By Stephen Janis and Taya Graham
Special to the AFRO
Maryland’s highest court has ruled Baltimore must pay judgments involving several members of the corrupt Gun Trace Task Force.
The Maryland Court of Appeals released the decision this week ordering the city to pay settlements against three officers for planting guns on two Baltimore men who spent time in jail for crimes they did not commit.
The ruling comes after the city argued in a series of motions that the department could not be held liable because the actions of the officers were “outside” the scope of their duties.
But the court took exception to the city’s plea, arguing the department’s command staff should have been aware the specialized unit was shaking down residents, dealing drugs and stealing overtime.
“Given the seriousness of the conspiracy, the length of time of the conspiracy, the number of former members of The Gun Trace Task Force who participated in the conspiracy….it is reasonable to conclude the Department should have known of the misconduct,” the court wrote in the ruling.
The ruling applies to judgments won by two plaintiffs, Ivan Potts and the estate of William James. Both men were wrongfully arrested by members of the GTTF after the now notorious unit planted guns on them. Both settled for judgments totaling $32,000 per officer.
Potts was stopped in 2015 by Evodio Hendrix, Wayne Jenkins, and Maurice Ward, all members of the GTTF. Despite lacking probable cause, the officers accused him of having a gun. When a search determined he did not possess a weapon, the officers produced a gun, and then beat Potts into submission as they tried to force the gun into his hands.
Potts was arrested and convicted after a trial. He served roughly two years of a seven-year sentence.
William James was driving with his girlfriend on Hillen Road in 2016 when he was stopped without probable cause by Jenkins, Jemell Rayam and Marcus Taylor. The officers told Williams they would not arrest him if he provided information on someone who possessed a gun. When he refused, the trio produced a gun and arrested him.
James spent seven months in prison. While he was incarcerated his house went into foreclosure. In 2017 James was murdered.
The city generally indemnifies officers who face civil lawsuits, paying any damages resulting from settlements with victims. But for cases involving GTTF members, the city has argued state law exempts them because their actions fall outside the scope of their employment and were not authorized by their department.
But the court determined the GTTF’s behavior actually met the legal threshold of classifying their activity as within the scope of employment. Among the criteria, was if the officers were acting for personal gain solely and if their activities were generally part of their daily duties.
“By holding that the officers acted within the scope of employment, we ensure not only that Potts’ and James’ estate have remedy, but also that the ultimate responsibility for the officers’ misconduct rests with the government entities that employed and supervised them – namely the city and the department,” the court wrote in the decision.
The court warned that their determination did not apply to all lawsuits pending against the city involving GTTF members. Currently the city is battling roughly 20 lawsuits seeking damages for false arrests and brutality claims against former members of the corrupt unit.
But the ruling also means city taxpayers are on the hook for the actions of the group that victimized them. A dilemma one candidate for city council says warrants a thorough examination of who ultimately pays for officers’ misdeeds.
“The thing that hurts me about this, is that the same communities that were terrorized by these officers for years are going to be taxed again for their crimes,” 4th district council candidate Logan Endro told the AFRO.
“You’re not really holding the department accountable, you’re just penalizing the people they abused.”