By Brandon Soderberg and Baynard Woods
Sgt. Wayne Jenkins was out drinking until about three in the morning on Aug. 8, 2016, so the Gun Trace Task Force (GTTF) wasn’t going to get to work until about two in the afternoon. They’d start late, most likely play fast and loose with the hours they worked, claim overtime, and continue their series of “rip and runs,” “sneak and peeks,” and “door pops,” with the occasional robbery of a high-profile drug dealer along the way.
“We’d use law enforcement tactics to target big-time dealers,” Det. Momodu Gondo said on the stand on Feb. 5 during the GTTF corruption trial.
On Aug. 8, 2016 in particular, the GTTF attempted to stop Dennis Armstrong, ended up chasing him through Baltimore in a car when he fled and on foot when he abandoned his van, hit him with some petty charges, stole his money, took his van, and then, without a warrant or Armstrong’s consent, raided his storage facility looking for cocaine.
These kinds of over-the-top street tales have been the talk of the trial. But as the prosecution and the defense rested their cases today, the less sensational overtime claims and lies about when they worked are important to explore as well.
“A nigga’s check was over four grand,” Jemell Rayam boasted on a wiretapped phone call with Gondo, as the two laughed uproariously about how much money they were getting. “I’m gonna get at least $13,000 this month.”
According to Open Baltimore data, which lists Baltimore City employee salaries and gross pay from July 1, 2015 through June 30, 2016, the nine members of GTTF (this includes Officer John Clewell, the only one who has not been indicted) in total earned $436,909.41 in overtime during that period.
After Gondo testified, FBI Special Agent Erika Jensen, who led the GTTF investigation, took the stand and discussed the investigation process, stressing that it is an ongoing investigation and that Jenkins —GTTF’s ringleader and a nearly untouchable, highly connected golden boy in the department—is not cooperating.
With Gondo’s accusation from early in the day—that Deputy Commissioner Dean Palmere (who announced his retirement yesterday) helped coach Rayam and others on how to cover up a shooting—still fresh in everybody’s minds, Jensen’s statement of fact seemed to suggest more indictments are coming. When Jensen’s testimony continued today, Feb. 6, she made it clear that the extent of the BPD’s corruption made her “afraid” to provide information to officials or reach out to certain places for evidence of money spent, such as the Horseshoe Casino, for fear of officers being tipped off.
But for most of her time on the stand, she went over officers on trial Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor’s reported working hours and overtime slips, cross-referencing them with bank records, phone records, and receipts, all adding up to an outrageous degree of fraud: Taylor was in the Dominican Republic from Aug. 5-Aug. 9, 2016 but filed hours (his time out of the country proven by plane ticket purchases and bank withdrawals); Hersl hardly worked in October 2016 while he fixed up his new house in Joppa but filed hours (phone records placed him near the Joppa area most of the month and receipts from Home Depot in Bel Air and Lowes in Abingdon corresponded to phone records).
Testimony today from Det. James Kostoplis, who was briefly in the GTTF, claimed that the entire task force essentially did nothing between October 2016, when Jenkins went on leave after his child was born, and January 2017, when he returned to work.
Shortly after that, Jenkins told Kostoplis, “we’re going to go for a ride real quick.” Hersl was standing beside Jenkins, Kostoplis testified, and all three went out to Jenkins’ van, which drove a short distance before stopping on a side street. Jenkins asked him to leave his phone and police radio in the car. The three men got out and walked to the back of the van.
Jenkins asked Kostoplis what he thought about trailing big drug dealers and robbing them.
“That is a terrible fucking idea,” Kostoplis said. “You can’t have a badge on your chest and do something like that. The fact that law enforcement doesn’t do that is what separates law enforcement from criminals.”
On the stand, Kostoplis was dressed in his uniform. He detailed some of the ways he earned overtime—going over 911 calls for armed people and seeing if he could canvass neighborhoods for more information on guns— in contrast with GTTF’s ornate lies.
GTTF’s overtime hustle shows how the task force came to view getting guns off the street as more of a way to get off work as soon as possible than prevent crime (that’s to say when they weren’t planting guns themselves). It’s the logical result of the kind of statistics-fueled policing long criticized for being essentially a numbers game that inverts policing priorities.
“If we get a gun in maybe 10 minutes,” Gondo said, they would then fill out a report and end their day. “The whole process may take an hour.”
Gondo also repeated some of the same claims made during other GTTF members’ testimony related to the regular practice of signing off on each other’s overtime slips (“If two guys came in and got a gun at four, some who just came in, we would all be [listed as part of the seizure] too”), the existence of “slash days” (“you get guns and you get off the next day”) which Gondo said was common in the department at least since the mid-2000s, and Lt. Christopher O’Ree’s approval to file all of that overtime.
Even the expectation that a police officer is always on call was distorted by GTTF: It mostly meant being beholden to the whims of Jenkins. If, say, Jenkins called, all jacked up about a how he has got “a fuckin’ baller” at a Boston Street condominium on the water where a drug dealer kept a Mercedes G-Class SUV, a Mercedes CLK with a Twin Turbo engine, and a whole bunch heroin, among other things, then you have to be ready to get there—and fast.
“I got to be on standby for this man,” Gondo said.