Back in April 2016, a Baltimore news report about “police recruiting perils after Freddie Gray” focused on a new police hire with an ideal origin story. Luke Shelley, a National Guardsman deployed here during the Baltimore Uprising in April 2015, had recently joined the Baltimore Police Department (BPD). As a guardsman, he had been stationed at Mondawmin Mall, ground zero for the rioting that took place on April 27, 2015, “an experience that convinced [Shelley] he wanted to serve the city,” local ABC affiliate WMAR reported.
“I want to be where the challenge is and where the need is for good police,” Shelley told WMAR in 2016. “To have that impact on countless lives—a hundred or a thousand or whoever you meet on a daily basis—I think is a pretty noble and high responsibility.”
At a moment when the department was being investigated by the Department of Justice for civil rights violations and a federal consent decree was imminent, BPD appeared eager to position Shelley, hired in February 2016, as a future face of policing. In 2017, Baltimore Police posted a photo to its Twitter account of Shelley smiling with a child. In 2019, Baltimore Police posted a photo to its Facebook page of Shelley smiling and surrounded by children, as one child played with his radio.
Less than a month after the 2019 photo was posted, two police officers in Shelley’s unit became increasingly disturbed by his behavior and would later demand they work with someone other than Shelley because he was “no longer fit to be trusted” and had exhibited what they called “bias[ed] practices.”
That’s one of many allegations against Shelley contained in his disciplinary records, which were leaked to Battleground Baltimore.
Battleground Baltimore has also submitted a public information request for the entirety of Shelley’s disciplinary records. In the meantime, many investigative files and summaries of at least part of Shelley’s record were leaked to Battleground Baltimore by an anonymous source.
Shelley, a relatively new officer, is still with BPD, unlike former Baltimore Police Officer Melvin Hill, whose decade of staggering misconduct was recently described by Battleground Baltimore. Records show numerous examples of additional corrective training provided to Shelley, and little discipline, for allegations that include harassment, negligence, misconduct, theft, and racial profiling.
Since joining the police in February 2016, Shelley has developed a reputation among Black Baltimoreans as an especially aggressive cop, first while on patrol, and more recently as a member of the District Action Team (DAT) in the Western District, the police district where Freddie Gray lived and died.
In a 2021 report, the ACLU of MD noted the high number of complaints Shelley racked up in a relatively short amount of time. In his first three years and eight months on the job, Shelley had 28 complaints against him and 67 documented uses of force, including at least 11 for “pointing a firearm,” 21 for “hands,” and 6 for “takedowns,” including one “takedown with injuries.” At least nine times, someone who encountered Shelley went to the hospital to be examined for possible injuries.
A “Rough Ride”?
In September 2017, Shelley was in a police vehicle with Officer Benjamin Brown who, according to a police report, “failed to place a seatbelt on [a man who was arrested] after placing him in the rear of a patrol car.”
The man, who was not seatbelted by Brown, later said that the police in the car with him, including Shelley, “did not listen” when he complained he was not seatbelted in. According to the man, while he was being driven to the police station, a call for backup came through and Shelley, who was driving, sped off to respond.
According to the man, Shelley “began to drive reckless, running red lights with the siren activated” and “slammed on the brakes which caused [the man] to be thrown forward into the rear of the front passenger seat.” When Shelley accelerated again, the man “hit his back on the rear seat.” Along with Shelley and Brown, there were two other cops in the car at the time.
When the man finally arrived at the Western District police station, he “complained that his back, neck, and wrist was injured from [a] rough ride in the police vehicle because he was not in a seat belt.” He was taken to the hospital and “treated for a muscle strain.”
Police found complaints of “neglect” against Shelley to be “not sustained.” A sustained complaint is one believed by the police who investigated an allegation to have happened, and to have violated police policy. A complaint that is “not sustained,” as described by the 2016 Department of Justice report on Baltimore Police, “means that investigators were unable to tell either way.”
According to police, body-worn camera footage from Brown “shows that Shelley did not drive in an unsafe manner and that [the man] purposely threw his body into Officer Brown who was sitting next to him in [the] rear area of the police vehicle.”
Documents show Brown refused to provide a recorded statement. Allegations of “neglect” against Brown were sustained. In July 2018, Brown resigned from BPD.
The incident shows that barely two years after Freddie Gray’s death—a death that was attributed by some to Gray not being seatbelted in and enduring a rough ride—officers were still not seatbelting arrestees properly. “Officer Shelley … did not check to see if [the man] was in a seatbelt,” a police report said. Shelley did not have his body-worn camera turned on during the incident.
Training and More Training
Following Freddie Gray’s death in April 2015, Baltimore Police embraced the steady rollout of body-worn cameras to all Baltimore Police. Shelley’s disciplinary records show other incidents where he did not turn his body camera on, turned it off during an encounter, or turned it on later than he should have.
In January 2017, Shelley pulled over a woman because he said the tag light on her car was out. Once he looked at the tag light up close, Shelley told the woman “he had been mistaken about the tag light,” according to a police report. Then Shelley said he could smell cannabis coming from the car.
The woman complained that Shelley had briefly followed her before stopping her, and accused him of racial profiling. When a police sergeant arrived in response to the accusations, the sergeant told Shelley to make sure his body-worn camera was on. “Officer Shelley told [the sergeant] he was 10-62, he meant to say 10-61,” the report reads. “Shelley had actually had his camera on during his stop but turned it off when the sergeant told him he needed to be 10-61. Officer Shelley had confused the two codes.”
As a result, the first few minutes of the sergeant’s interview with the woman about Shelley were not recorded.
An allegation against Shelley of “race-based profiling” was found “not sustained.” According to the police, the woman’s windows were tinted so Shelley could not have observed the woman’s race when he stopped her.
In October 2018, Shelley was cited for not immediately turning on his body camera during the transport of an arrestee: “Officer Shelley was on the scene for several minutes and began the transport before activating his [body worn camera],” the police report reads.
Shelley’s records also show him losing evidence, not thoroughly searching an arrestee, and leaving drugs in a police vehicle.
In November 2016, Shelley was investigated for “failing to properly secure CDS (Controlled Dangerous Substance)” after he seized a small amount of cannabis. Shelley put the cannabis, which was less than 10 grams (and therefore decriminalized) into his pocket, and later “lost the suspected substance.” Shelley told police investigators that the cannabis likely fell out of his pocket when he took out his notepad, which was in the same pocket.
An allegation of “negligent handling of evidentiary and/or non-evidentiary property” was sustained and Shelley was given “non-punitive counseling” and “additional training in securing contraband.”
In September 2020, Shelley and another officer, Jerome Shaurette, were investigated after they had searched an arrestee and did not immediately seize a handgun the man had on him. The gun was discovered later when the man was removed from a police vehicle and police “heard an object hitting the ground.” The object was a handgun.
An allegation of “neglect of duty” was sustained. Shelley had “searching procedures” reviewed and was scheduled for “remedial training on search procedures.”
Less than a year later, in another incident, Shelley did not turn in a backpack full of drugs. In May 2021, Shelley and another officer, Lamont Jett, left a backpack they had seized in the trunk of a police vehicle. The backpack was later discovered by a detective who used the same car as Shelley and Jett. The backpack contained “59 white top vials” of “a white substance suspected to be cocaine.”
An allegation of “neglect of duty” against Shelley was sustained. He was suspended for 16 days.
A found property form filled out by Shelley notes that the backpack was discovered on a bench when a group of men fled the police. Shelley found a gun in the same backpack and turned that in. He did not turn in the drugs.
The Fourth Amendment
Shelley’s disciplinary record shows a series of questionable searches that push the limits of the Fourth Amendment, often resulting in resident complaints.
In August 2017, Shelley “opened an unoccupied parked vehicle’s door and looked inside without the owner’s permission or a search warrant,” according to an Internal Affairs report. There had been a shooting right near the van. The owner of that van watched Shelley open the van and promptly called him out for it. “It looked like there was a gun [inside the van],” Shelley explained.
An allegation of “improper stop/search/seizure” against Shelley was “not sustained.” He was given “non-punitive counseling.”
In February 2020, Shelley approached a man and then patted him down because he believed the man had a gun. According to Shelley, when he drove by, he noticed the man “turned his body” and was trying not to be seen. When Shelley got out of his car and shined a flashlight at the man, the man again moved away from Shelley. “Det Shelley viewed those actions as characteristic of an armed person,” a police report said.
Shelley asked the man if he had any weapons. The man said he did not. Then Shelley told the man to remove his hands from his pockets, and then to put his hands on top of his head. Shelley patted him down. No gun was found on the man.
Allegations of “harassment” and “conduct unbecoming a police officer” were declared “unfounded.”
In January 2018, Shelley and veteran Baltimore Police Sergeant Thomas Wilson arrested a man for cannabis, and the man told police that Shelley was “harassing him.”
It began on Jan. 15, when Shelley arrested the man for cannabis possession with intent to distribute: He had approximately 25 bags of cannabis on him, which added up to more than 10 grams, the decriminalized amount in Baltimore.
The next day, Shelley arrested the man for cannabis again. The second arrest was ostensibly a sting. According to Shelley, the man who was arrested gave police his phone number during the first arrest. So, on Jan. 16, Shelley and Wilson texted the man and “pos[ed] as a female buyer.” The man responded to what he believed was a customer looking for cannabis (a total of 14 grams, to be sold for $80, according to Shelley’s report) and provided a location for the weed deal. Shelley and Wilson arrived in a marked police car, and the man was arrested.
According to the police report, the man was told by a neighbor that after the arrest, “Shelley went to [the man’s] home, broke in, then left, and returned with a fictitious search and seizure warrant and searched his home.”
Allegations against Shelley for “harassment” and “criminal misconduct/theft” were declared “unfounded.”
Sgt. Thomas Wilson
Sergeant Thomas Wilson, whom Shelley worked with that day, is a Baltimore cop with a history of lying in court and on warrants. Wilson also has alleged connections to the Gun Trace Task Force—the infamous plainclothes police squad who dealt drugs, stole money, planted evidence, and routinely violated Baltimoreans’ rights.
In 2003, Wilson was accused by a federal judge of telling “knowing lies” about a 2002 heroin bust. In 2006, a trial board recommended Wilson be fired after he entered someone’s home without a warrant. In 2012, Wilson was sued, along with a number of other officers, for unlawful search and seizure when camera footage showed Wilson had lied on a warrant. Wilson and others first entered the home of the man in question without a warrant using a key they took from the man during a traffic stop.
In 2016, Wilson was promoted to sergeant. By 2017, Wilson was sometimes working with Shelley—including, reports show, coaching Shelley on best practices as a police officer. For example, Wilson “verbally counseled” Shelley in the August 2017 incident where Shelley searched a man’s van without a warrant.
In February 2018—less than a month after the cannabis sting Shelley and Wilson set up—Wilson was named in federal court by Donny Stepp, a bail bondsman dealing cocaine for indicted Baltimore Police Sergeant Wayne Jenkins. According to Stepp’s federal testimony, Wilson, along with Jenkins and others, had provided security at a Baltimore strip club for Stepp’s New York “drug supplier.”
Not long after those accusations, Wilson left the Baltimore Police Department. Wilson has not been charged with any crimes related to the Gun Trace Task Force.
‘Kill Or Be Killed’
In October 2021, Baltimore Police opened up an investigation into Shelley’s tattoos, based on tweets from defense attorney Jenny Egan, which were sent by the mayor’s office to the deputy police commissioner.
Egan’s tweets noted that, along with a tattoo that reads “Kill Or Be Killed” (visible in 2017 bodybuilding photos of Shelley), Shelley also has a tattoo of a Spartan helmet, an image popularized by the 2006 movie 300, frequently invoked by far right-leaning organizations such as the Oath Keepers. A photo from Shelley’s (now private) personal Instagram account also shows two patches on Shelley’s bag: One is a Spartan helmet with the words “Moaon Aabe” (roughly, “come and take it” in Latin) and the other patch said “Polizei”—or “police” in German.
Another photo Egan pulled from Shelley’s personal Instagram shows Shelley exercising at Exile Fitness in Baltimore County. That gym is owned by Jason Tankersley, who appeared in the 2007 National Geographic documentary American Skinheads, where he discussed leading the Maryland State Skinheads. A 2022 article in Mel Magazine mentions Tankersley “used his small gym to recruit and train white supremacists in mixed martial arts,” and added, “there’s no actual evidence that Tankersley, who once swore by the ethos and code of racist white-power skinheads, has officially walked away from that world.”
On June 10, 2022, additional documents about the investigation were leaked to Battleground Baltimore. They show a rather weak investigation by police into these accusations. For example, investigators consulted only the American Defamation League about the connections between Spartan imagery and white supremacy. They did not look into the far-right Oath Keepers at all—the Southern Poverty Law Center has a page about the Oath Keepers and its connections to law enforcement.
As for the phrase “come and take it,” the report said, “this phrase has been adopted by supporters of the 2nd Amendment of the United States Constitution, political conservatism, and gun activists in today’s society due to its origin and concept. Nevertheless, the possibility of said phrase being used by far-right groups remains undismissable.”
When Shelley was interviewed by police, he said he did not know Tankersley well but knew other owners of Exile Fitness. Shelley explained to police that he received the “Polizei” patch from “a German police officer while he was on military leave in Germany in 2017” and added that he had no right-wing affiliations. “Officer Shelley concluded by advising he does not promote, share, or believe in any far rights group’s ideologies,” the report said. “Officer Shelley also advised that he does not associate or affiliate with extremist groups.”
Police categorized these allegations against Shelley as “conduct unbecoming of a police officer” and found them “not sustained.”
The ‘Profiling Method’
Two police officers demanded to no longer work with Shelley following an October 2019 incident where he instructed a man to destroy the drugs he possessed.
As reported by another police officer, Officer Bruce Dhaiti, Shelley told a white man possessing “approximately 15” gel caps of heroin to “discard the several gel caps by stepping on them in the street and to leave the area.”
“Don’t do it again,” Shelley allegedly told the man. “You aren’t getting locked up.”
The man dropped the gel caps to the ground and “began stepping on them,” and then, the man claimed, Shelley told him he could leave: “Detective Shelley stated he told [the man] to step on the drugs because he was not conducting an investigation and believed he did not possess a felony amount of heroin,” the report said.
Neither Shelley nor Dhaiti turned their body-worn cameras on during this encounter.
Allegations against Shelley for “conduct unbecoming of a police officer,” “failure to operate body worn camera,” and “neglect of duty” were “sustained.” Shelley was suspended for five days and given additional training on controlled dangerous substances.
The incident worried Dhaiti. According to a police report, “Officer Dhaiti advised he was upset by what he saw and went back to sit in the patrol vehicle.” In March 2020, Dhaiti complained to supervisors about Shelley and requested he no longer work with Shelley. “Because of the severity of these allegations, I wanted to be separated from Officer Shelley to avoid from engaging in any future incident that would jeopardize my integrity,” Dhaiti wrote.
Another cop who worked with Shelley on the District Action Team (DAT) in the Western District, Officer Roberto Arena, also complained about Shelley.
“I would like to clarify that your officer does not feel comfortable working in the same unit because of a recent incident where Officer Shelley destroyed drugs during an encounter with a citizen,” Arena wrote. “Your officer believes [Shelley’s] integrity has been compromised and your officer believes he is no longer fit to be trusted within the unit due to how he works within the squad.”
In a second statement, Dhaiti accused Shelley of profiling. “I do not feel comfortable working with Officer Shelley due to his bias practices towards some citizens of the City of Baltimore. I am uncomfortable with the way Officer Shelley communicated with some citizens of the City of Baltimore,” Dhaiti wrote. “Officer Shelley sometimes utilized ‘profiling method’ to conduct traffic stops as well as armed person investigation.”
The Baltimore Police Department has made District Action Teams a significant part of its recently-announced “short-term strategy” for crime reduction.
Shelley started as a BPD officer in 2016 with a salary of $48,971. His salary increased each year. By 2021, Shelley made $76,219 with an additional $21,422.27 in overtime, adding up to a total of $97,641.27.
Shelley is featured on Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s list of 300-plus officers that she characterized as having “credibility issues,” which was released late last month.
He currently has over 60 active cases going through Baltimore City Circuit Court.
Updated June 10, 2022 5:00PM