Some of the alleged victims of the Gun Trace Task Force speak out about their experiences being targeted by those officers at a press conference held by defense attorney Ivan Bates.
Justin Fenton, The Baltimore Sun
Jamal Walker remembers his own encounter with corrupt Baltimore Police officer Wayne Jenkins, nearly seven years before the officer’s arrest for robbing citizens under the guise of drug investigations.
Walker said he was sitting in his vehicle in East Baltimore, when Jenkins and a partner asked him to get out. They said they smelled marijuana, though Walker said he wasn’t smoking. Inside the vehicle, Walker said he had $40,000 in cash destined for the bank. Only $20,000 was reported seized, he and his attorney say.
Prosecutors dropped the criminal charges months later, a common occurrence with Jenkins’ cases even before he was under criminal indictment.
Walker and his wife were among a group of people gathered at a news conference Friday who said authorities enabled the Gun Trace Task Force officers by failing to stop them.
“The more it went on, the worse it got,” Walker said. He said the officers thought “like cowboys — we do what we want to do. … until they did too much.”
The alleged victims were brought together by defense attorney Ivan Bates, who is running for Baltimore State’s Attorney against Marilyn J. Mosby. Bates said he has represented about 20 people who were arrested by Jenkins, including two who have testified at the federal racketeering trial of two Gun Trace Task Force officers that continues next week.
Jenkins has pleaded guilty to committing several robberies and providing stolen drugs to an associate to resell. He is one of six officers to plead guilty in the case.
Bates said Jenkins’ questionable policing was apparent in each case, but police and prosecutors failed to intervene. He called on prosecutors to reverse convictions of those arrested by the officers, and take others off probation.
“We cannot move on and make change unless we really acknowledge the problem,” Bates said.
The event took on political overtones given Bates’ ambitions. Those who spoke all discussed a “need for change,” with several touting Bates’ candidacy.
Mosby dismissed the criticisms.
“I realize this is campaign season for those seeking elected office and over the next few months, I fully understand that my administration will be attacked; and while people are entitled to their own opinion, they are certainly not entitled to their own facts,” she said in a statement. “There is no question as to my willingness to hold everyone accountable when they run afoul of the law. It is clear that under my administration, there is one standard of justice for everyone in Baltimore City and we will continue enforce it.”
But former deputy public defender Natalie Finegar, now a private defense attorney who appeared at Bates’ event, said Mosby’s office was shirking accountability.
“They not only turned their backs on the possibility that these officers were doing horrible things and violating the law — they actually encouraged it by letting these officers get away with things time after time after time,” Finegar said.
She displayed an internal memo from January 2016, after Det. Jemell Rayam, who has admitted to a decade’s worth of crimes, was admonished by a Circuit Court judge. She said prosecutors “continued to prosecute [Rayam’s] cases, continued to fight the disclosure of records.”
Deborah Katz Levi, an assistant public defender, on Friday offered another example. She said prosecutors tried to use as a witness Officer Sharod Watson, who is under investigation by the Police Department after falsely claiming he surveilled a drug suspect for 18 months when the man was incarcerated for 12 of those months. Though The Sun reported that Watson was under investigation, Levi said prosecutors did not disclose the investigation to defense attorneys as they are required to.
Levi was not a participant in Bates’ event, but leads an initiative by the public defender’s office to track police misconduct.
At Bates’ law office, Andre Crowder, wearing a “Cherry Hill” chain around his neck, said he had been wrongly pulled over in 2016 by four officers from the gun unit. Three of them have pleaded guilty in the racketeering case.
Crowder, 30, said he was driving in a dark area with tinted windows, but the officers claimed he was pulled over for a seat belt violation and searched his car, finding a gun. He claims $10,000 was taken later during a search of his home.
He was jailed for three days before he could post bail. During that time, his 3-year-old son passed away.
“It’s bigger than the charge they put on me,” he said. “The mark they put on my record, the cash that was took, all of that, it doesn’t matter, because I wasn’t there to spend the last moments of my son’s life with him because of this situation…
“If we can’t trust the police, who can we trust? If we can’t trust the state’s attorney’s office to make sure the police are doing their job, who can we trust?” Crowder said.
Jovonne Walker, whose husband was arrested by Jenkins and Sgt. Keith Gladstone in 2010, said the officers came to her home and tried to force their way inside. She set off the alarm system, calling other officers to the scene. Gladstone, who retired from the department shortly after the gun task force indictments, has not been charged with a crime.
“That’s not something a mother of three, a wife, a college graduate, wants to go through,” Walker said. “I’m glad our voices are being heard, so that everybody can understand that all the people who’ve been arrested, they’re not bad people. … There’s another side of the story.”
Shawn Whiting, a man who testified at the Gun Trace Task Force trial under immunity, said “there’s definitely more police out there” committing abuses who should be exposed.
“Everybody thinks this is over,” Whiting said. “This ain’t over. This has just begun.”