If there’s anyone with enough intimate knowledge about the devastating tenure of the Baltimore Police Department’s Gun Trace Task Force to write a book on it, it’s the local reporter duo of Baynard Woods and Brandon Soderberg. That’s now in the works, as both have officially signed a book deal with New York-based trade publisher St. Martin’s Press.
The title of the pair’s upcoming book: “I’ve Got a Monster.” Per a Publishers Marketplace newsletter from today, the work will be all about “the U.S.’s most corrupt police unit, the Gun Trace Task Force (GTTF), which has terrorized the city of Baltimore for more than a decade.”
The book’s grim title comes straight out of the months of testimony for the eight Baltimore cops who were tried and convicted of racketeering conspiracy, robbery, overtime fraud, record-falsification and more for their misconduct while working within the plainclothes unit.
Soderberg, formerly managing editor of the Baltimore Beat and editor-in-chief of City Paper (disclosure: I freelanced for CP during its final months) said “monster” was the term that the unit’s ringleader, former Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, “would say when he found a big drug dealer he wanted to rob.”
Oreese Stevenson, who the task force robbed and arrested on drug charges after breaking into his home in March 2016, mentioned the phrase, as did victim Alex Hilton, who was harassed by former GTTF detective Daniel Hersl for years. On the opposite side, Soderberg says, people who defended the officers prior to sentencing would tell the jury, “He isn’t a monster.”
“But it’s obvious who the monster turns out to be,” said Woods, formerly City Paper’s managing editor and now a reporter for The Real News. “It’s like Oedipus. He says, I’m gonna find out who killed the king at the beginning… he doesn’t even know what that monster is.”
Soderberg and Woods have been working on “I’ve Got a Monster” for about four months now, and expect to be plugging away at it for at least the next year, the former says. (They’re also working on a separate documentary with a production company, though details remain under wraps.)
“We still have a lot of reporting to do,” Woods said of the book.
Soderberg noted a few of the many topics they expect to cover: the task force’s organized criminal run under Jenkins’ command from June 2016 until early 2017, when the unit disbanded; the lack of oversight within the Baltimore Police Department that allowed them to rob, defraud and sell drugs or guns for years without punishment; the mysterious on-the-job death of the late Det. Sean Suiter, killed with his own gun last fall; issues within the task force like toxic masculinity and the culture surrounding guns.
The work “diagnoses policing and police,” Soderberg said, later adding, “Police officers that could be very good at police officers could also be very good at being criminals. It just kind of feeds into each other.”
It will also fixate on the rogue unit’s “effects on the city—we’re all victims of the task force,” he says, “and the effects on the individuals who were in a number of different ways terrorized by the task force.”
Woods says there’s much left to be uncovered, particularly if more of the GTTF’s victims decide to come forward to share their stories, and as cases remain untried and investigations are left open.
Eric Troy Snell, a Philadelphia police officer who sold drugs stolen by the GTTF, is headed to trial in the fall. Former police commissioner Darryl De Sousa, who resigned in May after being indicted for failing to file his taxes for three years, was charged by the same prosecutors who indicted the task force’s eight members plus Snell. The investigation into the death of Suiter, who was duped into arresting two suspects who Jenkins framed in 2010, remains open.
“There’s still so many unknowns about where the case is going,” Woods said.
“We want to do right by the city and the citizens here,” he later added. “It really is about getting the story right.”
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