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Articles Posted in Police Misconduct

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police-224426__180Another former member of the Baltimore Police Department’s notorious Gun Trace Task Force has been found guilty of a serious crime in federal court.  The 49-year old veteran officer, who retired earlier this year after 26 years with the BPD, is the 15th member of the task force to face charges for various felonies including robbery, falsifying police reports, theft and public corruption.  This officer was never prosecuted for direct acts of public corruption related to his involvement with the task force, but he could not fully outrun his past transgressions.  Federal agents were not able to bust the officer for selling cocaine that was seized during a drug bust back in 2009, but the feds got the former officer on charges for lying to federal investigators about said cocaine last year during an interview.  It was an interesting turn of events for a man who thought he had avoided what 14 of his former colleagues could not.

According to facts presented at the plea, the former officer was called in by the FBI to answer questions about a major drug bust that occurred in Baltimore City back in 2009.  During this bust, city police officers discovered 44 kilograms of cocaine in a pickup truck after obtaining a search warrant for the home of a suspected large-scale dealer.  The bust was so large that the BPD’s SWAT team was called in to escort a police van to headquarters to lock up the cocaine in an evidence room.  Apparently only 41 kilograms were entered into evidence control and 3 kilograms were left in the transport van.  After being advised that the interview was voluntary and that he could be prosecuted for lying to the federal agents, the former officer proceeded to tell agents that he was unaware that anyone had taken and sold the missing 3 kilograms of cocaine.  The former officer probably didn’t know it at the time, but the agents were likely working on information from a cooperating defendant that he indeed participated in the theft and sale of the missing 3 kilos.  The agents likely did not give the former officer any reason to believe he was the target of their investigation, and he probably casually denied involvement without knowing he had just sealed his own fate.

The FBI obviously had insufficient evidence to prosecute the former officer back in 2009 for stealing and selling the cocaine, and likely did not even know he was part of the theft until recently.  While the statute of limitations most certainly barred prosecution for his involvement in the heist (most federal criminal violations have a 5-year statute of limitations), they were able to stick him with charges for lying about his involvement 10 years later.  In order to induce a guilty plea, the feds likely had reliable witnesses that were more than prepared to testify in court.  These witnesses could have been other officers involved in the task force, including an officer that was found guilty for planting a BB gun in a citizens’ car in order to protect a fellow officer from prosecution.  The officer convicted of the BB gun scam was one of the officers that split the proceeds of the sale of the 3 missing cocaine kilos.  As part of the plea agreement the defendant in this recent case admitted that he received $20,000 for his role in selling the stolen cocaine to a confidential informant.

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hammer-802296__480-300x225In a rather bizarre case, a Maryland State Trooper recently pled guilty to perjury and misconduct in office for falsifying DUI arrests.  The guilty plea was heard in the Baltimore County Circuit Court just a couple of weeks after the trooper was formally charged by the Attorney General’s Office.  It does not appear that the 36-year old trooper was ever arrested, as his case did not originate in the district court as a typical statement of charges.  According to facts presented in the guilty plea the trooper made 6 fake DUI arrests over the course of the last two years.  He authored completely falsified citations and police reports and submitted the same to the District Court Clerk and the State’s Attorney’s Office.  The fake citations and reports turned into actual court cases, and fictitious defendants were summoned to appear for court.  When these ghost defendants did not show up for court the judges ordered bench warrants to issue, and in some cases, officers actually responded to fake addresses to arrest fake people for failing to appear in court.  The trooper, who has been with the MSP for about 10 years, was a corporal in the specialized DUI enforcement unit, which has been lauded for its effectiveness.  The whole situation is even stranger considering the fact that the State Police denies the existence of numerical requirements for DUI arrests.  The trooper, who is currently suspended with pay, may have felt pressure to up his numbers, but there may have been more to this story.

The trooper was charged at the end of July and elected to immediately have his lawyer begin plea negotiations.  The AG’s office did not agree to dismiss either of the two counts pursuant to a guilty plea, but likely did not push too hard for an active jail sentence.  After accepting his guilty plea, the judge sentenced the soon to be former trooper to a suspended jail sentence and supervised probation.  As a condition of his probation the trooper will have to perform 300 hours of community service and pay a $6,000 fine, which is no slap on the wrist.  On the other hand, avoiding jail time and a felony conviction under these circumstances is certainly a victory for the defense.  Had the trooper received some sort of financial gain for his misconduct the result may have been different, but his intentions were not so devious as they were just strange.  The trooper tried to cover his tracks to some extent; all of his fake drunk driving suspects refused their breathalyzer tests, which meant he did not have to include fake breath alcohol test results in the reports.  On the other hand, breathalyzer tests are conducted by a certified breath tech so fabricating these reports would have required an accomplice.  A breath tech being in on this crime would have been one of the few things to make this story more bizarre.

Perjury, which is a misdemeanor with a 10-year maximum penalty, is not a particularly common criminal charge in Maryland because it is difficult to prove a person was lying under oath.  This officer was in a different position due to his sworn police reports and citations being easily proven as fictitious.  We have posted numerous stories about charges involving misconduct in office, and unfortunately there is no shortage of government authority figures breaking the law these days.  It seems like state lawmakers, mayors, city administrators and police officers are routinely appearing as defendants in criminal court, and the media is always there to report on their cases.  The Blog will continue to follow public corruption cases so stay tuned.  Benjamin Herbst is a Maryland criminal defense lawyer who is also licensed to practice in all state and federal courts including Baltimore County, Montgomery County and Anne Arundel County.  Benjamin is also an experienced Florida criminal defense lawyer who specializes in perjury, misconduct in office, drug offenses, gun crimes, theft and fraud.  Call Benjamin anytime for a free consultation at 410-207-2598.

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car-1531277__480-300x200A veteran Anne Arundel County police officer has been arrested and charged with numerous felony offenses for allegedly stealing from the home of a deceased man in Pasadena.  Back in April multiple officers responded to the residence after a report of an unattended death.  The officer in question then returned to the house the next day in full uniform, and according to reports took cash and firearms with him.  A witness observed the officer removing the firearms from the house, but thought it was routine police activity.  The witness never mentioned what he saw until months later when a family member of the deceased homeowner called the department in search of the missing firearms for estate purposes.  The department started asking questions and ultimately came across the witness.

Detectives were probably surprised to learn their prime suspect was one of their own, but nonetheless proceeded to hone in on making an arrest.  Police executed a search warrant on the officer’s home in Linthicum and he was arrested soon thereafter.  The 5-year veteran officer was released on his own recognizance by a district court commissioner after being booked and charged with 6 different offenses including first-degree burglary, felony theft and misconduct in office.  He was also charged with third-degree burglary, fourth-degree burglary and felony theft scheme, and has been placed on leave without pay by the Anne Arundel County Police Department.  There is currently no preliminary hearing date set for the officer’s case, but regardless it will ultimately be forwarded to the Circuit Court for a resolution.

It is too early to tell whether this case will end up going to trial, but if detectives found the firearms during the execution of the search warrant then a guilty plea is almost a foregone conclusion.  While the officer is facing 6 total charges, his attorney will likely argue for the four felonies to be dismissed.  The State will probably push for a plea involving the misconduct in office charge, and one additional theft or burglary charge.  Misconduct in office is a common law offense in Maryland that does not have a set maximum penalty, but it is considered a misdemeanor. Whether the defense can convince the State to go on misdemeanor fourth-degree burglary remains to be seen, as this would ensure the officer does not end up with a felony conviction.

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police-224426__180Last week a former Baltimore police detective was sentenced to 18 months in prison followed by 2 years of supervised release for making false statements to a federal grand jury.  The statements were regarding an incident that happened in the spring of 2014, when another BPD officer ran over an arrestee in Baltimore City.  That officer, who was not named in the U.S. Attorney’s press release, apparently called the former detective’s sergeant to inform him of the car accident involving a suspect.  The sergeant then asked the former detective if he had a BB gun that they could use to plant at the scene, in an ill-conceived effort to provide justification for suspect being hit with a vehicle.  The former detective told his sergeant that he did not own a BB gun, but then called his partner, who did own a BB gun.  The sergeant and former detective then drove to the partner’s home to retrieve the BB gun and then went back to the scene of the auto accident, where the sergeant planted the gun.  The former detective apparently stayed by the car and did not assist in planting the BB gun at the scene.

The suspect who was run over by the officer’s car was arrested that night and charged with numerous drug crimes in addition to discharging a BB gun, which we now know was completely fabricated.  The suspect was held in custody for several days, and prosecutors eventually dismissed all charges about 10 months later.  The officer who ran the suspect over was indicted with several other Baltimore Police officers who were members of the notorious Gun Trace Task Force or GTTF.  The incident regarding the planted BB gun came up in one of the federal GTTF investigations, and the former detective was subpoenaed to provide his testimony on what happened.  The former detective told the grand jury that his sergeant requested that he call his partner to inquire about the BB gun, but the partner said he did not have one.  The detective then insinuated that while at the scene of the accident the sergeant went to the trunk of his vehicle to retrieve an unknown object.

Many of the former GTTF officers provided substantial assistance to the government in consideration for lighter sentences, and information on what actually transpired the night of the accident appears to have come from one of those proffer sessions.  Federal law enforcement learned that the detective and his sergeant arranged a secret meeting by communicating on their wives’ cell phones.  They actually met in a swimming pool to assure that neither was wearing a wire, a scene right out of the movie Traffic.  At the secret meeting both officers discussed their concerns over the GTTF indictments, and then the sergeant apparently told the former detective to lie about why they went back to the scene of the accident.  The sergeant told the detective to tell federal authorities that the sergeant retrieved the BB gun himself and that the former detective had played no part in obtaining it.  Unfortunately for the detective, federal authorities were able to prove that these statements were made with the intent to deceive the grand jury, and a stiff sentence followed from this poor decision.

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police-224426__180Back in June a Baltimore Police sergeant was arrested and charged with second degree assault, false imprisonment and misconduct in office for wrongfully arresting a bystander. There hasn’t been much movement on his criminal case that is currently set for jury trial in mid December, but the suspended sergeant is back in the news in an embarrassing twist for the city. According to data recently made public online, the sergeant was actually Baltimore City’s highest paid employee in the 2018 fiscal year that ended June 30 with a gross salary of a whopping 260 thousand dollars. His take home salary was 10k more than the next highest paid city employee, who as it turns out was the former director of information technology who was forced to step down after a ransomware attack cost taxpayers $10 million to fix. The suspended police sergeant’s gross salary was significantly more than the mayor’s salary of about $185k and 10 percent higher that the elected State’s Attorney’s salary. The sergeant was also the second highest paid city employee in the 2017 fiscal year, making slightly less than $250k.

The incident that led to the sergeant’s arrest and suspension occurred on May 30 when police officers were conducting a warrants check on a pedestrian. A bystander expressed his disapproval of police ordering the pedestrian to sit on the wet sidewalk. Rather than ignore the commentary or simply tell the bystander to keep walking, the sergeant charged after the bystander and tackled him from behind. The sergeant and another officer forcibly held the man down on the street with their knees in his back and placed him under arrest.

Each time a police officer uses force against an individual they must fill out certain forms to explain their actions. Apparently the sergeant justified his actions by stating that the bystander challenged him and became aggressive and combative, but body cameral footage reviewed by police officials painted an entirely different picture of the incident. Ultimately the police commissioner made the swift decision to charge the sergeant just one week after the incident. A warrant was issued for his arrest on June 6 for the three aforementioned misdemeanor counts and the sergeant turned himself in to the jail. He was released that same day on an unsecured personal bond of $200k, which means he did not have to put up any money or collateral in order to be released.

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police-224426__180Almost one year ago the Baltimore Police Department welcomed a new commissioner with high hopes he would be the one best suited to reverse the rising crime rate and restore the department’s reputation in the community. The department had become a nationwide embarrassment after numerous officers were convicted in severe cases of corruption, which included the armed robbery of citizens. There were also lingering allegations that the department unjustly targeted minority suspects, and also ignored service calls in the city’s most dangerous areas. At the time the Mayor was convinced her candidate for commissioner could begin to repair all the damage, but this vision came to an abrupt end four months later after the former top cop resigned amidst federal tax evasion charges. Recently the ex-commissioner pled guilty to those charges in a federal courthouse just a few blocks away from his former office atop police headquarters.

According to the Department of Justice the former commissioner pled guilty to three counts of failing to file individual federal tax returns in 2013, 2014 and 2015. Pursuant to the plea agreement the ex-cop also admitted to substantially reducing the amount of taxes withheld from his salary each year by claiming extra allowances and deductions. He went as far as claiming mortgage interest deductions and deductions for local property taxes when he didn’t actually have a mortgage or own any real property. He claimed business losses without owning any businesses, which all served to reduce the amount of taxes owed to the IRS and the State of Maryland. Additionally, the defendant did not file his 2011 and 2012 tax returns until 2014, and cooked the books when he did file in order to unlawfully save money. The former commissioner’s tax issues cost him his job back in May, and now they may cost him his freedom come March when the case is set for sentencing. Each of these charges carries a $100,000 fine and up to one year in prison. There will also be $67,587.72 in restitution that must be paid to the federal and state governments.

As a first time offender the former top cop will is unlikely to face a lengthy jail sentence for these misdemeanor offenses. On the other hand the judge will balk at any argument that the defendant simply “made a mistake” as the Mayor once characterized it. This was an ongoing course of conduct, and the continuous misrepresentations showed a certain degree of knowledge and intent. If the conduct was believed to have been a mistake or even straight ignorance the U.S. Attorney’s Office probably wouldn’t have charged the former police officer in criminal court. And even if the feds brought charges, if not for the recurring misrepresentations federal prosecutors likely would have entertained some sort of deferred prosecution agreement instead of going after three convictions.

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concertina-wire-1031773_960_720-200x300The Department of Justice recently reported that a former bail bondsman has been sentenced to five years in federal prison for his role in a drug distribution conspiracy with Baltimore Police officers.  According the plea agreement the 51-year old defendant from the Middle River area of Baltimore County stole drugs, cash and jewelry from citizens between 2015 and 2017.  He also obtained significant quantities of narcotics from a former Baltimore Police sergeant who is currently serving a 25-year sentence for racketeering, robbery, falsification of records and public corruption.  Court documents alleged that the sergeant would repeatedly steal or confiscate narcotics during the course of his duties as a police officer.  The sergeant would then deliver the drugs to the bail bondsman, who would store them on his property until he and other co-conspirators were able to sell them.  In some instances the bail bondsman tagged along with the police sergeant during raids and searches.  All told the bail bondsman netted hundreds of thousands of dollars from the illegal drug sales, which were divided among the numerous corrupt officers that helped facilitate the scam.

Multiple law enforcement organizations participated in this investigation including the FBI and the Baltimore County Police Department. Investigators likely received a great deal of information about this case from co-defendants looking to receive a break from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, but the case was made after the execution of a search warrant at the bail bondsman’s home yielded over 400 grams of crack, 200 grams of cocaine, 14 grams of heroin, MDMA, cash and expensive jewelry.  Luckily for the defendant no firearms were found during the execution of the warrant, as the presence of guns could have resulted in a much harsher sentence. Federal sentencing guidelines provide harsher penalties for certain gun crimes than Maryland state sentencing guidelines, and many of these offenses carry mandatory prison time.

The bail bond industry in Maryland has been hit hard by reforms mandated by the Court of Appeals and the state legislature.  Judges are no longer permitted to impose exorbitant bail amounts unless doing so would be the least restrictive means to assure the defendant’s return to court.  Bail in any amount may not be used as a means to protect the community while a defendant is pending trial, as this is now the responsibility of pre-trial services. Obviously, this case was not directly related to bail reform, but one is left to wonder whether tough financial times motivated this defendant to engage in illegal activities.

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police-224426__180Drunk driving charges have been filed against a Baltimore Police sergeant after he allegedly crashed an unmarked department vehicle into multiple parked cars.  The incident occurred last weekend in the northeast part of the city not far from the site of the old Memorial Stadium.  The sergeant is a 15-year veteran of the force, who is assigned to a new plainclothes unit sporting the nondescript title Anti-Crime Section.  This undercover unit has been around since April, and is the first of its type since plainclothes units were disbanded following federal indictments of numerous members of the Gun Trace Taskforce.  The charged officer is one of two sergeants on the plainclothes unit, which also includes 12 officers.  Pursuant to department policy the sergeant has been suspended with pay while an internal investigation takes place.

The sergeant was not arrested and booked into jail, but rather was issued must appear citations.  He will receive a summons to appear for trial, likely at the North Avenue District Court in Baltimore City sometime in the next few weeks.  Most people who are arrested for DUI or DWI in Maryland are not actually booked into a jail, but rather are released to a friend or family member at the police station. This process typically takes a few hours, as the officer has to complete all the paperwork and inform the defendant of his or her rights with respect to the breathalyzer test.  There are certain scenarios where a driver arrested for drunk driving could be booked into jail, but a polite and cooperative attitude will usually be enough to avoid this unfortunate outcome.

Like most first time offenders, the police officer will probably have an opportunity to receive probation before judgment or PBJ from the judge in district court.  This of course depends on whether the officer’s attorney feels the state has enough evidence to prove the charges, and it is not clear whether the sergeant submitted to a breath test.  The officer may elect to fight his case at trial, though this route should take the case downtown to the circuit court.  It is extremely difficult to win a DUI trial in district court because you are relying on the judge alone to find the state has not met its burden of proof.  Police officers typically have the most experience testifying in traffic cases, and in a district court trial they only need to convince one person (the judge) that the citations should stand.  Contrast this with a jury trial where 12 citizens are scrutinizing each and every word coming from the state’s witnesses.  Most jurors understand that even two sips of alcohol can be detected on a person’s breath, and that the roadside exercises are a ridiculous endeavor. Standing on one leg and walking heel to toe in a straight line are hardly an adequate means to test a person’s normal faculties.  If you are charged with DUI or DWI (typically a person will be issued citations for both and an additional one for DUI per se if the breath results were above .08) do not hesitate to request a jury trial and transfer your case to circuit court. Making this request does not automatically mean your case will go to a jury trial, rather it simply means that this option will be available.

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baltimorepolice-300x189Fresh off an embarrassing turn of events where Baltimore’s top cop resigned after just 4 months on the job, the city police department is back in the news for the wrong reasons. This week an ongoing investigation involving another high ranking police officer became public, and that officer has since been suspended and removed from her position as the department’s representative in a national police organization.  The officer in question held the ranking of major and oversaw the entire robbery and non-fatal shooting unit.  She was in charge of over 30 detectives who investigated thousands of robberies per year before being suspended this week.  The misconduct that led to the suspension involved the misappropriation of funds from a non-profit organization she created to mend the relationship between cops and the community.  While the officer may have mended some relationships, she also used over $2,000 of the foundation’s money to purchase plane tickets for a European vacation with her kids.

News of the major’s misconduct was not released by the police department, the State’s Attorney’s Office or the feds as would be typical in a situation such as this. Rather a reporter for the Sun broke the story that ultimately forced the department’s hand at the suspension.  The information about the misconduct came to light in a closed custody hearing between the major and her ex-husband who is also a high-ranking officer in the department.  The husband apparently disclosed to the Court that he became suspicious of the misconduct after coming across a bank statement in the trash that showed the non-profit’s funds had been used for personal reasons.  He also turned this information over to the internal affairs, which began their investigation of the major back in December.  The internal affairs investigation was kept secret from everyone else in the department, and also from the national police organization that was no doubt embarrassed and irked that one of its members had been under investigation for six months for stealing from a charity.

News about the soon to be ex-major came within a month of the police commissioner resigning after being charged with tax evasion by the federal government.  The department totally failed to properly vet the commissioner and then the mayor made the situation even more embarrassing by offering support of her chosen top cop even after he was charged.  The mayor seemed to minimize the charges by alluding that the ex-commissioner simply failed to prioritize his personal affairs when he violated federal law, which is a ridiculous statement on so many levels. The ex-commissioner now faces up to one year in jail and a $25,000 fine for each of the three misdemeanor counts that represent the three years he failed to file.  It will be interesting to see how this case plays out, and whether the former commissioner will be held to a higher standard than an average Joe who fails to file.

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police-224426__180A federal jury recently found two former Baltimore Police officers guilty of robbery and racketeering after a two-week trial, and both now face up to 60 years in prison when they return to court for sentencing. The convicted officers join six others who already pled guilty over the last few months, which brings the total to eight corrupt cops that were part of a disbanded police unit dubbed as the gun trace task force. Four of the officers that previously pled guilty were called as witnesses for the government and testified against their former colleagues, no doubt in an attempt to secure lighter sentences for themselves. In addition, a former member of the task force that refused to engage in criminal activity and later transferred out of the unit testified for the government. The government called numerous victims, many of whom were admitted drug dealers who were robbed, beaten and threatened by the task force cops. Prosecutors also produced body camera footage and wire tapped conversations dating back to 2015 when the federal investigation first began after the DEA heard incriminating statements by an officer during a wiretapped conversation on a suspected drug dealer’s phone.

The case turned out to be a truly lopsided affair where the government was able to prove the corrupt cops stole cash, drugs and guns, falsified police reports and search warrant affidavits, lied about worknhours to inflate their salaries, and broke into houses of residents under the guise of legitimate law enforcement activity. The shamed officers were also accused of providing security for large drug deals in exchange for compensation and failing to provide aid to individuals that were hurt in a high-speed car crash that had no legitimate law enforcement purpose. One of the only reasonable arguments presented by the defendants were that the crimes amounted to theft and not robbery and racketeering, which had been alleged by federal investigators, but the jury thought otherwise and convicted each defendant of the highest charged offenses.

The trial may be over and the news trucks have left the Baltimore federal courthouse for the time being, but the effects of this scandal will be felt for years to come. The city already has a new police commissioner and the head of internal affairs has since been reassigned. Hundreds of prior convictions are subject to being overturned and the State’s Attorney’s Office is coming under scrutiny for prosecuting cases were the corrupt officers were involved. It has been alleged that the credibility of many of the task force cops had been called into question long before the federal investigation became public, but prosecutors pursued their cases anyway. In Annapolis one state delegate proposed that the entire police department should be disbanded and reformed as a new entity, which is exactly what took place in Camden, New Jersey. The mayor of Baltimore brushed off the call for disbanding the police department and maintains that the corruption was limited to a small number of few bad apples. While disbanding won’t happen at this point, it is telling just how bad the situation has become downtown. The justice department issued a scathing memo to the BPD back in 2016 and will continue to monitor the way BPD conducts business. If new allegations of corruption resurface you can bet that the federal government will be the first to step act.

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