my shirt, my pants getting over the fence. I finally got over the fence. And that’s when I saw him. His face was looking up at me. I was telling him, “Hold on, man. I’m coming. Just hold on.” I reached out to grab him. He fell.
Olu Abiona: Like to take a minute?
Haywood Bradley: No, I’m okay.
Mary Rose: In the video deposition, you can see Bradley wipe away tears.
Haywood Bradley: I watched him fall, car ran over him. I started screaming for help.
Mary Rose: Bradley, who’s African-American, described what another officer said to him after Jay fell. Again, a warning here about offensive language.
Haywood Bradley: He said to me, “You need to calm down. I don’t know why you worried. It’s just one less drug dealer we gotta worry about. One less piece of [inaudible 00:50:36].”
Olu Abiona: An officer said, “This is one less nigger we have to deal with.”
Haywood Bradley: He did say that, too.
Mary Rose: When Bradley described what happened at the fence, he named other police officers who weren’t in the incident report. Two of them were named Angela Choi and Jared Fried. Remember, Fried was the officer Shamika Summers identified as chasing Jay to the fence that day.
Olu Abiona: Did you see Officer Dwayne Green at the scene that day?
Haywood Bradley: No.
Mary Rose: At this point, it’s clear. Abiona had named the wrong cops in the lawsuit because the wrong cops were named in the incident report.
Olu Abiona: The report that they gave to my client was totally false.
Mary Rose: There were other police documents and they confirmed what Officer Bradley had said. Officers Fried and Choi were at the fence the day Jay died. The police department had that evidence in their custody the whole time and it should have been handed over during discovery. Abiona tried to add Fried and Choi to the lawsuit.
Olu Abiona: I filed a motion to the judge letting him know this [inaudible 00:51:42] newly discovered evidence that we did not have, which changes everything because they have been leading us to think it was Officer Green that was initially involved with my client. There was no other way to know.
Mary Rose: But the judge denied Abiona’s motion. He cited procedural rules. Abiona had missed the deadline to add new parties to the suit. Abiona had had what he called ample time to learn the real identities of the officers involved before filing. The judge said the plaintiffs had no one but themselves to blame.
Olu Abiona: The police department intentionally lied and lied for years. Maybe if you had told the truth from the beginning there would not be an issue of a deadline being missed.
Mary Rose: Abiona did make mistakes. The most glaring was that he sued a black officer for chasing Jay even though the witnesses said the cop was white. In February of 2011, the judge dismissed the lawsuit. He wrote in his opinion that Abiona hadn’t shown due diligence, that the police hadn’t acted in a way that shocked the conscience. To the cops, Jay was a suspicious character, just another black guy running in Baltimore. To his parents and Precious, he was their kid, their love, scared for his life.
Linda Hammond: He didn’t have a gun. He was going to the store to get a money order for the rent.
Mary Rose: Did Jay have a gun? None of the witnesses, even the police, saw him with one. What they did see was Officer Choi removing a gun from his body and there are more questions. Were the officers chasing Jay in uniform or in plain clothes? I tried to interview Officers Choi and Fried. The police department wouldn’t make them available and they never responded to private requests. I wanted to ask them did Officer Fried shake the fence Jay was clinging to?
Mary Rose: About 10 years after Jay Cook died, the justice department came to Baltimore to investigate the police department.
Speaker 18: Good morning. Today the Department of Justice announces the outcome of our investigation and issues a 163 page report detailing our findings.
Mary Rose: The report confirmed what Abiona was trying to prove in his lawsuit for the Cook family, that the police used racial profiling, that they used force excessively. The report even confirmed that some officers used the n-word when on the job with no repercussions.
Mary Rose: So what happened to the officers in Jay Cook’s case? Officer Howard, who got the facts wrong on the report of Jay’s death, left the force a month after the incident to become a police officer in Delaware. Haywood Bradley, the black cop who was there when Jay died, filed a discrimination suit of his own against the department several years later. The suit was dismissed and Bradley is no longer a policeman. Angela Choi is still on the Baltimore police force, so is Jared Fried, the cop a witness said shook the fence Jay was hanging onto.
Al Letson: Mary Rose Madden reported today’s episode. Debra George was the senior editor. Our producer was [inaudible 00:55:15] Diaz Cortes and we had research help from Ben Spear at WYPR. Today’s show was a coproduction with WYPR in Baltimore. Our sound design team is the dynamic duo Jay Breazy, Mr. Jim Briggs and Fernando, my man, yo, Arruda. Our acting CEO is [inaudible 00:55:30]. Amy Paul’s our editor in chief. Our executive producer is Kevin Sullivan. Our theme music is by [inaudible 00:55:36]. Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Johnathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation. Reveal is a coproduction of the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. I’m Al Letson and remember, there is always more to the story.