When a former Baltimore Police Commissioner suggested to a subordinate that he put child pornography on a problem cop’s computer, at least one person in the room wasn’t sure if it was a joke or not. That’s just one of the many anecdotes of misconduct detailed in a shocking report on the Baltimore Police Department released last week.
According to the report, Sean Malone, the police department Chief of Legal Affairs at the time, overheard former Baltimore Commissioner Ed Norris openly discussing Robert Richards, a cop who was “among the most vocal of the Black BPD members on the issue of racial discrimination,” and who was also “accused by five female police officers under his command of sexual harassment—actions that included exposing himself.”
“Richards will probably have child pornography on his computer in a few weeks,” Malone recalled Norris saying to others in the room.
That anecdote, by the way, is hidden in a footnote, which is to say: This massive 515-page report is teeming with stories of misconduct, abuses of power, and straight-up illegal activity.
Another one: In September 2000, a cop named Brian Sewell planted drugs on a teenager he identified as a local dealer who had frequently evaded drug charges. The problem was: The drugs Sewell planted on the teenager were swiped from a nearby park bench—and those drugs had, in turn, been planted there by other Baltimore cops as an “integrity sting” to see what Sewell would do if he stumbled upon drugs.
Sewell did not pass the test.
The report, titled “Anatomy of The Gun Trace Task Force Scandal: Its Origins, Causes, and Consequences,” is ostensibly a look at how the 2017 Gun Trace Task Force scandal involving stealing and drug-dealing cops came to be, but anecdotes such as the two above reach all the way back to the early 2000s. The result is a damning presentation of how, on both a micro and macro level, the Baltimore Police Department has been awash in corruption and rights-violating behavior for decades.
The report illustrates how the “Gun Trace Task Force,” created to trace guns and connect them to shootings and gun dealers—similar to tactics used when building a drug case—quickly became another police squad running around Baltimore and chasing anybody (and, mostly, young Black men) who might be in possession of a weapon. Many of the squad’s members, including those who were later indicted, were well-known problem officers racking up internal affairs complaints with little consequence.
Kevin A. Jones, the commander who transitioned the unit to this even more chaotic, even less effective approach to policing, and who seemingly overlooked internal affairs complaints, is still with the department.
“The GTTF under Jones did not express any special interest in—nor had they shown any aptitude for—the investigations and analysis needed to make cases,” the report says. “The abandonment of the GTTF’s original mission was reflected in various ways, including in the personnel selections made by Jones, which included Momodu Gondo and Jemell Rayam. Jones had previously supervised both men in an operations squad and felt comfortable with them, even though neither had shown any particular investigative or analytic talent.”
The report also notes how, after Sgt. Wayne Jenkins (who would later oversee GTTF) was shown to have lied about the nature of a 2014 car stop where he apparently helped plant cocaine in a man’s car, internal affairs was encouraged to back off and reduce Jenkins’ punishment. Darryl DeSousa, who was a deputy commissioner at the time (and, later, police commissioner), supposedly intervened on Jenkins’ behalf. The report notes that DeSousa was “known throughout BPD as someone with little interest in or commitment to accountability.” It later adds that when the report’s investigators spoke to DeSousa, he “somewhat lamely said he had ‘no clue’ that any of the GTTF members were ‘involved in any of this,’ and that he would have increased the punishment if he had known.”
DeSousa himself served time in federal prison due to the fallout from the scandal when it was revealed he had been lying about his income on his taxes.
By all accounts, even while racking up arrest numbers and gun seizure numbers, GTTF was unsuccessful at reducing crime—and often created crime.
Data obtained by Battleground Baltimore shows that in 2007, the year GTTF was founded, Baltimore Police seized 3,495 guns. That year, there were 282 murders and 651 nonfatal shootings.
In 2016, the last full year GTTF was operational, there were 318 murders and 666 nonfatal shootings. The police seized 2,124 guns that year.
In 2018, the year after GTTF was federally indicted, Baltimore Police actually seized more guns than it had in years, with 3,911 guns seized. That year there were 309 murders and 677 nonfatal shootings.
The independent investigation was overseen by law firm Steptoe & Johnson and was paid for by the City.
“Our investigation demonstrated that the corruption within the GTTF began long before the officers joined forces on that squad, and was by no means limited to that squad,” lead investigator Michael R. Bromwich said in a press statement. “Our investigation also revealed that several of the officers involved were known to engage in misconduct on a continuing basis, but that the internal mechanisms within BPD were inadequate to the task of disciplining them appropriately and terminating them when the facts justified it.”
Also, a disclosure: The report cites I Got a Monster, the book about police corruption that I co-authored. My co-author, Baynard Woods, was interviewed for the report.
In terms of the sheer magnitude of corruption, the GTTF report recalls the 2016 Department of Justice investigative report into the Baltimore Police Department—the result of a civil rights investigation into the department following the April 2015 death of Freddie Gray in police custody. That report, which made national headlines, detailed the department’s routine violation of civil rights and flagrant disregard for accountability.
“It’s sad that we need an official report to verify things Black citizens have been saying for decades,” Organizing Black’s Ralikh Hayes told The Intercept back in 2016. “The culture of policing in this city is extremely corrupt and little things like policy reforms won’t fix it.”
That report, apparently, only touched the surface of the rot within BPD. For instance, the DOJ’s report did not uncover the Gun Trace Task Force, the vast, drug-dealing, money-stealing, evidence-planting, criminal conspiracy operating within the Baltimore Police Department. For nearly a decade, a number of police officers and commanders had been either directly involved in this theft-and-drug-dealing ring or had conveniently looked the other way.
In March 2017, months after the DOJ report was released, seven Baltimore police officers were federally indicted as part of the Gun Trace Task Force scandal, which led to the release of last week’s report—much the same way the 2015 police killing of Freddie Gray led to the 2016 DOJ report.
Once again, Baltimore City’s defense attorneys delivered a much-deserved “We told you so” when the GTTF scandal report was released last week. Lawyers who represent Baltimoreans who have had encounters with dirty cops are often the only ones who hear about the extent of police corruption and actually sound the alarm.
Deborah Katz Levi, director of special litigation for Baltimore City’s Office of the Public Defender, had many cases involving GTTF officers and was in charge of going through thousands of their previous cases, locating people who needed to be released from prison.
“The report documents what we, as public defenders, already knew to be true: corruption, violence, and illegality run deep within the Baltimore Police Department—going back decades and ingrained in its culture,” Levi said in a statement. “This is exacerbated by prosecutors who withhold information about corrupt officers and judges who let them act without checks, resulting in the continued abuse, harassment, and wrongful imprisonment of Baltimore residents.”
Defense attorney Ivan Bates had more than 30 cases involving GTTF cops, and his experiences helped lead to the federal indictments against them. In 2018, he ran against Marilyn Mosby for Baltimore City State’s Attorney and lost (and is running again this year). In a statement, he pointed fingers at Mosby’s office in particular.
“The Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office blatantly ignor[ed] the activities of the Gun Trace Task Force (GTTF) and allow[ed] members of the force to testify in court to assist their pursuit of increasing their number of convictions,” Bates said in a statement. “The culture of overlooking corruption in order to elevate the number of convictions must end.”
Bates saw firsthand the city’s prosecutors overlooking this corruption. During a hearing for one of his clients, who was illegally stopped, arrested, and charged with gun and cocaine possession and later had his house broken into by the cops, Bates realized how none of that seemed to matter to prosecutors and judges. Body camera footage of the questionable arrest and subsequent scheming to break into the man’s house was ignored.
“This [case] is a pullover at a gas station,” the assistant state’s attorney told Bates. “So [the body camera footage] has nothing to do with this case.”
Bates’ client in that case only had his charges dropped after the federal indictments.
Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby has not commented on the new report. Then again, Mosby has been quite busy. On Jan. 14, the same day the report was released, Mosby was federally indicted, effectively overshadowing the report—particularly among the national press, where liberal pundits have come to Mosby’s defense with a severe lack of proper context.
The report also includes a number of recommendations on how to change Baltimore Police. Commissioner Michael Harrison, in a letter to Bromwich and company, said many of its recommendations were already implemented.
“Your recommendations provide a clear roadmap; and by implementing them, along with our Consent Decree, BPD can write the next chapter in our history, one that the residents of Baltimore can be proud to call their own,” Harrison wrote.
As Battleground Baltimore has reported, hearings about enacting recommendations introduced in the DOJ report have often focused on ways to provide the police with more resources, including money. Indeed, Baltimore City Council members said that part of the reason why citywide calls to defund the police did not happen is because the Consent Decree compels the city to maintain the police budget.
In this week’s roundup of Baltimore news we talk about burgeoning support for defunding the police, tenants’ rights, and co-ops amid Covid-19.
Residents calling for the City Council to reduce the Baltimore Police Department’s budget have often cited the GTTF scandal as precisely why less money needs to be spent on police.
Following last year’s budget increase, which puts the annual police budget at $555 million, police spending continued to increase throughout the rest of 2021 and into 2022, as Battleground Baltimore reported last week.
At this week’s Board of Estimates hearing, two settlements were approved for victims of the GTTF: one for $120,000, the other for $75,000.
The “Anatomy of The Gun Trace Task Force Scandal: Its Origins, Causes, and Consequences” report itself also cost Baltimore City $4.47 million.
On Jan. 26, there will be a hearing about the report, organized by City Councilperson Mark Conway, chair of the council’s Public Safety and Government Operations Committee.
“The report lays out a number of issues, and failures, that enabled the GTTF’s shocking actions to occur without accountability for years. Its findings are difficult and at times disturbing to read, but necessary for the forward progress of the department,” Conway said in a statement.