Calling BS on the ‘Bad Apples’ Theory of Police Misconduct

September 4, 2019

On this episode of The Police Accountability Report, we tell a harrowing tale of a firsthand experience with drug dealing cops reveals the long and troubling history of police selling narcotics, and calls into question the idea that police corruption is limited to a few bad actors.

On this episode of The Police Accountability Report, we tell a harrowing tale of a firsthand experience with drug dealing cops reveals the long and troubling history of police selling narcotics, and calls into question the idea that police corruption is limited to a few bad actors.


Story Transcript

TAYA GRAHAM: Hello. My name is Taya Graham and welcome to the Police Accountability Report on The Real News Network. As you know, the show has a single focus: holding the politically powerful institution of policing accountable. To do so, we look not just at what police do, but who empowers them to do it. And I want you watching to note that if you have evidence of police misconduct or brutality, please share it with us and we might be able to investigate. Please reach out to us either in the comments, email the Police Accountability Report at therealnews.com, or message us at the Police Accountability Report on Facebook or Eyesonpolice, on Twitter. And of course, you can message me directly at TayasBaltimore on Twitter or Facebook.

Now, this week we’re going to drill down into one of the primary tools that politicians and police leaders alike use to keep law enforcement beyond real scrutiny: the bad apples theory. It’s the idea that when a cop misbehaves, that he or she is an exception. One bad apple in the bunch does not reflect upon the larger institution itself. Once the so called bad apple is removed, the corrupting influence stops there. It’s a trope that’s used continually when scandals emerge.

In fact, when seven officers from the Gun Trace Task Force were indicted in Baltimore for robbing residents, dealing drugs and stealing overtime, much of the media focused on its ringleader, Sergeant Wayne Jenkins, the narrative that he instigated and corrupted his fellow officers. But this notion of the bad apple belies the actual structure of the institution itself, and downplays the immense power— both social, political and legal— conferred upon policing. I’m here with Real News investigative reporter Stephen Janis, and our guest Real News employee, Daryl Lewis. So first, Stephen, can you elaborate a little bit on these bad apples?

STEPHEN JANIS: Well, it’s generally something used to diminish a scandal like saying, “Okay, we found this one bad cop, but there’s nothing wrong with the institution itself.” And when you said, you said something very interesting, “it belies the structure.” Well, first of all, policing is a paramilitary organization. So the idea that someone can just act rogue is just BS. It doesn’t exist. You can’t in a paramilitary structure. You need supervisors. You need the commissioner. You need people to actually say what you’re doing is okay. And we saw in the Gun Trace Task Force scandal that that was actually true. And then we have to remember that police have the power to infect so many lives.

That Gun Trace Task Force, for example— I was speaking with Daryl before— has like thousands of cases that are being reviewed by our State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby. Just one cop, whether or not he’s a bad apple, can wreak havoc in a community and destroy so many lives that it’s really not fair to just say it’s just one person. It’s the actual power they have over people’s lives that’s more important. And that power can be spread amongst the community in ways that really goes against the idea that there’s a single actor or there’s one bad actor.

TAYA GRAHAM: In fact, just to show the scope of what we’re talking about, consider the recent indictment of Houston police officer Gerald Goins. Goins was indicted on first degree murder charges for lying on an application for a no-knock warrant. The raid led to the deaths of a Houston couple, but the pretext for the raid was false. There were no drugs, but because of that one lie, two people are dead. And now Houston authorities are reviewing not dozens, not hundreds, but thousands of cases. That’s right— thousands of lives possibly affected, ruined or destroyed by one lying cop, which begs the question, this Houston cop had worked for decades like the GTTF. Stephen, how could one cop operate with such impunity?

STEPHEN JANIS: Well, to me, one of the things when we sat in the trial of the Gun Trace Task Force, Sergeant Wayne Jenkins, the ringleader, met with the commissioner at that time, Kevin Davis, and Kevin Davis gave his blessing to many of the techniques that they were using. The police department actually touted some of the so-called accomplishments of the Gun Trace Task Force. What it is, is that you have in predominantly African-American cities, there is this sense that militarized policing is the only thing that will work or solve crime.

TAYA GRAHAM: Exactly.

STEPHEN JANIS: And it’s rooted in many of this country’s racist policies. But it’s also rooted in the idea that violent policing is somehow a means to an end and the anything goes and that these guys are willing to do it. But really, what we see is it’s about suppressing free speech, it’s about suppressing economic agency, and that’s why it gets touted. But they tout it as, “Look, we’re solving crime. We went and we harassed and we arrested a hundred people. We did something”, and I think that’s why it takes root in the entire agency and it becomes corruption throughout.

TAYA GRAHAM: Which brings us to our guest who will help us put the bad apples theory to rest. He’s actually one of our coworkers, but he also has firsthand knowledge of Baltimore police officers who were dealing drugs long before the GTTF. A prime example of how drug dealing cops is not anomalous, but part of a larger pattern. Daryl, welcome to the Police Accountability Report.

DARYL LEWIS: Thank you.

TAYA GRAHAM: So you’re going to talk to us about your experience with these two police officers, Antonio Murray and William King, and they both were sentenced to hundreds of years in prison.

DARYL LEWIS: It wasn’t enough.

TAYA GRAHAM: So can you tell me about your experience.

DARYL LEWIS: That wasn’t nearly enough time because we’re talking 1988. This is as far back as 1988, the practices that are coming to the light today in 2019 and 2018. With these two guys, they were like, rogue is putting it lightly. They operated how they wanted, where they wanted, with whom they wanted, without regard for anybody. I remember they had grabbed two teenagers, a 14- and 15-year old, drove them all the way out to Howard County, took their tennis shoes, took their money, took their pagers. They didn’t have cell phones back then. Well they had them, but they weren’t as prevalent as they are today and made those kids walk back, walk back to Baltimore, these two officers. And they were planting drugs and—

STEPHEN JANIS: They were selling drugs too, right?

DARYL LEWIS: They were selling drugs. They had guys selling the drugs. And if you didn’t sell them, they will lock you up.

TAYA GRAHAM: So you’re telling me that these police officers would actually grab people on the street, try to force them to sell drugs for them, and then if they wouldn’t sell those drugs, they would—

DARYL LEWIS: They would lock them up.

TAYA GRAHAM: They would lock them up.

DARYL LEWIS: They would plant drugs on them and lock them up. I know for a fact, personally, six guys that are locked up right now. Now, I don’t know if their cases went back because the current state’s attorney, she’s looking into the Gun Trace Task Force cases with all the people that they have. But King and Murray, I know six guys right now. In fact, I left them. They were still in behind those guys and I know it was way more than six.

TAYA GRAHAM: Can you tell me about an experience that you had with the police officers, what they did to you and why it was so dangerous?

DARYL LEWIS: They would stop me, pat me down, and they put me in the car one particular day and they would ride around to different corners where the guys was selling drugs and people were standing around. They would turn around and look at me and say, “Daryl, you talking about him? Daryl, are you talking about him?” Pointing at various guys in the neighborhood. The thing about it was, it was dangerous whereas the snitching thing didn’t take off till 2000 or something, but it was a no-no to do that way back then.

STEPHEN JANIS: They were trying to make you look like a snitch?

DARYL LEWIS: They were trying to make me look like a snitch.

TAYA GRAHAM: So they essentially [crosstalk] could have gotten you killed?

STEPHEN JANIS: Is that a way to have control over you?

DARYL LEWIS: Yeah, yeah, yeah. That was a way of having control over me to get me to do what they wanted me to do. The only thing about it was, they took me in my neighborhood, and by them doing that to various other guys, they knew what they were doing. But they didn’t know that we knew what they were doing, that was their way of holding, you know, holding me under pressure.

STEPHEN JANIS: So they were dealing through multiple people.

DARYL LEWIS: They were dealing through dealing through multiple people. I remember they turned two partners against each other.

TAYA GRAHAM: So you’re saying they tried to start a drug war?

DARYL LEWIS: Yeah, they did because—[crosstalk]

STEPHEN JANIS: Turf war, I guess.

DARYL LEWIS: One of the partners wanted to go to New York and, you know, where he normally go, and the other one succumbed to King and Murray. He said, “Man, let’s just do this, keep them at bay.” And they fell out about that. They went their separate ways.

STEPHEN JANIS: You know, Taya, Daryl raises an interesting point. I looked through the press clippings and it’s different from the Gun Trace Task Force scandal where Maryland Mosby stepped in and said, “I’m going to review all these cases.”, I didn’t see any evidence of that from the King and Murray days that there was this wholesale, “let’s look at past cases.” There was not a single press clipping. And I’m not saying it couldn’t have happened, but there’s been a lot of publicity around Mosby’s Conviction Integrity Unit here, which is one of the only ones in the state. But there was no mention of that in the King and Murray cases. I think it’s possible what he’s saying that people are still in there because of these guys. Because no one said we’re going to go and examine the past thousand cases or whatever. I think that’s a recent phenomenon because of the attention, call the police.

TAYA GRAHAM: Since no one’s looking, no one really took a close look at how those cases could be tainted by the fact that these cops were criminals themselves.

STEPHEN JANIS: Right. And the one thing that I was discussing with Daryl too before and this is very important, that in the recent report by the Federal Monitor, which is being paid by the city to monitor the consent decree, which is a decree between the Department of Justice and the police department over the unconstitutional policing tactics. They said they have not yet initiated a promise investigation into the roots of the Gun Trace Task Force scandal. They were supposed to do this. Daryl, are you surprised? I’m just kind of curious because Daryl’s been through this, that they just didn’t even do it with all the publicity.

DARYL LEWIS: No, I’m not surprised because the strong cliché of “history repeats itself” is relevant.

STEPHEN JANIS: Yeah.

DARYL LEWIS: What I was saying through this Gun Trace Task Force, it was like, Deja vu. I’m like, man, these are nothing but King and Murray times five.

TAYA GRAHAM: Right.

STEPHEN JANIS: Wow.

DARYL LEWIS: It’s nothing but King and Murray times five. And like I said, this was 1988.

STEPHEN JANIS: And then through the 90s and into the – they were pretty much active for 14 or 15 years.

TAYA GRAHAM: Right, until about 2005.

DARYL LEWIS: Well, the groundwork was laid by— [crosstalk]

STEPHEN JANIS: That’s thousands of people. That could be thousands of people.

DARYL LEWIS: The Gun Trace Task Force started in 1988.

STEPHEN JANIS: Did you ever feel that there was any way to stop these guys?

DARYL LEWIS: The only way you could have stopped those guys was to eliminate those guys. That was the only way because you couldn’t go to anybody. Street guys can’t walk down to City Hall or the police department and ask to speak to Internal Affairs. For one, a lot of guys that don’t even know about that. And number two, if they did know about it, which I did, I couldn’t go down there.

TAYA GRAHAM: And when you didn’t [inaudible] been worried that you would experience retaliation from these police officers. They could have turned the department against you.

DARYL LEWIS: That right there alone— and it wasn’t so much as me; it was my family.

TAYA GRAHAM: Of course.

STEPHEN JANIS: Yeah. It means – so it shows it’s not the apple. It’s the tree, right? The tree is rotten.

DARYL LEWIS: The tree is tainted. Yes.

STEPHEN JANIS: Because they were able to pretty much behave with impunity is what you’re saying. They were like the kings of the city.

DARYL LEWIS: Yes. They operated how they wanted to.

TAYA GRAHAM: Stephen, how unusual is it for police officers to get this amount of prison time? I mean, over 300 years for one officer, over a hundred years for the other. I mean, that’s an incredible amount of prison time.

STEPHEN JANIS: That’s the one thing that I’m scratching my head about because the Gun Trace Task Force members— who Daryl acknowledges we’re just as bad, if not worse— got the maximum. Jenkins got – it was 25 years. I think, Herschel, Brian Herschel got 17 years and downward, but for some reason King and Murray elicited this 300-year sentence kind of cumulatively, which is extremely unusual. It’s just extremely unusual for officers to be prosecuted, period, for anything.

TAYA GRAHAM: Yes.

STEPHEN JANIS: You know, I mean, if you think of all the cases of African American men who died in police custody, who prosecutors declined to charge regardless of the circumstances. Just recently, Eric Garner—[crosstalk]

DARYL LEWIS: Those were involved in murders as well, King and Murray.

STEPHEN JANIS: You think so?

DARYL LEWIS: They were involved in murders as well. Yeah. That’s why they got that kind of time. Yeah. They were involved in murders as well. I’m quite sure of the Trace Task Force was involved in murders too.

STEPHEN JANIS: I think it’s inevitable. There was one person that the federal prosecutor said, who had his money stolen by the Gun Trace Task Force, couldn’t pay his connect or whatever and was subsequently murdered.

DARYL LEWIS: He was killed.

STEPHEN JANIS: They believe it was attributed to the activities. So when you’re out there stealing money from drug dealers, someone’s going to get killed.

DARYL LEWIS: Yes.

STEPHEN JANIS: Right.

TAYA GRAHAM: So their actions either directly or indirectly—

DARYL LEWIS: Indirectly, yeah.

TAYA GRAHAM: Cost lives.

STEPHEN JANIS: Or you put someone in jail. Think of all the people that die in prison. We just interviewed a family of a young man who died in prison. People die in prison all the time. It’s extremely dangerous, so just putting them in there is putting people at risk. And I think they have to take responsibility for that.

DARYL LEWIS: Yes, it’s almost like if you, like you say, it’s not so much the apple, but it’s the tree. You have to go in the dirt and have to get the seed.

STEPHEN JANIS: And dig the roots out.

DARYL LEWIS: And dig the roots out because you can’t – nothing good is going to come off that tree. Once the first apple fell and was tainted, nothing good is going to come off the tree.

TAYA GRAHAM: Right. And even though we weren’t going to name some of the command staff, it really begs the question, how could their supervisors not know who was supposed to be watching these police officers while they were committing these crimes? How could they not know? They are literally detectives.

DARYL LEWIS: It was raining one day and they had us sitting on the ground with the legs crossed in the rain. And one of the detectives was talking to the commander via walkie talkie, but the commander is saying, the way I was listening, he wasn’t in the office, he was at home because it was like 10:30 at night. But it was raining and he was asking him, he was calling by his nickname and he was like, “How we write this up?” I mean, he literally talking to this guy—

STEPHEN JANIS: Who wasn’t on the scene.

TAYA GRAHAM: Who wasn’t on the scene.

DARYL LEWIS: Who wasn’t on the scene and he was a commander.

STEPHEN JANIS: And he’s asking him how to write it up. He’s not even there.

DARYL LEWIS: How to proceed with this because it was nothing found. But we were hooting and hollering about sitting out there in the rain and they basically wanted to go in as well. Because the call back wasn’t so much what to do with us. It was like, “Man, after we deal with them, can we call it a night?”

TAYA GRAHAM: I see.

DARYL LEWIS: And I’m sitting there and I’m listening to this. I’m like, “They are getting authority. They’re getting the green light to go ahead.” Because one of the detectives was saying, “How do we light this?” And the guy on the other end was saying, “You know what color, you know how to light it.” A green light means take us; a red light means let us go.

STEPHEN JANIS: And what happened? Did they arrest you?

DARYL LEWIS: Yellow light is like, let you go with a warning. No, they let us go.

TAYA GRAHAM: I guess they didn’t want to stay in the rain anymore either.

STEPHEN JANIS: Well, one of the things with the Gun Trace Task Force, if someone got a gun, the whole staff could go home, but still book in the eight hours of overtime. So like if they got a gun by three o’clock, then everyone went home and still took the eight hours. They could leave their shift. They didn’t have to work anymore.

TAYA GRAHAM: As well, so there would be a press release saying, “Gun recovered,” which would tout them and their heroics.

STEPHEN JANIS: But this is – but you really got to put this in perspective. This is insane. I mean, these people could do whatever they wanted. They had the power of life and death over an entire community of people and not a single politician spoke up. In fact, they venerated this. This shows you that how sick the culture is and how are we going to reform policing? I mean, one of the things— I’m not going to go into too much detail— but we have seen continual crimes of police officers after the consent decree. So what does that tell you?

TAYA GRAHAM: All right. Daryl, let me ask you one last question. Do you think that the Baltimore City Police Department has changed from the way you used to see it operate? Do you think things are better for people now?

DARYL LEWIS: It’s changed, but it hasn’t changed for the better. And it’s definitely not a change where they are operating for the people. What they’re doing now, as opposed to what they did 20-25 years ago, is they’re just blatantly outright with it now. Back then, they had some discretion. Now, they don’t have any discretion.

STEPHEN JANIS: Interesting.

TAYA GRAHAM: Wow.

DARYL LEWIS: Because if you have enough gall to video your own sting where you are planting evidence—

TAYA GRAHAM: That’s an excellent point.

DARYL LEWIS: If you have enough gall to video that and make that public knowledge for the public to see it, what does that say about—

STEPHEN JANIS: The one thing about it is—

TAYA GRAHAM: That’s a very good point.

STEPHEN JANIS: Is that they didn’t know the camera’s had a 30 second rollback and that’s what got them. It was pretty funny because what happens when they turn on their body cameras, it rolls back 30 seconds from the time before they turned it on. So that was actually—

TAYA GRAHAM: So that’s why you could hear them laughing about it.

STEPHEN JANIS: That’s why they were laughing. But I mean, you’re right. They were, they were literally planting drugs and they thought it was funny and they thought it was clever.

DARYL LEWIS: Yeah.

STEPHEN JANIS: And you’re right. That does show—

DARYL LEWIS: That’s bold.

STEPHEN JANIS: The brazenness about it because it’s clearly against the law. It’s clearly breaking the law and you’re ruining somebody’s life.

DARYL LEWIS: And they didn’t even care.

STEPHEN JANIS: I don’t understand why there isn’t more discussion about the impact of how this ruins people’s lives. It literally destroys your life to be arrested for drugs. You can’t get a job. Everyone thinks you’re a drug dealer.

DARYL LEWIS: And when you get inside, it’s worse because now you are inside around a whole bunch of people who have a totally different agenda. It’s supposed to be about rehabilitation. And you have, say, you have a Blood set, a Crip set, a BGF set, a DMI—

TAYA GRAHAM: And these are all different gangs?

DARYL LEWIS: And then you have the Sunni Muslims, which in prison the administration label them as a gang, and this is a religious practice.

STEPHEN JANIS: Yeah.

DARYL LEWIS: But they label them as a gang.

STEPHEN JANIS: It’s not like prison’s going to help anybody in this country.

DARYL LEWIS: Right. Now how can you get rehabilitated with that pot that’s boiling and it’s bubbling over like that?

STEPHEN JANIS: Yeah.

TAYA GRAHAM: Right.

STEPHEN JANIS: It’s too bad that the Democrats concern for detention centers of immigrants doesn’t actually extend to the illegal imprisonment of African Americans, or any Americans for that matter.

TAYA GRAHAM: Right, there definitely hasn’t been enough of Democrats addressing mass incarceration in this country.

STEPHEN JANIS: No. If you think of how many people ended up in jail illegally in this country or for something they didn’t do, there should be some concern because there are innocent people in there, but they don’t care. They just want to go down to the border and make a big noise, but nobody ever tours central booking or some of the horrible prisons that we have in this city.

TAYA GRAHAM: Or juvenile booking for that matter.

STEPHEN JANIS: Or juvenile booking. Yeah.

DARYL LEWIS: They closed down the House of Corrections. They closed down Baltimore City Jail, the detention center.

STEPHEN JANIS: Right.

DARYL LEWIS: They tried to do whatever they was going to do—

STEPHEN JANIS: Which was built during the Civil War.

DARYL LEWIS: So what they decided to do was, we can’t do anything with it. Get rid of it. That’s how they had to do the Police Department.

TAYA GRAHAM: Interesting.

DARYL LEWIS: The same way. The same energy and thinking that went into the demolition of the detention center and the House of Corrections, they had to do that to the Police Department. That’s the only way it’s going to be worth something.

STEPHEN JANIS: And start from scratch basically.

DARYL LEWIS: Start from scratch.

TAYA GRAHAM: One thing I’ve noticed about this bad apples theory is this, people seem to forget the rest of the saying. The saying isn’t there are just a few bad apples. The saying is a few bad apples spoils the whole bunch. The fact that King and Murray acted with impunity for so many years before the recent Gun Trace Task Force scandal, illustrates that the corruption in the Baltimore City Police Department isn’t a simple isolated incident. There were many officers engaged in robbery and drug dealing and extortion, while even more officers looked the other way.

I want to thank my guests, Daryl Lewis, for being so open about his experiences and I want to thank my investigative reporting partner, Stephen Janis, for his contributions. For those watching, please feel free to email us at Police Accountability Report at therealnews.com, or reach out to us at Police Accountability Report on Facebook or Eyesonpolice on Twitter. And of course, you can reach me directly at my personal Twitter at TayasBaltimore.

If reporting like this matters to you, follow or click to subscribe. We really appreciate it. I’m your host, Taya Graham, and I want to thank you for joining me at the Police Accountability Report on The Real News Network.