Baltimore Detective Accused Of Sexual Harassment, As Hidden Evidence Hinders Fair Trial In Crooked Cop CaseA Gun Trace Task Force-related attempted murder case is dismissed as a law clerk said a Baltimore Police Detective made lewd comments outside courtroom.
by Brandon Soderberg
Charles Smith, a Baltimore man arrested in 2016 by Gun Trace Task Force (GTTF) officers and charged with first-degree attempted murder, had his case dismissed this afternoon. During the proceedings, a police officer, in court as a witness, was accused of sexually harassing a clerk, briefly uniting the prosecution and the defense.
On the night of July 21, 2016, Charles Smith allegedly shot Rodney Thomas near 2300 Wilkens Ave. in front of Pop's Liquors and was arrested by GTTF officers who said they were nearby, heard the shots, and sped over. In a motions trial for the case last month, Smith's attorney Deborah Katz Levi mentioned allegations that GTTF officers involved (Hendrix, Taylor, Ward, and Jenkins) were on drugs at the time of the arrest and were expected to testify had the trial moved forward.
What led to the dismissal of Smith's case today was a serious discrepancy in video evidence provided and video evidence that existed. About minute and a half of security camera footage from Pop's Liquors of the shooting was given to the defense, Levi and John Markus, and to the prosecution, Assistant State's Attorney Natalie Hynum, but contained in evidence was nearly 30 minutes of footage that had been pulled by the Cyber Crimes Unit (approximately 15 minutes before the shooting and 15 minutes afterward). The disc that contained the evidence had remained untouched until the trial because everybody had assumed it was the same as the minute and half of footage already provided by homicide Detective Curtis McMillion, who was in charge of the investigation.
Det. McMillion could not account for why he had not made it clear that this additional footage existed. What it showed greatly complicated the Smith case. While the minute and a half showed someone, who McMillion identified as Charles Smith, shooting Thomas, the 30 minutes of the footage revealed the aftermath of the shooting, including Smith in custody, a crime scene which seemed to show civilians passing through it, and a moment in which a GTTF officer steps on or possibly even kicks a piece of evidence.
“There was some question as to why [the video] wasn't produced,” Levi said outside the courtroom after the dismissal.
“And not just to us, but to the prosecutor herself, [Hynum] never saw the full video which she would have turned over to us,” Markus added.
“She had no reason to believe that what was in that [evidence] envelope wasn't what she was already given,” Levi said.
Judge Marcus Shar characterized the “clear failure to disclose” as “a substantial violation” and stressed that “the timing of the disclosure...on the fourth of fifth day of trial” moved him to dismiss the case. Shar said it was “not an easy decision,” but added that Smith had already spent nearly two years in jail and said it was “a dismissal with prejudice”—in other words, a permanent dismissal.
“The case was dismissed for a discovery violation, related to the cumulative problem of the Gun Trace Task Force officers' unavailability,” Levi said. “And looking at the wider picture, the violation today related to the video left the court feeling like the defendant wasn't going to be able to get a fair trial in the time he was supposed to have it.”
"As part of our extensive review, the state's attorney's office pursued this case because the testimony of the GTTF officers was immaterial and the primary evidence in this case included a video of the shooting and the victim's identification,” SAO spokesperson Melba Saunders wrote in a statement. “The Detectives failed to properly disclose evidence to the prosecutor in this case, which has consequently compromised the entirety of the case and we are now looking into our appellate options."
There were serious logistical problems in bringing GTTF officers to court to testify: they are now in separate federal prisons spread across the country and are not supposed to be in the city at the same time. Additionally, the assumption was that because none of GTTF had been sentenced, they would all plead the fifth if they were brought to court. As for why the police department did not make it clear that there was so much more footage, Levi could not say exactly but suggested, “it could appear that they were attempting to sanitize the GTTF officers” by providing video that did not show the extent of their actions on that night.
“I think that all left us uncomfortable which made us move to dismiss because the client has a right to a fair trial,” Levi said. “That's really what it comes down to.”
Even without the issues with evidence, the Smith case is an example of how GTTF's involvement destroys cases. Even the most basic questions about an investigation are now colored by GTTF's outrageous behavior. At one point, McMillion was asked to identify an unmarked car in video footage and while he assumed it was a police vehicle, Levi pressed him to acknowledge that while that may be a fair assumption about most cases, that was not the case with GTTF. The same went for a few civilians seen moving through the crime scene—that does occasionally happen, but given GTTF's penchant for bringing civilians along for robberies and in some cases even dressing friends up like police, those “civilians” could be people brought to the scene by GTTF. It all highlighted what Levi herself has said about thousands of compromised cases: you cannot try these cases by avoiding the compromised officers—GTTF's over reach compromises everything.
Two days before the dismissal, in a statement press conference in front for the SAO, Ivan Bates, who is running against Marilyn Mosby for the top prosecutor job, called for a dismall of the Smith case, likening the attempt to prosecute cases involving the GTTF to trying to eat around mold in a loaf of bread. “For me it’s simple,” he said. “If those officers are involved, let’s go ahead and move on and dismiss the case. Because now the defense has a right to call those officers to the witness stand. So now what you’ve done is made it a circus.”
The decision interrupted a shocking moment in which Det. Steven Henson of BPD’s Cyber Crimes took the stand and did not immediately have to answer for the video discrepancies but rather for lewd comments he allegedly made to a law clerk (whose name is being withheld here out of respect for victims of harassment), who had made Shar aware of them earlier in the day.
“Did you make any comments about her body?” Shar asked Henson as soon as he was sworn in.
Henson, who was reminded he was under oath, denied the allegation and said that all he had said to the law clerk was “hello.” He repeated this claim multiple times. The room was thick with anger and disgust and the law clerk attempted to maintain her composure.
Earlier in the day there had been a moment during a recess where you could hear a woman raising her voice outside the courtroom and when the law clerk entered moments after that, she appeared visibly angry.
Both Levi and Hynum asked Henson under oath about the comments and he maintained again that all that he said was “hello.” Levi and Hynum proceeded to ask Henson about the possession of a flash drive containing the Pop's Liquor footage but Henson stammered, and the sexual harassment accusation took precedence and made Henson's testimony useless. Henson was dismissed and Hynum asked that Henson's entire testimony be disregarded and they began discussing what to do about the accusation, a serious ethical concern.
Levi wondered if the law clerk should testify right then and there about it if she felt comfortable, but that did not happen—quite possibly in part because of the presence of this reporter who was the only media observing the trial. Ultimately, it was agreed that the law clerk, who was briefly in tears, would provide a written statement, and there was a general characterization of Henson's comments—that they were about the law clerk's “dress and body” and that Henson's comments outside the courtroom had escalated over the past few days.
There was a mix of shock at Henson's alleged behavior and a mindful acknowledgement that this kind of behavior is all too common.
“This has [probably] happened many times [in court] and people are finally willing to speak up about it,” Shar said, breaking the kind, stoic composure he'd maintained throughout the trial. “You'd think that we're past this.”
Collectively, judge, clerks, and counsel said they would be pulling the camera footage outside the courtroom which, although it has no audio, would indicate if the interaction was as brief as Henson claimed or more prolonged.
Last year, Levi filed a complaint against Judge Alfred Nance for comments he made in 2015 telling her to “shut up,” his gendered language (he called Levi among other things, “lady” and “mother hen”) and threatening to put her in jail. The state's commission recommended Nance's resignation but dismissed the case once Nance announced his plans to retire.
While the trial did not get the chance to reveal more outrageous behavior by GTTF, it did reveal the BPD as a department clearly marred by mistrust and toxic masculinity.
The Real News Network reached out to the Baltimore Police Department for comment about the Henson accusations but has not yet received a response.
Additional reporting by Baynard Woods