“Two Baltimore detectives were convicted Monday of robbery and racketeering,” the Washington Post reported, “in a trial that laid bare shocking crimes committed by an elite police unit and surfaced new allegations of widespread corruption in the city’s police department.”
Before reaching the guilty verdicts, Assistant U.S. Attorney Leo Wise presented the 12-member jury with “things more horrible in some cases than you ever could have imagined.”
Test your own imagination:
* Four police officers, already convicted of felonies, testified in amazing detail to routinely violating the rights of citizens in order to steal cash and property worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
* “In addition to robbing residents, stealing and reselling guns and drugs on the street and filing false court paperwork, the gun task force officers filed fraudulent overtime claims,” explained the Baltimore Sun. According to the Post, detectives “doubled their salaries by lying to claim extravagant overtime when they were actually at bars or . . . out of the country on vacation.”
* One detective told the court that “officers kept BB guns in their vehicles ‘in case we accidentally hit somebody or got into a shootout, so we could plant them.’”
* Officers left the scene of a serious car accident they had caused, after illegally covering up their involvement. An FBI wire-tap caught them joking about failing to call any assistance for their injured and unconscious victims.
* There was even an allegation of murder made against one policeman and a charge that another high police official covered it up.
A total of eight officers of the Gun Trace Task Force have now been convicted of — or pleaded guilty to — serious felonies. But testimony from the trial has implicated ten more police officers still working for the department. They are now under investigation.
Meanwhile, 2017 saw the city’s crime jump up across the board, including the highest per capita murder rate in history. How high? Last year, more than one in every 1,800 Baltimore residents was murdered.
Trial testimony indicates that the city’s cops were far too busy committing their own crimes to protect the public by investigating and bringing to justice non-uniformed criminals.
In a further development, those they did ‘bring to justice’ may soon be set free. “Thanks to the testimony that came out just last week,” announced Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, “our preliminary estimate is thousands of cases that may be impacted by the wrongful and illegal acts of those police officers.”
In the face of such blatant police misconduct, where was Internal Affairs, the police who police their fellow police? “The head of internal affairs has been transferred,” informed the Post, after he too was “implicated in misconduct during trial testimony.”
A deputy police commissioner, also fingered from the witness stand, announced his retirement . . . with pension intact.
What about the Office of the State’s Attorney?
For starters, the corrupt police task force was supposedly tipped off to the FBI investigation by someone working in that office. Moreover, the state’s attorney has been blasted for prosecuting cases where police misconduct was well known to have occurred.
Ivan Bates, a defense attorney for one of the victims of crooked cops (and also an announced candidate for state’s attorney), blasted current State’s Attorney Mosby for “defending the Gun Trace Task Force and saying the ends justify the means,” adding, “And we wonder why we have police corruption in Baltimore City.”
So, what to do? Some folks always look up. Why not sic the feds on them?
Oh, wait, as the Post noted, “Most of the behavior charged in the case took place even as the [Baltimore police] department was already under federal investigation by the Justice Department for routinely violating residents’ constitutional rights, particularly in dealings with African Americans.”
The level of corruption and dysfunction in this city of more than 600,000 residents is breathtaking. And sobering. So what prospects are there for reform?
Speaking to reporters before the trial had concluded, Mayor Catherine Pugh minimized the corruption, pointing out that this “particular unit has been already broken up” and suggesting the problem was confined to “a few members of our police department.” Of course, the mayor also claimed — believe it or not — that she had been “too busy to follow the trial closely or read Baltimore Sun coverage.”
The terrible reality is that Baltimore, dubbed “Charm City” in the 1970s, has lost any charm it ever had. A deadly serious problem of police corruption will do that. So will stonewalling politicians, deep in denial.
And what’s worse, as for police corruption and official heads in sand, the city is hardly alone.