By Stephen Janis, Special to the AFRO
An already notorious group of Baltimore police officers facing allegations of theft, overtime fraud and racketeering were hit with new charges this week, expanding both the scope of their alleged crimes and raising questions about how a previously-celebrated gun unit appeared to operate with impunity.
The superseding indictment handed down by a federal grand jury this week outlines a series of brazen thefts by three members of department’s Gun Trace Task Force: Sergeant Wayne Earl Jenkins, age 37; Detective Daniel Thomas Hersl, age 48; and Detective Marcus Roosevelt Taylor, age 30.
Indicted officers, Hersl, Taylor and Jenkins. (Courtesy Photo)
The Gun Trace Task Force was the most recent iteration of specialized enforcement units that have executed the city’s tough on crime strategy since the advent of zero tolerance policing in the early 2000s; Like its predecessors, district Flex Squads and later The Violent Crimes Impact Division, the unit was given wide latitude to target violent offenders in order to remove guns from the streets. Officers selected for the task force often sought out the assignment, sources told The Afro.
The new charges include enlisting civilians to execute an alleged home invasion, stealing large amounts of cash from business owners and drug dealers, as well as additional charges of collecting overtime while on vacation.
The new indictment alleges that between 2011 and 2016 the officers stole $280,000 in cash, large amounts of drugs, and a wrist watch worth $4,000.
Earlier this year, Jenkins, Hersl, and Taylor along with four other officers from the task force were indicted for robbery, drug dealing, and overtime fraud. But the new charges add a level of detail to how the officers planned and executed thefts while police officials publicly extolled their ability to take guns off the streets on a near daily basis.
In a written statement, the U.S. Attorney’s office alleges during the spring of 2015 Jenkins stole 20 pounds of marijuana and $20,000 from drug dealers in Belvedere Towers, a North Baltimore apartment complex. After the heist, Jenkins met fellow officers in the woods off Northern Parkway to split the proceeds. Later, the indictment says Jenkins traveled to a Baltimore County strip club and robbed an exotic dancer.
The indictment also describes in detail a June 2014 raid on a liquor store in the southeast neighborhood of Brooklyn. During the raid one of the task force members asked the owner if there was cash on the premises; when she told them she had $20,000 to pay a tax lien, the officers called off the raid and left.
Later, they used a police database to locate the home address of the owner. Then officers enlisted two civilians, identified as Thomas Robert Finnegan and David Kendall Rahim to execute a home invasion. To ensure that the victim could not call for help, a member of the task force parked his car outside the home to intercept police summoned during the robbery.
The indictment also accuses Jenkins of giving an unnamed co-defendant drugs and a gun seized during a raid to sell to pay off a debt. The co-defendant sold the gun to a drug dealer.
Looming over the recent revelations is the unanswered question of how the group tasked with confiscating guns were able to commit a series of brazen crimes without intervention. Some of the alleged offenses occurred during the summer of 2016 while Justice department investigators were scrutinizing police tactics and strategies, which a subsequent and damming report concluded systematically violated the constitutional rights of African-Americans.
But for some residents familiar with police tactics in Baltimore the burgeoning scandal comes as little surprise. Writer D Watkins, author of the critically acclaimed book, “The Beast Side: Living and Dying While Black in America,” said the indictments recount behavior that was commonplace in his neighborhood.
“This is normal, everyday police stuff for me, this is how I grew up in America,” Watkins told the AFRO. “We look at what these cops did and say, wow, this is crazy. But the truth is we’ve been speaking out about this type of behavior for a long time, and nobody did anything about it.