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Articles Posted in Police Misconduct

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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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police-224426__180A veteran Baltimore City Police officer pled guilty this week to a racketeering conspiracy that included as many as nine robberies, many of which took place at the homes of city residents. The Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office announced the guilty plea after a hearing at the Baltimore federal courthouse. While the officer is not the first, and likely won’t be the last, to admit to robbing private citizens he is the highest-ranking officer implicated. The 59-year old sergeant from the Linthicum Heights area of Anne Arundel County has been on the force since 1996, and became officer-in-charge of the department’s gun trace task force in 2013. BPD formed the task force with the hopes of establishing a specialized unit more capable of solving firearm crimes, but the crimes committed by members of the task has outweighed any positive crime-fighting impacts.

The veteran officer admitted by way of his plea that he participated in nine robberies while employed by Baltimore Police, and that during the robberies he was armed with his service weapon. There is no indication the officer pled guilty to armed robbery, but these charges could have been dismissed pursuant to the plea agreement. Some of the robberies occurred as the officer and his co-conspirators carried out search warrants at the homes of individuals that were under investigation for drug distribution. The guilty officers often found large amounts of cash at these homes, and rather than submit the cash into evidence as required they would pocket most of the money, and then create false property receipts for the small remaining sums. Federal prosecutors even alleged that one of the robbery victims was shot and killed as a result of becoming indebted to a drug dealer after the officers stole $10,000 from his home.

Perhaps the most egregious part of the plea were the allegations made by federal prosecutors that the co-conspirators robbed citizens who were not even suspected of criminal activity. In order to cover up these robberies as lawful police activity this sergeant assisted in crafting fictitious arrest reports, incident reports and charging documents, that were sworn to and sent to judicial officers. Innocent citizens were basically terrorized by armed police officers in their homes and then jailed for the sole reason of covering up the theft of a few thousand dollars. The officer admitted to personally participating in the theft of over $90,000, but this money was likely divided up between other co-conspirators. Regardless, no amount of money would be worth the 20 years in prison the officer will face at a February sentencing hearing.

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police-224426__180Back in February seven Baltimore Police officers from the department’s gun task force were indicted on federal racketeering charges with allegations that the officers extorted and stole money from citizens, falsified police reports and collected fraudulent overtime payments. While all of the cases are still pending, it is now expected that four of the officers will enter guilty pleas sometime in the near future. The other three officers though appear to be in more hot water after the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced a federal grand jury returned a new indictment last week. The superseding indictment charges the three officers with additional counts of robbery, conspiracy, and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence. All told the offers were implicated in as many as 13 robberies that yielded over $280,000 in cash, firearms and 2 kilograms of cocaine, and now the details of some of these criminal acts are coming to light.

The new six-count indictment alleges that as far back as 2011 the officers illegally detained or entered the homes of suspected drug dealers with the intent to steal their narcotics and money. The officers allegedly conducted traffic stops without probable cause and even went as far as swearing to made up search warrant affidavits to gain access to suspects’ homes and vehicles. There are also allegations of burglarizing a storage unit to carry out a cocaine theft, stealing 20 pounds of marijuana during a drug deal and robbing a stripper. The incident that is gaining the most media attention though was a brazen home invasion robbery where the officers hired two civilians to steal a large amount of cash from the owner of a pigeon store in the southern Baltimore neighborhood of Brooklyn. While conducting a search warrant on the store the gun task force officers learned that the owner was in possession of $20,000 cash that was to be used to pay off a tax debt to the IRS. The officers left the store without taking any money, but later conspired with two civilians to steal the cash at a later date. After locating the store owner’s home address using a law enforcement database the officers provided the address as well as tactical gear including bullet proof vests and weapons to the civilians. The two civilians then robbed the store owner at gunpoint after posing as cops attempting to execute a search warrant.

The store owner reported the incident to the Baltimore Police several times, and filed an internal affairs complaint to no avail. While there was no official word from BPD on what exactly happened with the IA report, it is now assumed that the investigation was turned over to the feds in order to continue to build a case against the corrupt city cops. All seven of the officers face up to 20 years in prison for the racketeering and conspiracy charges and some may face additional penalties for robbery and felony firearms offenses. The firearm offenses could trigger mandatory minimum sentences as well, so it will be interesting to see what type of plea deals the first four officers agree to accept. The Blog will continue to follow all of these cases and may post a follow up article in the near future with an update. If you or a loved one is facing state or federal criminal charges contact Benjamin Herbst. He has represented hundreds of defendants charged with gun crimes, robbery, theft and drug trafficking and is available anytime for a free consultation.

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police-224426__180The U.S. Attorney recently announced that seven Baltimore City police officers have been indicted on numerous felony charges, and the fallout has already extended beyond the cops’ alleged criminal acts. A federal grand jury returned the indictment back in February, but it was sealed until agents had the opportunity to execute search and arrest warrants. All seven have been arrested and remain in custody after a judge denied bail pending trial. While bail is typically granted for a defendant with no prior criminal record that is not facing a capital offense or violent life felony, prosecutors made the argument that these defendants, who served on the gun trace task force together, were especially dangerous to the public and possessed unique training that would make them flight risks. Defense lawyers for the accused countered by arguing that the charges were blown out of proportion, but the federal magistrate judge was not convinced and stated that no conditions of bail or supervised release would be enough to protect the public.

The charges returned by the grand jury were numerous, and included offenses such as wire fraud, robbery, conspiracy and extortion by a state or government employee. These charges were bundled in one racketeering indictment, which alleged the defendants stole money and drugs from civilians they detained or arrested and submitted fraudulent overtime reports. One of the defendants also allegedly posed as federal prosecutor in order to get more information out of a victim, which the officers subsequently burglarized and stole $20,000 from. Six of the defendants were also charged in a separate seven-count indictment for drug charges including conspiracy to distribute heroin and cocaine, and officer is charged with distribution of heroin resulting in death.

All seven of the accused officers face up to 20 years in prison for the racketeering and conspiracy charges. The six defendants in the drug indictment face even more exposure as antiquated federal drug laws still provide harsher punishments for those that sell drugs than for those that rob, steal from or assault others. Three defendants face conspiracy to distribute more than a kilogram of heroin, which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison with a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence. The other three are charged with selling slightly less heroin, but still face up to 40 years with a 5-year mandatory minimum. One of the soon to be ex cops faces an additional 20 years in jail for distributing heroin that results in death.

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swimmers-79592_960_720Whether you love or hate the Olympics, most people would agree they were beginning to run their course. The past three weeks were filled with inspirational stories and domination by a pair of Maryland athletes, but Rio also produced its share of bizarre incidents and conspiracies. The latter seemed to steal many of the headlines, which is not surprising considering our appetite for scandals. No single event, including record setting performances on the track or in the pool, generated more news headlines than the American swimmers’ run in with an armed gas station security guard. At first it was reported that the swimmers were targeted by police impersonators and robbed at gunpoint, which was odd considering the alleged victims still had possession of their cell phones and jewelry. Then it was reported that the entire story was made up, and the swimmers were never robbed. While we still don’t have every detail, there are enough facts out there to generate a legal discussion about what crimes where actually committed that night. To keep the discussion relevant we will act as if the incident happened in Maryland, as the Blog does not claim to be an expert in the criminal laws of other states, much less other countries.

It seems fairly clear that the swimmers engaged in some sort of criminal activity before they were confronted by employees of the gas station. Whether their actions would have actually resulted in arrest or prosecution is debatable, but based on the evidence the swimmers could have been guilty of at least three criminal violations. Urination in public is illegal in Maryland, but unlike other states that have UIP laws, there is not a specific state criminal statute that addresses this conduct. Some local governments such as Prince George’s County have ordinances that cover this act, and in PG County it happens to be a civil citation. In order for an officer to arrest a person under state law for relieving themselves in public, he or she would have to charge the suspect with indecent exposure under section 11-107. This is a misdemeanor that carries a maximum three-year sentence, and is obviously a criminal charge that would look horrible on anyone’s rap sheet. A police officer could also arrest someone for using a public transportation vehicle as his or her own personal bathroom, which is a misdemeanor that carries a 90-day jail sentence under section 7-705 of the transportation code. It is unclear whether the swimmers actually damaged any property, but if they did then destruction of property and or disorderly conduct charges could follow.

While we do not know exactly what happened in or around the bathroom, it is absolutely clear that the swimmers became robbery victims at some point in the night. Robbery is a simple crime to define; it’s an unlawful taking of someone’s property with force. Many people can think of it as a theft plus an assault. If you throw a weapon into the equation you are left with an armed robbery, and if that weapon happens to be a working operable firearm then there could be an additional charge for using a firearm during the commission of a crime of violence. The gentleman that pulled a gun on the swimmers and demanded money without a doubt committed an armed robbery. If there were others standing next to the gun toting security guard then they too committed an armed robbery. There are very few valid legal defenses to a crime such as this, and none would apply here. The “security guard” was not acting in self-defense or the defense of others, and he certainly was not under duress. If this incident had happened in Maryland the man with the gun and any accomplices would have been arrested and charged with upwards of three felonies. Our government would have issued an apology to the admittedly foolish swimmers rather than extort them out of $11,000.

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hammer-719066_960_720The Special Court of Appeals has agreed to hear arguments on a major 5th Amendment issue stemming from the Baltimore City trial of the main defendant in the Freddie Gray case. In doing so, Maryland’s second highest court also ordered that the circuit court postpone the trial just hours before jury selection was set to commence. Oral arguments are set for the first week in March, allowing the Attorney General and the defense attorneys time to respond to each other’s legal briefs. The issue up for debate is whether the first defendant, whose case is still pending after a mistrial was declared, will be compelled to testify against one or more of the co-defendants. Under normal circumstances a defendant with pending charges would never be required to testify in any matter related to those pending charges. But the government is attempting to argue that their case is far from ordinary, and that the first defendant should be forced to take the stand against his former fellow officer.

The right to be protected from self-incrimination is one of the foundations of our criminal justice system, and “pleading the 5th” is one of the few legal concepts that comes to life as often in real cases as it does in Hollywood courtroom dramas. But in the case of the first officer, whose case resulted in a mistrial, the government is arguing there would be no self-incrimination implications should he be forced to testify against the other defendants. The government offered use immunity to the first officer, which means that they promised in writing to refrain from using any of the testimony against him at later time. Therefore the Attorney General will argue that there is no possibility that the officer’s testimony could get him into more trouble. This argument was compelling enough at least for the Baltimore City Circuit Court judge to buy, but don’t expect the appeals courts to be convinced as easily.

The defense introduced two main rebuttals to the government’s immunity argument. The attorneys argued that if the officer’s testimony is even slightly different the second and third time around he could face perjury charges, and they called attention to the numerous times that prosecutors called the first officer a liar during the December trial in support of this argument. The defense lawyers also suggested that even if the officer is eventually acquitted in the city circuit court he could still face federal charges. Per Department of Justice orders, federal prosecutors have been monitoring this case and were seen in court throughout the trial. The feds have made no such offer of immunity, and theoretically could use every bit of compelled state court testimony in a federal prosecution. While this seems like the stronger argument of the two, the shear historical strength of the 5th Amendment is perhaps the government’s greatest challenge to compelling the officer’s testimony. Ordering a defendant with a pending criminal case to testify against a co-defendant would be a direct shot at the 5th Amendment, and the implications would run contrary to decades of case law upholding the right to remain silent. The circuit court judge has a valid desire to move theses cases along, but the appeals courts will look at the bigger picture, and a ruling that undermines the constitutional protections afforded by the 5th Amendment is unlikely.

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gunpoint-308107_960_720A jury recently found a former police officer guilty of multiple violent crimes after a two-day trial in the Circuit Court for Prince George’s County. The shamed officer was indicted for an incident that occurred in May of 2014, when the officer questioned a man for sitting in a parked car. The man was parked in front of his Bowie home along with his cousin, and exited the vehicle after exchanging words with the officer. As the man was walking toward his front door the former patrol officer pulled out his firearm and ordered the man back in the car. The officer then pointed his gun at the victim’s back as he directed him to the vehicle. After the cop pushed the victim they turned to face each other, and at this time the cop had his gun pointed directly at victim’s head and then with the barrel mere inches from his face. The victim was then arrested for disorderly conduct, a case that was dismissed by prosecutors six months later.

The verdict came down earlier this week, and shortly thereafter the county police department release video of the incident, which was filmed on a cellphone. After viewing the video it was immediately apparent why the twelve jurors found the officer guilty of all the serious crimes for which he was charged. The charges included first degree assault, second degree assault, use of a handgun in a crime of violence, and misconduct in office. First degree assault is a felony that carries a maximum 25 year sentence, while second degree assault is a misdemeanor with a 10 year maximum. Misconduct in office is a common law crime with no specific maximum penalty. While each of these three crimes certainly carries severe punishments, it is the misdemeanor use of a handgun during a crime of violence charge that will carry the most weight. A conviction for this offense carries a mandatory minimum 5-year prison sentence that may not be suspended. In addition a defendant sentenced under this statute is not eligible for parole. Sentencing is set for early January, and will likely include a term of probation after expiration of the mandatory prison time.

During a press conference this week the police commissioner for Prince George’s County condemned the officer’s actions, and implored the public to refrain from passing judgment on the other 2,000 plus officers in the department. He stated that this was a criminal act of a single man and will not be tolerated in any way. While the officer is technically still with the department, his firing is a mere formality at this point. He has been suspended without pay since the indictment came down, and the only thing preventing his termination is the administrative process that government employees are afforded before being fired. This is certainly a busy week in Maryland for police misconduct cases, as Baltimore City police officer is currently in trial for his role in the death of Freddie Gray. The Blog will continue to follow both of these cases and may post a follow up article in the near future.

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pills-943764_640Maryland law enforcement’s war on heroin has reached new levels, as one county recently conducted highly questionable road checkpoints targeting the dangerous drug. The checkpoints were set up this past week on various thoroughfares in Harford County including Route 1, Route 24 and Route 40, which police classify as high volume drug trafficking routes. The trafficking designation is more a result of these roads being the major thoroughfares in and out of town and for the high volume of motorists they carry, but police seem to enjoy their labels and designations in order to stir up support for their operations. The checkpoints this past week produced ten arrests, with four of those being drug related. The arrests yielded marijuana, prescription pills, drug paraphernalia, a switchblade knife, and $7,000 in cash. The questions being asked in the wake of these unorthodox checkpoints are many, and include whether the efforts of law enforcement were worth it and whether their tactics were even legal.

The Harford County Sheriff’s Office ran point on the checkpoint with the help of numerous other agencies such as the Bel Air, Aberdeen, and State Police departments. The transportation authority police, who always jumps at a chance to get involved in highway related drug trafficking busts also helped out. Cleary there were abundant law enforcement efforts devoted to the checkpoints, which means thousands of tax payer dollars and manpower resources that were unavailable for other tasks. In addition a couple thousand motorists were subjected to police intrusion as they moved innocently about. It’s safe to say that these checkpoints were not even close to being worth four drug arrests, some cash and a switchblade. DUI checkpoints are notoriously ineffective at achieving their goal and this makeshift heroin checkpoint seems even worse. The amount of police manpower it takes to run a checkpoint never adds up to actual arrest numbers, and the prevention factor is all hypothetical. The dozens of officers working these checkpoints would undoubtedly have made more arrests if they were simply working standard road patrol shifts. Not to mention avoiding the in your face police state law enforcement tactics that should only be used in extreme circumstances.

police-224426_640The question of the drug checkpoint’s legality is slightly more complicated, and despite gaining the State’s Attorney’s approval the checkpoints may have been unconstitutional. This means that the 10 arrests might not produce any convictions for prosecutors. Drug focused checkpoints have been declared unconstitutional in the past, and DUI checkpoints have numerous requirements that need to be met in order to be deemed legal. Cops in this particular operation tried to distinguish their actions from DUI checkpoints and argued that no motorists were actually randomly stopped. But judges, and especially federal judges, frown upon police activity that tries to outsmart the constitution and the case precedent that interprets it. The makeshift checkpoints may not have mirrored the intrusions of standard DUI checkpoints, but this doesn’t mean that police can avoid checkpoint requirements for legality. One Harford sheriff said the operation was nothing like a DUI checkpoint, which is a naïve and juvenile statement considering the first thought in everyone’s mind was to compare this week’s operations to DUI checkpoints. The Blog may post a follow up article if we see more of these controversial drug checkpoints pop up around the state.

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graphics-882726_640A jury recently found a veteran FBI agent guilty of assault after a three-day trial in the Montgomery County Circuit Court last week. The charges stemmed from an incident involving the custody exchange of a child, where the father was allegedly two hours late. A bystander captured the entire incident on a cellphone camera, which ultimately led to the agent being indicted for felony first degree assault, use of a firearm in a crime of violence, and misdemeanor second degree assault.   Video shows that the agent, a friend of the mother of the child, was angry with the father for being late and repeatedly called him disrespectful. The agent, who was off duty and dressed in plain clothes, kept pressing the father and followed him outside of a Chevy Chase apartment building to continue to voice his displeasure. During the argument a 15 year-old boy intervened and questioned why the agent was getting involved, as he was not part of the family. At that point the agent suddenly struck the boy with and open hand to the chest that sent him tumbling down to the sidewalk on his back. As the boy picked himself up the off duty agent then attempted to place him under arrest. A brief struggled ensued, but ended quickly when the agent pulled out a handgun and threatened to shoot the boy if he didn’t comply.

After receiving a copy of the video the State’s Attorney decided to present the case to a grand jury, which ended up finding probable cause to charge the agent with the three aforementioned offenses. The jury sitting in the trial court did not feel the evidence warranted convictions for the two felony offenses and acquitted the defendant on the most serious counts. But the jury agreed with the state of Maryland that the evidence supported a finding of guilt for second degree assault, as the agent had no legal authority and no defense for striking the boy. The agent’s lawyer argued unsuccessfully that the agent felt imminently threatened by the 15 year-old boy, and therefore struck him in self-defense. But the jury saw through this argument, which was hardly supported by the video.

As the verdict was announced the agent, a 20 year veteran of the FBI and current high ranking counterterrorism officer, became faint and had to be transported from the courtroom by ambulance. The case was reset until this week to deal with post-verdict matters such as setting a sentencing date and deciding whether the defendant will be allowed to keep his firearms. In Maryland a person convicted of a crime of violence such as assault is not permitted to possess a firearm. Although the defendant has been found guilty, he has not been convicted. The judge could impose a probation before judgment, which would not be considered a conviction at the January sentencing date. The Blog will track this case and may post a follow up article after the sentencing hearing, which is bound to be a tense affair. If the agent is adjudicated guilty it’s hard to see how he could remain an active duty federal law enforcement officer. But the FBI will make its own decision on that matter, and will not likely offer any explanation either way. Discipline from his employer as well as from the court seems like a given though, due to the agent’s embarrassing and violent outburst. As a law enforcement officer he was supposed to keep the peace, but instead the agent provoked a situation and ended up assaulting a private citizen, who happened to be a 15 year-old boy no less.

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