Baltimore trial of police officers uncovers stunning levels of corruption

As we’ve discussed here previously, a series of trials have been underway in Baltimore, Maryland alleging widespread corruption among members of the city’s Gun Trace Task Force. This week, the trial of two detectives associated with that unit, Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor, ended in convictions on serious charges which could lead to lengthy prison sentences. The details of the robberies they pulled off and the shocking abuse of police authority were stunning even to those who have seen some of the worst incidents of official corruption. (Baltimore Sun)

A federal jury convicted two Baltimore police detectives Monday for their roles in one of the biggest police corruption scandals in city history.

Detectives Daniel T. Hersl, 48, and Marcus R. Taylor, 31, were found guilty of racketeering, racketeering conspiracy and robbery. Prosecutors said they and their comrades on the Gun Trace Task Force had acted as “both cops and robbers,” using the power of their badges to steal large sums of money from residents under the guise of police work.

“Their business model was that the people that they were robbing had no recourse,” acting U.S. Attorney Stephen Schenning said after the verdict. “Who were they going to go to?”

Acting Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa said the trial — in which several unindicted officers were also accused of wrongdoing — had uncovered “some of the most egregious and despicable acts ever perpetrated in law enforcement.”

Hersl and Taylor may be given up to 60 years in prison at sentencing. Six other officers previously pleaded guilty and will face 20 to 40 years.

Unlike other cases where cops end up on trial for questionable use of deadly force or unjustified violence in the line of duty, the activities of members of the Gun Trace Task Force were something entirely different. These guys were involved in nothing short of violent, armed robbery against people who correctly worried that they had no recourse for justice in the courts. Many were drug dealers (some who testified at trial in exchange for immunity) but some were simply ordinary citizens.

These cops went into various homes and businesses, pulled weapons on the “suspects” in the name of investigating a crime, and proceeded to rob them of large sums of cash, sometimes divvying up their loot at a local bar afterward. In one particularly brazen instance, the officers invaded the home of a drug dealer and broke into his safe, discovering $200K in cash. They took half the money for themselves, then filmed a staged scene where they “discovered” the other half of the cash and arrested them. In another instance, a married couple accused of no crime at all were robbed of $20K at gunpoint.

This is a particularly tragic turn of events, particularly given all the trouble Baltimore has experienced over recent years. They have been trying to reestablish a good working relationship with law-abiding citizens in an effort to tame the gang violence problem in Charm City, but finding this sort of massive racketeering and corruption taking place will surely undermine those efforts and renew distrust in the police force.

When anyone commits crimes such as these it’s bad news. But when the cops are found doing it, we face the prospect of damaging the social contract which makes law and order possible. Let’s hope that they discovered everyone involved and can move forward from here with the public at least knowing that justice, though long delayed, was done.