By Stephen Janis, Special to the AFRO
A lengthy trial that exposed one of the most brazen examples of police corruption in the history of American law enforcement ended in a guilty verdict for two Baltimore Police Department (BPD) officers who served in the now infamous and disbanded Gun Trace Task Force (GTTF).
The convictions mean that a total of eight officers have either been convicted or pled guilty to dozens of crimes that range from dealing synthetic opiates looted during the uprising of 2015 after the death of Freddie Gray, to robbing hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash from both drug dealers and local businesses.
It took two days of deliberation for a federal jury to convict Daniel Hersl, 48 and Marcus Taylor, 31, of robbery, stealing overtime and racketeering charges that could result in sentences in excess of twenty years a piece. Each of the former BPD detectives faces a total of up to 60 years in prison. The jury acquitted the pair on multiple counts of using a gun while committing a crime of violence.
The verdict came after weeks of testimony from the victims of the unit that roamed the city without supervision preying upon an array of residents in search of cash, drugs and valuables.
The testimony recounted a squad that received overtime pay without working and so-called “slash days,” paid time off without taking a vacation day.
During the trial, the courtroom became a forum for stunning revelations about a seemingly ingrained culture of lax oversight, particularly for a police department already under a federal consent decree. Throughout the proceedings former members of the unit who had already pled guilty revealed how top commanders not only ignored, but also encouraged, the unit’s plundering of overtime and reckless approach to policing.
Reaction to the verdict was swift.
Mayor Catherine Pugh, who as recently as last week said she had not been following the trial, promised to repair the rift the scandal had caused between the community and the department.
“I am confident that this sordid chapter of policing culture can be closed as we work each and every day to re-establish the trust and confidence that our citizens need and deserve to have in their police officers,” the mayor said in a statement.
The Baltimore chapter of the NAACP also weighed in, making the argument the community needed more than reform.
“The horrific betrayal the officers perpetuated against the public for their personal enrichment revealed a disturbing culture within the police department that must continue to be rooted out,” NAAPC president Ronald Flamer said in a statement.
“As we move forward the NAACP is concerned about the potential hundreds of citizens who were the target and victims of this task force.”
One of those victims, Ivan Potts, was concerned that the verdict would dim any urgency to help residents arrested by the unit for crimes they did not commit.
“They’re not doing nothing to help me,” Potts told the AFRO.
Potts was arrested by the three members of the GTTF, Evodio Hendrix, Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, and Maurice Ward in October 2015. He says the officers accosted him while he was walking to the store, and immediately began asking him if he knew where they could find a gun.
“They were talking, `where’s the guns, the drugs,’ and I said, I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Potts said.
After he denied possessing a gun, the trio ventured into a nearby alley and returned with a firearm which they claimed was his.
Potts was convicted of gun possession based upon the testimony of the GTTF and sentenced to eight years in jail. Shortly after federal authorities announced the indictments against the GTTF, Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby dropped the charges against Potts after a judge granted him a new trial.
But, the consequences for the lifelong Baltimore resident have been harsh. He’s had trouble finding a permanent job. And he has yet to see his 6-year old daughter.
“It’s been rough for me,” Potts said of life after his release. “So, I’m advocating for people in my situation.”
Last week, Potts testified in Annapolis in favor of a bill introduced by State Del. Bilal Ali, a Baltimore Democrat. The bill would require automatic compensation of $50,000 per year for anyone jailed illegally due to officer misconduct. On Feb. 13 Ali sent a letter to Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh suggesting the city disband the Baltimore Police Department, similar to what Camden, New Jersey did in 2013 following a similar scandal in their police department. The controversial proposal was met with a mixed reaction.
However, Potts says it’s difficult to put a price on years lost sitting jail for a crime he didn’t commit.
“Honestly, I don’t believe anything can repair what has been done. If you’re asking me to put a price on the time I lost, I can’t,” Potts said.
“I would just like to see some kind of change in the justice system.”