A month after he expressed concerns about such an inquiry, Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison today launched an independent investigation of the Gun Trace Task Force, the rogue unit in the department that robbed citizens, falsified reports and planted evidence, among other criminal violations.
Michael Bromwich, a former inspector general with the U.S. Department of Justice and investigator of police departments in Washington D.C. and Houston, has been tapped to lead the probe. He’s currently a lawyer with the international firm Steptoe & Johnson LLP.
At a press conference this morning, Harrison and City Solicitor Andre Davis, who as the city’s lawyer is counsel to the department, pledged the BPD would offer full cooperation without any interference in the results of the report.
Davis said the monitoring team overseeing the federally mandated consent decree and the Justice Department will receive a draft report at the same time as the BPD and city law department, and that the city can only suggest changes to typos and “simple factual inaccuracies.”
“The truth is I would not have accepted the assignment under any other conditions,” Bromwich said.
Bromwich did not offer a timeline for a report, but did say he would tap other lawyers and law-enforcement experts to conduct an investigation that is both efficient and comprehensive.
“This is an enormous job, and it will take awhile,” he said.
On Sept. 17, Harrison testified before the state’s Commission to Restore Trust in Policing that he had not started an internal review because of fears it would bring more civil lawsuits against the city, and because the DOJ is working on its own investigation.
Speaking today, Harrison said that he knew since his first day on the job, and after his first conversation with the judge overseeing a federally monitored consent degree, that the department had to learn how the Gun Trace Task Force was able to wreak havoc for so long.
“Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it,” he said. “We must and we will learn everything we can about the terrible chapter in the BPD’s history and to ensure that it never happens again.”
Similarly, Davis has sought to avoid the financial liability of lawsuits related to the task force. As The Sun‘s Kevin Rector outlined earlier this month, city attorneys have argued in state court that the actions of the members went beyond their duties as officers. And in federal court, they’ve made the case the Baltimore Police Department is technically a state agency.
But today he said he was willing to accept those potential liabilities.
“We on the legal team are confident we can manage those risks… the truth will out,” he said.
“And in reality,” he continued, “we can burn off the stink of this horrific scandal only through the use of full disclosure.”
City Council President Brandon Scott said in a statement that, per a resolution passed earlier this month, BPD brass and investigators will be called before the council to testify about the findings of the probe.
“Until we know how the Violent Crime Impact Section and Gun Trace Task Force were able to operate in such a flagrantly corrupt manner for so long, we will never be able to rebuild trust between the Baltimore Police Department and our communities,” Scott said.
In 2017, eight members of the elite gun unit charged with getting firearms off the streets of Baltimore were federally indicted on counts that included racketeering, robberies, extortion, filing false reports and overtime fraud.
“This is not about aggressive policing, it is about a criminal conspiracy,” Rod Rosenstein, then the U.S. Attorney for Maryland, said at the time of the indictments. “These are really simply robberies by people wearing police uniforms.”
Six of the officers pleaded guilty to the charges brought against them, while two others, Marcus Taylor and Det. Daniel Hersl, opted for jury trials. They were both convicted.
As of this year, all had been sentenced to time in federal prison.
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