Police Task Force Victim: 'Everybody's Life Is Destroyed'The Gun Trace Task Force trial reveals lives ruined, money stolen, and emotional wreckage
|By Brandon Soderberg |
It was toward the end of the day at the Gun Trace Task Force trial of Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor yesterday when Ronald Hamilton, whose home was raided without a warrant by the GTTF in July 2016, finally had enough.
On the stand, he received too many nagging, loaded questions about where and how he got his money and not enough about what he believed to be the real issue at hand: the full extent of the GTTF's reign of terror. So, when Christopher Nieto, the defense attorney for Taylor, asked one more time about the $17,000 in cash he put down for his half-a-million dollar home in Westminster, Hamilton blew up.
“I put $17,000 down on the house. You wanna know it right? I put $17,000 down,” he said.
Then he got loud: “THIS RIGHT HERE DESTROYED MY WHOLE FUCKING FAMILY MAN. . . . EVERYBODY'S LIFE IS DESTROYED, MAN. . . . THEY CAME IN MY HOUSE AND DESTROYED MY FAMILY. . . . I'M GETTING DIVORCED BECAUSE OF THIS.”
He added that his kids are afraid to go in their own house now, his wife waits at the nearby Wal-Mart if she gets home from work before Hamilton does because she doesn't like to enter the house alone, and she's taking medication for stress caused by the raid.
“You want the facts?” he asked Nieto. “Is this what you want?”
Hamilton's invective was aimed at the pack of federally-indicted cops, along with their defense lawyers, whose entire argument, time and time again, implied drug dealers are not only entirely untrustworthy but hardly even allowed to have grievances (or carry cash).
Attorneys went over nearly every transaction Hamilton made over a period of years, pouring over his receipts, gambling records, and properties. But it was the questioning about his home—which, prosecutors allege, was invaded by the rogue cops who had followed him and his wife from a Home Depot store—that set him over the edge.
Hamilton’s outburst may have been one of the pivotal moments in the case, voicing the fear and rage that all of Wednesday's witnesses seemed to feel.
In March 2016, Oreese Stevenson was arrested by Sgt. Wayne Jenkins' pre-GTTF special unit (consisting that night of Taylor, Ward, and Evodio Hendrix) after a friend entered Stevenson's car with a backpack for a cocaine deal. Jenkins and Ward told Stevenson they approached because his windows were tinted too dark—Stevenson said they weren't tinted “at all”—and Jenkins jumped in the car, grabbed the backpack of money (which Stevenson said he expected to have contained $21,500), and later took Stevenson's house keys.
Soon after, Keona Holloway, Stevenson's girlfriend, who also testified, got a call from her 12-year-old son that cops were at the house, so she left her nursing job early. Inside the house, Jenkins showed her a piece of paper and claimed it was a warrant. She also said he recorded video of them entering the house, recreating their entry (when GTTF's Maurice Ward testified last week, he said that during that same incident they recreated discovery of a safe in the basement).
Stevenson later spotted discrepancies between what he had when he was arrested and what was seized. He said there would have been $21,500 in the car but police said they seized $15,000; he said he had $300,000 in a safe but police said they seized $100,000; and he said he had 10 kilograms of cocaine in a safe but police said they seized 8 kilograms.
“I've never seen them stop a car and run right into the house that way,” Stevenson said, reflecting on how the arrest began.
In August 2016, Dennis Armstrong was pulled over by GTTF's Hersl, Jenkins, and Momodu Gondo but sped off, lobbing cocaine out of his van and onto the street to destroy the evidence. When cops nabbed him after he drove down a dead end street and ran off on foot, they drove his van to a storage facility where he kept his coke, they had learned. He never consented to them accessing the storage unit.
Armstrong was charged with possession, possession with intent to distribute, driving without a seatbelt, and driving with a minor in the car without a seatbelt (he did not have a minor in the car). When he got out of jail, he got his watch, belt, and a bunch of lottery tickets back. He also learned GTTF had claimed they had only seized $2,800 when he said he had $8,000 in his van. And the 2 kilograms of coke he said he had inside his storage locker were not there and his storage locker was wrecked.
The possession charge—for which he received two years probation—was for what amounted to a few “crumbs” of coke, Armstrong said.
In September 2016, Sergio Summerville, who was experiencing homelessness at the time, had his friend Fats drive him to his storage facility near the Horseshoe Casino where he kept his belongings and the “small amounts” of cocaine and heroin he was selling. On the way out of the facility, two unmarked police cars pulled up to Fats' car. Jenkins claimed they were DEA and had a warrant, and Hersl said they knew Summerville was a big deal drug dealer “from the Avenue.”
Summerville said that he was offered “freedom” if he gave up information on other dealers, and that when they finally let his friend Fats go, Summerville shouted out the code so he could exit the storage facility and that Hersl saved the code in his phone. When Summerville tried to look at Hersl's phone, Hersl elbowed him. Summerville was eventually let go too and never charged with a crime. He said GTTF stole $4800 out of a sock in his storage unit where he hid his money.
“They came at me like a gang or something,” Summerville said.
The day's lineup of witnesses—all of whom had immunity—show the extent of the GTTF's targets: big time and small time dealers, current and former, some charged with crimes and some not at all.
But this cast of characters also illustrates the specific nature of drug dealing in a deindustrialized city like Baltimore—dealing as a dependable, dangerous side hustle and hardly glamorous, even if you're shipping out plenty of product. Stevenson is currently a truck driver and had the job on and off again while dealing. He was using money he earned to start an Assisted Living service with his girlfriend Holloway. Armstrong's day job was a maintenance worker for public housing; and Summerville sold while he was homeless—now he works as a caterer.
GTTF's alleged actions didn't stop at those who dabbled in dealing though. Gregory Thompson, a maintenance man for the storage facility near the casino, is about as “square” as you can get, and testified that Jenkins and Hersl intimidated him the night of the September 2016 incident with Summerville.
The commotion caused by the GTTF stopping Summerville and Fats caused Thompson to come out to see what was going on. Jenkins and Hersl—he had a hard time remembering who said what—asked to see the facility's security cameras and he told him they would need a warrant for that. They didn't like that answer, got “about a foot and a half” away from him, and threatened him.
“You look like someone who needs to get robbed,” Thompson said Jenkins or Hersl told him—he couldn't remember which one had said it.
“As far as I'm concerned, they both said it to me,” Thompson added.
Thompson's life wasn't destroyed by the encounter that night, but he was clearly shaken and angry, more than a year later.