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How corrupt Baltimore cops used the badge to steal

Two Baltimore city police officers were convicted in federal court on Monday on charges including racketeering and robbery, as part of a brazen corruption scandal. Baltimore’s Gun Trace Task Force were tasked with getting illegal guns off the street, but used their authority to target people for theft. John Yang talks to Jayne Miller of WBAL-TV about the debate on how the city police force needs to change.

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  • John Yang:

    The other story in Baltimore is the federal court conviction of two city police officers, Detectives Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor, in a startling corruption scandal. Six other officers have already pleaded guilty.

    For the details, we're joined by Jayne Miller, the lead investigative reporter for WBAL TV in Baltimore. She's covered this story from the beginning.

    Jayne, thanks so much for joining us.

    The charges in the court yesterday were racketeering, racketeering conspiracy and robbery. But that really doesn't do — tell — give us the full breadth of what these guys did. What did they do?

  • Jayne Miller:

    Well, first of all, they were members of a very elite unit in the Baltimore Police Department which was called the Gun Trace Task Force, GTTF, as it was known.

    They were tasked with the responsibility of getting illegal guns off the street. And, as such, testimony showed in the case, they were given quite a bit of latitude and leeway to operate citywide.

    The testimony in this case exposed a real underbelly of that kind of policing, with the tactics they used to chase people, to target people. The bottom line of the way they operated illegally in this case was that they would target particularly drug dealers, because they knew drug dealers had cash.

    They would use their police power to get search warrants, police power to enter properties, police power to arrest people, detain people, get their address, go to their houses. But they'd target these folks, and then they would steal from them. They wouldn't steal everything.

    I think that was a very important part of this scheme. They would — for example, in one of the cases in which one of the two yesterday was convicted on the robbery count involved a drug dealer who had said — he testified he had in his house $300,000 and 10 kilos of drugs.

    The police targeted him. They went into his house. Members of the Gun Trace Task Force, they allegedly took $200,000, submitted $100,000 as evidence to make it all look legit, and submitted 8.5 kilos of the drugs.

    So, what's missing? Two hundred thousand dollars and a kilo-and-a-half of drugs. That was the basic M.O. of this scheme, was to use their power under the badge. They didn't — they weren't uniformed, but they did have police vests on most of the time, but to use their power to target people for the purpose of enriching themselves.

  • John Yang:

    And they were doing this while the Justice Department was investigating the Baltimore City police.

  • Jayne Miller:

    Right under the nose. That is correct. Right.

  • John Yang:

    With this amount of the sort of brazen corruption now exposed, what's been the reaction from the mayor and the police department?

  • Jayne Miller:

    Well, we just have a new police commissioner that took office just a couple of weeks ago, or he's designated to be the next police commissioner.

    And on Friday, he announced a series of changes, a new corruption unit to look at some of the names that have been dropped in testimony in the case that weren't charged in the case. He's looking at an overtime that — the overtime fraud in this case was staggering, in the ease with which these officers and detectives were able to steal overtime, able to cheat, without supervision, without anybody blowing the whistle on them.

    So, he's forming a new overtime abuse unit. But I think, beyond those specific changes, the real debate that's going on now in Baltimore is whether there needs to be an entirely different structure of the Baltimore Police Department.

    I'm just doing a story today, for example, with a key city Council Member in Baltimore that is looking at Los Angeles, the model in Los Angeles, where the police department is under the control of a board of commissioners, which also has the inspector general, so that police don't investigate themselves.

    And that's the kind of debate that we're seeing now in Baltimore, and I think will become stronger as we go forward. We still have a ways to go in this case, according to the FBI. In her testimony last week before the jury's verdict in this case, she made it clear that the investigation is ongoing.

    Last night, the acting U.S. attorney after the guilty verdicts in the Hersl and Taylor case — cases said that — he said, we're not going to tell you what we're doing, but indicated as well that they're continuing to follow leads in this case.

    So, we may still have some ground to cover in this particular case.

  • John Yang:

    And this has tainted now some prosecutions. Some cases that were being prosecuted are being thrown out. You have also got the…

  • Jayne Miller:

    Both city — both local and federal.

    There's a federal case, drug case, where two men were just released from prison — well, one was still in prison, one was out — but their sentences vacated because they were prosecuted federally all the way back in 2010 in a case where we now know the drugs were planted.

    So, yes, it's mostly state cases that have been tainted by the actions of these officers, but there are also federal cases that are being reviewed as well.

  • John Yang:

    You have got the police department trying to repair the damage from the Freddie Gray case a couple of years ago back.

    They're fighting — last year, they had the highest per capita murder rate in the city's history. What's this now done to the relationship between the police and the community?

  • Jayne Miller:

    Well, first of all, I want to add that we had a homicide in Baltimore involved this afternoon, and it was the first one in 10 days.

    And in a city like Baltimore that has a very high rate of gun violence, that has been a welcome relief. Everybody hopes it's not an anomaly. There's a lot of work that is going on really citywide with different agencies and communities, et cetera, to really try to bring down the rate of violence.

    I think the best part of the federal case is that it brings into the open and gives legitimacy to the complaints of many people in communities in Baltimore that have long argued and complained that police — about police tactics, about police stealing from them, about planting drugs.

    This federal case put all in one place allegations from drug dealers and from convicted police officers. That's the most important part of this case is that four of the convicted gun squad members testified for the government, which is where all these revelations came from of the activities of this unit.

    So, in the end, you know, transparency is a good thing. And at least this case has brought legitimacy and into the public eye really the underbelly of policing.

  • John Yang:

    Jayne Miller of WBAL TV in Baltimore, thanks so much for joining us.

  • Jayne Miller:

    Thank you, John.

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