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Jaz Jacobs (L) and Kevin Walloons gather to remember Freddie Gray and all victims of police violence during a rally outside city hall in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S., July 27, 2016. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston - S1BETSBQDAAA

2 Baltimore police officers found guilty in federal corruption case

After days of deliberation, a jury in the U.S. District Court has found two Baltimore police officers guilty in a federal corruption case.

Detectives Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor, formerly of the city’s Gun Trace Task Force, were found guilty of racketeering charges, stemming from reports that the officers had used force to extort people for cash and drugs, among other abuses of their power, including over-time fraud, robbery and planting evidence.

Previously, six other officers on the task force had pleaded guilty to similar racketeering charges, all of whom have since been terminated. Four of those officers had testified against Hersl and Taylor for the federal government in recent weeks.

Over several weeks, testimony from those officers and others demonstrated how a task force, once designed to prevent the proliferation of guns on the streets, was instead used in a yearlong racketeering scandal.

Shortly after the verdict was read, Acting Baltimore Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa said in a statement that the department was moving to terminate the employment of both officers, who have been been suspended without pay since they were indicted in March of last year.

“We recognize that this indictment and subsequent trial uncovered some of the most egregious and despicable acts ever perpetrated in law enforcement,” De Sousa said, adding that the police department has created a so-called “Corruption Unit” in the wake of this guilty verdict to pursue threads stemming specifically from the case that were not part of the indictment or prosecution.

“Let me make it clear; I have ZERO TOLERANCE for corruption,” he added.

The state’s attorney for Baltimore has dropped more than 125 cases involving all eight officers from the gun task force indicted in the case, the Associated Press noted. The Baltimore Public Defender’s office told The New York Times the number of cases tied to these officers is likely much higher.

As noted by The Baltimore Sun’s Justin Fenton, the jury, comprised largely of white women, chose a black man to read today’s decision, in a city whose police department has come under intense scrutiny for racial profiling and excessive use of force, and where the relationship between residents and the police has been fraught with mistrust.

Tension has grown ever since the 2015 death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who sustained a fatal spinal injury while in police custody. Ultimately, all federal charges against the officers involved in Gray’s death were dropped. In 2016, the Justice Department released a report detailing what the agency saw as a long pattern of discriminatory policing practices by the Baltimore police, including racial profiling and excessive use of force.

Gray’s death led to several weeks of protests in the city, where nearly 64 percent of residents are African-American. Last year, a federal judge approved a consent decree that would introduce a series of police reforms at the Baltimore Police Department.

The Sun reported that several of the steps the police department has said it is taking to address corruption in its ranks — random polygraph and integrity tests, an independent commission within the department — supplement the reform work pursued under the consent decree.

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