BY: ZSHEKINAH COLLIER
Following the indictment of eight Baltimore police officers who stole money and drugs, as well as falsified paperwork and evidence, state lawmakers are considering legislation that will enforce harsher punishments for corrupt officers, The Baltimore Sun reported.
Eight of the nine members of the Baltimore Police Department's Gun Trace Task Force were charged in March and August 2017 for racketeering.
Six of the eight officers pleaded guilty, while the other two went to trial. The Baltimore Sun followed the trial of Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor from Jan. 23 to Feb. 6, recording many co-officers and victims who shared information and testified against the elite force.
Detective Maurice Ward, one of the officers who pleaded guilty to racketeering, said on the stand that the force would often drive fast at groups of peopleä¸€hit the breaks and chase, detain and search themä¸€while searching for guns and drugs on the streets.
Photo from the top left: Officer Marcus Taylor, Daniel Hersl, Maurice Ward, Jemell Rayam, Momondu Gando, Sgt. Wayne Jenkins and Officer Evodio Hendrix
Ward also said many officers stored BB guns in their cars, according to reports. "In case we accidentally hit somebody or got into a shootout, so we could plant them," Ward said. He never said whether or not officers actually planted the guns on anyone, but did say officers were instructed to carry the false evidence by their supervisor, Sgt. Wayne Jenkins.
Jenkins would often profile cars like Honda Accords, Acura TLs and Honda Odysseys, referring to them as "dope boy cars," Ward alleged. He also said Jenkins illegally tracked targets using GPS and told drug dealers he was a federal agent so that he could steal their money and drugs.
Maryland lawmakers are also considering payouts for victims of unfair policing, The Sun reported. Baltimore resident, Ivan Potts, 31, was sentenced to eight years in prison on gun charges. After serving more than two years he was set free, as his 2016 gun conviction relied on the testimony of the now-disgraced task force.
Del. Bilal Ali has introduced a bill that would grant wrongly incarcerated individuals a minimum of $50,000 for each year spent behind bars, according to The Sun.
Officer Jemell Rayam, who also pleaded guilty, said while testifying that he and other officers would sell the confiscated drugs and guns back to the streets, The Sun reported.
Detective James Kostoplis said he was asked to participate in illegal activities on his first day on the task force, reports say. Officers Hersl and Jenkins took him for a ride and asked how he felt about tracking high-level drug dealers and stealing their money. Kostoplis believed it was a test. Shortly after giving his answer, Jenkins transferred Kostoplis out of the unit.
"He was, in fact, asking me to steal money," Kostoplis said on the stand.
Many connect the rise in crime and murder rates with people's distrust in the Baltimore Police Department. This scandalâ€”and the 86 people who were allegedly carrying fake guns when they were shot by the police between 2015 and 2016â€”contribute to the negative perception of police officers and demonstrates the need for improving police relations with the communities they serve.