By Ethan McLeod and Brandon Weigel
A federal grand jury on Monday convicted Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor, two former members of a Baltimore Police Department team charged with getting weapons off city streets, of racketeering, racketeering conspiracy, robbery and wire fraud charges, according to reporters covering the case.
Hersl and Taylor were both acquitted of one charge: possession of a firearm in furtherance of crime of violence.
The pair represent two of eight Baltimore police officers who were indicted for their involvement in the racketeering scheme in March 2017. Six others have pleaded guilty to racketeering, robbery and fraudulently filing for overtime. Four of them took the stand in the trial.
Hersl and Taylor’s three-week trial brought a storm of allegations not previously detailed in the officers’ indictments. Among them: That one of task force’s supervisors, Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, sold trash bags filled with prescription pills looted during the Uprising in 2015; that Gun Trace Task Force officers kept replica guns handy if they needed to plant them after an officer-involved shooting; that the late Det. Sean Suiter, fatally shot with his own gun in November 2017, helped an officer steal money; that officers pocketed hundreds of thousands in stolen cash (stealing was referred to as “taxing”), and reaped additional profits from selling stolen guns and drugs; that they would employ so-called “door pops,” driving towards groups of young men and chasing the ones who scattered to make arrests; that task force members falsified overtime sheets, which amounted to fraud; and that as many as 10 other city cops and two in Baltimore County who were not indicted participated in the scheme.
Baltimore Police Commissioner-Designate Darryl De Sousa said in a statement Monday that both Taylor and Hersl will be terminated “upon final conviction.” Both have been suspended from the force since they were indicted March 1, 2017.
“We recognize that this indictment and subsequent trial uncovered some of the most egregious and despicable acts ever perpetrated in law enforcement,” said De Sousa, who was tapped to replace Kevin Davis as police commissioner last month before the trial began.
Mayor Catherine Pugh released her own statement calling the jury’s decision “clearly the right one.”
“I want all of our citizens to know that I have likewise been appalled by the level of dishonesty and betrayal that these individuals, and others also implicated, perpetrated here in our community,” she said. “There is no more important element to effective policing than trust between the men and women of our police force and those they have sworn to protect and serve.”
The fallout from the case has been tremendous. Prosecutors in December announced they had dropped or will drop 125 cases tainted by any of the eight officers’ involvement, including ones in which they were the arresting officers or witnesses.
De Sousa pointed out that he’s created a so-called Corruption Unit specifically to probe allegations made against police during the trial. This is one step, he said, in regaining the community’s trust in the aftermath.
“Our job moving forward is to earn back the trust and respect of the community. It will be a process and I understand the doubt, fear, and pessimism, but I ensure you that rooting out anyone who thinks they can tarnish the badge and violate our citizen’s [sic.] rights, is a top priority of mine,” he said. “I ask for your support, as well as your criticisms, as we move forward to making the Baltimore Police Department a great and well respected institution again. We owe it you and we have no option but to succeed.”
In a statement, the Office of the Public Defender said the verdict vindicated citizens who have for years called attention to misconduct by Baltimore police officers.
“The federal trial and resulting convictions of the GTTF officers vindicates our clients who have been reporting these officers’ abuses for years and underscores the importance of transparency and the need for police oversight and accountability,” it reads. “We continue to seek justice for the thousands of individuals whose lives have been devastated by the actions of these convicted officers, many of whom remain incarcerated.”
NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund president and director-counsel Sherrilyn Ifill pointed out in a statement that police, city officials and prosecutors failed to uncover the Gun Trace Task Force’s corrupt patterns for nearly a decade, until federal agents began investigating in 2015.
“Residents deserve new procedures, practices, regulations, safety valves, and training across city agencies–including the State’s Attorney’s office–to ensure that this cannot happen again,” she said.
This story has been updated.