Don’t Blame The Messenger: A Case for Defending TMZ

Law enforcement in Los Angeles County has drawn first blood against online celebrity news organization TMZ. The Los Angeles Sheriff’s department admonished the online news organization for reporting that Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash on Sunday, January 26th before its members could officially notify the victims’ next of kin.

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Screengrab capture Twitter @TMZ

Bearer of Bad News

Being on the receiving end of hearing that a loved one has died is never easy, no matter who the messenger is. If the death is unexpected, let alone violent, only makes the news more unbearable.

No “good way” exists for the family of the victims of a helicopter crash to hear that no survivors were recovered from a fiery ball high above the hills surrounding Malibu, California. The healing will never be complete for those who loved: Kobe Bryant, Gianna “Gigi” Bryant, Alyssa Atobelli, John Atobelli, Keri Altobelli, Christina Mauser, Payton Chester, Sarah Chester, and the pilot, Ara Zobayan.

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Screengrab Twitter @LASDMurakami

The space shuttle Challenger exploded on live television in 1986 killing everyone on board. Surely family and friends were taken aback at the horror that unfolded before their eyes. Among others, family members of Cantor Fitzgerald’s employees who were working when an airplane flew into the World Trade Center, would have benefit from preparing, but instead all were shocked as the towers imploded in New York City on September 11, 2001.

Accidents happen.  Notification of the sudden death of Kobe Bryant was big news. Peoples’ horrified reaction upon learning that family members (who were aware that people they loved were also in the helicopter) were notified of the accident via TMZ is understandable.  This happened simply because the news worthiness of the celebrity on board of the downed helicopter and it is indeed regrettable. It’s a sad, sad story.

Let’s make this clear:  TMZ reporting on the facts as they knew them, as soon as they felt certain of it, did nothing wrong.

Hero Worshiping

Hearing that a celebrity died evokes similar feelings as it was a family member. No one wants to learn from a Tweet that someone close to them died in an accident. Our country’s most revered heroes aren’t (as they are in some cultures) teachers, scientists, revolutionaries, writers, or statesmen; we make gods out of professional athletes.

We cannot escape celebrity culture. Helicopters fly over “private” weddings and disrupt solemn funerals. The tabloids, gossip columns fueled by paparazzi of yesteryear have been replaced by anyone with a working cell phone and camera. Law enforcement released photos of superstar musician Prince’s last known healthy moments before falling fatally ill, as reported by TMZ.

So, it’s not a lost point that people want to blame the media for being the bearer of bad news.

What Journalism Is and Isn’t

It bears watching how long law enforcement and public sentiment stay married as unlikely bedfellows in this instance.  Emotions are raw, making TMZ, owned by Warner Brothers, an easy target.

As one of the largest and most successful purveyors of “checkbook journalism”, TMZ, isn’t free of criticism.

No reputable news agency will admit to paying for stories. Those that do are admonished and labeled tabloids or gossip rags.  It is unknown how much TMZ pays and if it goes so far as to pay corrupt public servants receiving taxpayer dollars to act as snitches for sale.

Getting to the story first is one of the last badges of honor those working in the industry has remaining.

TMZ, which debuted in 2005, has quickly and rightfully earned its place high upon the pantheon for getting celebrity scoops. It gained notoriety with the actor Mel Gibson’s DUI arrest and earned Newsweek’s “Breakout Blog of 2007.” By 2009, it earned its place in pop history and media bonafides by being the first to report the death of global superstar Michael Jackson.

Getting the news fast and accurate is what most outlets strive to do. Most of what gets to the masses from law enforce through a public information officer (PIO) has been scrubbed to remove any chances to taint the criminal justice process.

Media does not have the same obligation as law enforcement officers.

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Screengrab Twitter @TMZ

Money most assuredly corrupts most things that it touches. If paying for a story casts doubt in the mind of the public of people’s motives for selling it, or evokes suspicion about the accuracy or authenticity of the information, that’s sound enough reasons to not do it.

In the case of TMZ, that doesn’t seem not to be the issue with its highly publicized and one the money scoops. It has avoided being duped with a forged document or a fooled by a tampered video.

Timing in the news business has always been of the essence.

From the other side of the lens, celebrities themselves have been part of greasing the wheel of exploitation and aiding the race of media giants to get the story first. Reportedly the photos of the twin babies of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt was sold in 2008 to People Magazine for $14 million. The famous couple has not confirmed that amount, but did disclose that their photos from their daughter Shiloh two year prior was sold for a $2 million donation to charity.

In a New Yorker interview, TMZ’s managing editor Harvey Levin said nominal amounts are paid to sources for tips. Money is handed out for a list of clients for a limo service, photographs, and reportedly $250,000 for the elevator video of Solange Knowles altercation with JayZ in an elevator with Beyonce (TMZ has said it paid $5,000).

Policing the Free Press

The LA Sheriff’s department is riled up in wake of this tragedy because a news agency did not bow down and wait for them as the last and authoritative word in reporting the facts. TMZ had other reliable sources.

A nation’s hero died.

TMZ did what any responsible corporate outlet would do. It  kept to it’s business plan.  It answered to Warner Brothers’ stockholders. It scooped the mainstream outlets. TMZ bypassed the authorities who sanitize and eek out information on the justice system’s timetable. We all should expect blowback.

I’ve been thinking about my RT last night (see below), mere hours after the story broke that family members learned of a loved ones’ death via a news outlet instead of law enforcement authorities.Screenshot (3361)

 

We should applaud TMZ for not simply becoming an amplifier for government agencies repeating sanitized versions for the masses.  Too many times in my hometown of Baltimore, reporters rely only on law enforcement. Entire stories are single sourced, ie “police say” and through only one “authorized” channel.

More corporate media types should work to cultivate independent and reliable sources outside of the public relations offices of law enforcement.

A free and unencumbered press is essential to a working democracy.

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Protect and Serve? When Protectors Become Predators

Baltimore police officers have shown themselves to be pretty darn petty.

And vindictive.

Two cases that recently came before the Civilian Review Board (CRB) exemplify the real risk citizens face when after they “see something” they actually “say something”.

The scenarios couldn’t have been more different.  One happened in the summer of 2017, when a woman was arrested in front of her home on her way from work.  CRB reported on the results of its two-month investigation and sustained her claims of harassment, false arrest and false imprisonment.

“This is the sort of policing you don’t want to see… I thought it was awful,”

—     Dr. Mel Currie CRB’s southwestern district representative.

The other is from summer 2019, when a 28-year old man while walking by officers who were engaged in a stop, was chased, knocked to the ground and arrested himself. At its regular monthly meeting on September 19, the CRB agreed to initiate an investigation into his harassment complaint, separate from the department’s internal investigation, which may take a year.

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It’s no anomaly when Baltimore City Police Department (BPD) officials retaliate against citizens who challenge their authority, speak negatively about the department or in this one case illuminate someone’s shortcomings.

In Baltimore, the “snitches get stitches” mentality also applies to those who dare complain about excessive force or police intimidation tactics.

What happened to the claimant could have easily happened to anyone in Baltimore at a four way stop sign – blindsided when a car blows through. She avoided certain catastrophe by mere seconds at no fault of her own.

The woman did what most prudent people do, she glared at the reckless driver and kept it moving.

Things should have ended there, but it didn’t.  The other car, just so happens, was a BPD squad car.  It was driven by a veteran patrol officer of over 27 years.  The CRB without access to personnel records is unable to determine if this was his first or fiftieth complaint, a constant irritant as the members struggle with recommending a suitable discipline.

“[The police officer] escalated the confrontation by … following her, going to her house and then towing her husband’s car,” said Betty Robinson, CRB northeastern district representative.

CRB Members Experiences Bring Unique Perspectives

Insight into the mindset of the officer was offered by CRB member Fred Jackson, retired from the Baltimore Sheriff’s department.  He enumerated the series of the department’s problematic decisions in the traffic stop.

First, the officer was likely upset about the “near miss” at the intersection and likely put off by the woman’s perturbed response.

Second, the “stop” required he put both his lights and sirens and he had to have a reason to stop her.  She was not given a ticket for any traffic violation. (He didn’t show up for court, thusly dismissing the case).

Finally, BPD towed the car that legally parked at her home:

“That was spiteful,” said Jackson, northwestern district representative.

In a perfect example of justice delayed is justice denied, the CRB sustained the woman’s allegations against the officer, using relying upon evidence just recently provided by BPD in violation of state statute.

BPD is required to turn over IAD files on complaints within 90 days.  The internal affairs department held this case for over a year. CRB has done little to push back against the departments habitual nose thumbing of their obligation in the citizen review process.

Once investigators got the file, BWC footage shows the subject officer being “very agitated, very confrontational” said Bridal Pearson, northern district.  The former CRB chair cited IAD’s reprimand of the veteran officer for “conduct unbecoming an officer” in his rationale for sustaining the woman’s complaint.

Although the woman and her husband have moved fearing BPD retaliation, this is the kind of case that keeps city solicitor Andre Davis working overtime. Davis, a mayoral appointee, has succeeded in both thwarting investigations into BPD misconduct, as well as silencing its critics.

However, now that the CRB has validated the woman’s claims, it opens the door for civil litigation.

Already victims have difficulty recovering seized property and reimbursement of costs wrongfully incurred (in this case towing), said board member Amy Cruice representing the ACLU.  The victim could have used the board’s finding to assist in being made whole financially, but the year deadline for tort claim remedy also expired, she said.

Ultimately both BPD’s internal investigation and the one conducted independently by the CRB arrived at the very same conclusion: the cop was all kinds of wrong.

The officer said he had his lights and sirens on when he went through the stop signs (He didn’t).  The charge against her was eluding an officer (She wasn’t).

Once she arrived and parked at her house, the victim herself had to request the officer to activate his Body Worn Camera (BWC), CRB found in its investigation.   The internal investigators dinged him for that as well.

City Solicitor Abandons Citizens To Favor Shielding Bad Cops

Even though CRB was unanimous in its decision to sustain the allegation, they could not move to the next phase of recommending discipline because the case had expired by the time BPD handed over its file that permitted CRB to review evidence.

CRB has been criticized for being a paper tiger, with no real authority to implement its recommended discipline (which is reserved for the police commissioner).  Seeking independence, the board rankled the law department sufficiently enough that solicitor Andre Davis backed down from ordering BPD to withhold all case files for four months as a lawsuit pended.

Allowing life-altering citizen complaints to expire is a known practice by the internal affairs division (IAD) renamed this summer Public Integrity Bureau (PIB). Major Stephanie Lansey-Delgado sent an email in April 2018 to supervisors that the department had “not been aggressive” getting cases investigated before the one year expiration date, as continuing story from Kevin Rector, reporter for Baltimore Sun.

In its public meetings, officers’ names are confidential per departmental policy regarding personnel matters and CRB does not disclose complainants’ identification.

As for the complaint CRB accepted regarding an independent investigation into the retaliatory arrest, the 28-year old man who was arrested after he commented to an officer,  was arrested again- mere hours after his release. His CRB complaint claims the retaliatory arrest was harassment for bringing to light abusive behavior.

Although the parties’ identities were not disclosed at the meeting, it is pretty safe to presume the case involved 24-year veteran Sgt Ethan Newberg who told Lee Dotson to “take his charges like a man” when Newberg arrested Dotson for commenting on police activity as he passed by.

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Police Commissioner Michael Harrison in a late night June 2019 presser along with State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced the officer’s arrest on second degree assault charges. He also released BWC footage showing officers chasing and tackling Dotson.

Newberg was released from custoday and is awaiting trial.

BPD and the Art of Planting Evidence: Sean Suiter and the GTTF

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BWC video discovered by a defense attorney captured BPD officer Richard Pinheiro Jr in January 2017 fabricating evidence, a judged found him guilty in a Nov 2018 trial. Staging crime scenes turns out is not a fire-able offense. ScreenGrab CBS Evening News

Pinpointing when the culture of deceit took hold within the halls of the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) is not a puzzle worth solving.   Somewhere along the way the department lost all credibility, any moral authority and, at times, even its legitimacy.

No clearer example of BPD’s downfall was when Det Sean Suiter, barely hanging on to life, was transported from the intersection of Bennett Place and Schroeder Street the afternoon of November 15, 2017.  It was that day that the ugliness the city shied away from was thrust squarely in peoples’ faces so no one could continue to ignore the obvious.

Part II : Sean Suiter was accused of unknowingly planting evidence with GTTF; BPD’s coordinated a suppression of liberty and freedoms with aid of a complicit media in the week-long lockdown of Harlem Park.

Rewind the clock back eight months from Suiter’s death to the arrest of seven dirty BPD officers linked to the Gun Trace Task Force (GTTF). From March 1, 2017 a series of unfortunate events lead Suiter to Bennett Place reliving a single city block’s horrid history of violence, condemnation, and isolation.

Spring 2017

While in a county holding facility awaiting trial, unit supervisor and ex U.S. Marine Sgt Wayne Jenkins encouraged all members of his unit arrested to maintain their silence.  All had plead not guilty to a variety of RICO charges.

It would be a waiting game of who would crack first. Spoiler: Jenkins was sentenced to 25 years and did not testify.

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Former PC Kevin Davis awarded Wayne Jenkins in 2016 for his heroic efforts during the 2015 uprising – yep the same time he was cashing in on looted pharmaceutical drugs.

July 6, 2017

Additional robbery charges  were levied in a superseding indictment against Jenkins along with Danny Hersl and Marcus Taylor.

July 21, 2017

The blue line of silence snapped when two GTTF officers, Evodio Hendrix and Maurice Ward, plead guilty and agreed to be government witnesses.  Ultimately their sentences of seven years would be the lightest.

Note: Hendrix’s testimony was the most credible. Ward, the first to testify, came across highly intelligent, yet extremely manipulative and opportunistic.

August 22, 2017

On the 900 block of Bennett Place, a 15-year old boy was shot numerous times and died from his injuries.  Police made an arrest in the murder of the teen, Jeffrey Quick but charges were dropped as Baltimore State’s Attorney’s office was crippled by discredited officers and tainted evidence.

August 30, 2017

The eighth GTTF member is indicted, Sgt Thomas Allers.

It was clear to anyone watching that Hendrix, Ward, Rayam and Gondo were cooperating.  Panic had to be setting in for not just the corrupt officers, but those who were protecting them. Allers was sentenced to 15 years.

Escape Routes for Jenkins and His Protectors Closed

Jenkins was known to tell officers who worked in his crew some parts while telling other people in the unit different aspects of his criminal activity.  Hendrix and Ward were in the dirt of GTTF up to their chins, but they didn’t know where the bodies were buried. Feds picked the lowest hanging fruit first.

As long as Gondo and Rayam kept quiet, then Jenkins stood a chance. Hersl and Taylor taking a shot at a jury, proved their checkers game was no match with such high stakes.

September 2017

BPD’s Western District Action Team raided two Heritage Crossing residences, a five minute walk from 900 block of Bennett Place and made two arrests with great fanfare. Officer Zachary Novak, infamous for being with the officers who arrested Freddie Gray, was listed as one of the arresting officers in the raids near Bennett Place just before Sean Suiter was murdered.

Novak seemed to be everywhere and no where as Freddie Gray’s limp body finally arrived at Western District HQ in April 2015, along with another passenger who would give varied accounts of what he heard and saw riding with Gray.

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As of this writing, Damien Cook, is still a housed in the Maryland Department of Correction.  Byron Harris was released the week of his arrest.

October 5, 2017

Kenneth Maddox, 45, was arrested and charged with the shooting death of the teenager Jeffrey Quick by a long list of BPD homicide detectives, including David Bomenka.

October 11, 2017

GTTF officer Momodu  Gondo plead guilty to protecting a heroin ring operated in Baltimore along with criminal conspiracy charges that involved Wayne Jenkins.  Two days prior, on Tuesday October 9, GTTFer Jemell Rayam plead guilty to similar racketeering charges.  Both greed to cooperate and expose crimes within BPD.  Gondo received a 10 year sentence to Rayam got 2.

Only a few chess pieces remained on the board.  Sgts Wayne Jenkins and Thomas Allers had maintained their innocence, along with Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor and the feds prepared for trial.

Suiter Lawyers Up to Cooperate With the Feds

October 24, 2017

Suiter declined the FBI’s request for an interview on the GTTF.  This would lead them to issue a subpoena for him to testify on November 16, 2017.

It’s likely Sean Suiter took whatever he knew about the corruption within BPD to his grave. He was likely going to implicate those involved in framing two men in the death of 86 year old Elbert Davis in April 2010.

Umar Bradley went to prison on the word of members of the GTTF unit who claimed Sean Suiter found drugs in the car he was driving at the end of a high speed chase in Park Heights. He was also convicted of manslaughter because while Jenkins was chasing him, Bradley crashed into a car driven by an elderly couple (the parents of BPD officers no less).

The wrongful conviction of Bradley and his passenger Brent Mathews threatened to expose a higher echelon of criminals working within BPD. Both Sgt. Ryan Guinn and Sgt Keith Gladstone were implicated in the cover up.

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Keith Gladstone outside federal courthouse in May 2019 after pleading guilty to bringing the gun and drugs to the scene used to set up Bradley and Mathews.

Tuesday November 14, 2017

Sean Suiter and Bomenka spent the day investigating leads on Suiter’s the triple murder cold case from December 2016. It was unusual for Suiter to pair up with Bomenka.

Wednesday November 15, 2017

Bomenka and Suiter again spent the entire day together and as their shift was coming to a close, Suiter was fatally shot. His body was recovered on a vacant lot off the 900 block of Bennett Place close to Schroeder St. Witnesses heard about four total shots.

Patrol officers arrived and loaded Suiter into a car.  Leaving the scene, they backed into another patrol car for that day’s first accident.  En route to the hospital the car with Suiter was in an accident with yet another patrol car at the intersection of Martin Luther King Blvd and Baltimore St.

Suiter is moved again to an ambulance that was at the intersection. Bomenka stayed at the scene on Bennett Place.

Countless and undocumented law enforcement officers and notable political figures converged on the scene that night and over the course of the days that followed. The scene was a free-for-all, except media was excluded.

Thursday November 16, 2017

Sean Suiter’s name was released to the public and his death announced. Police gave Bomenka’s description of a person of interest: a black man wearing a black jacket with a white stripe.  PC Kevin Davis said the suspect could be injured as Suiter was shot after a brief struggle.

The narrative was shaped that he was shot with his own gun, which has never been proven.

Baltimore police expanded the perimeter of the crime scene from the block where Suiter’s body was recovered to include an indeterminate number of city square blocks clear up to Gilmor Homes where Freddie Gray was chased and arrested.

Media was also barred from the scene. The shield of secrecy would extend into the daylight hours.

November 17, 2017

The media black out continued and cops took to writing and handing out passes that allowed Harlem Park residents to get into their homes after working or running errands.

WANTED: Eyes and Ears On The Ground

The corner store owner filed a lawsuit against BPD claiming that the department took and destroyed his cameras. The stalwart known for posting wanted signs and cooperating with BPD to halt criminal activity around Bennett Place no longer had footage that included the Suiter.

BPD has never addressed what, if anything, was captured on the store’s cameras that covered Fremont Ave and the community of Heritage Crossing.

Also shielded from public view and scrutiny were the body worn cameras (BWC) of officers involved in locking down the expanded perimeter of Harlem Park for over a week. IRB provided still photos of BWC captured by officers as patrol cars arrived in response to a 911 call, which was also not made public.

The day after the ACLU complained of violations by cordoning off large city blocks and required residents to show ID in order to enter and exit their neighborhoods, BPD relented and pulled back its expansive perimeter, but maintained security around the vacant lot.

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November 22, 2017

Not unlike Pinheiro’s “discovery” of drugs earlier in the year (in a Barney Fife imitation), BPD’s homicide unit also got into the act. The perimeter was pulled back just long enough for  WBAL to film the “discovery” of the kill bullet, buried in dirt – seven full days after a slew of investigators combed the area.  Surprisingly no other bullets were found. It’s like the casings fell out of thin air.

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Lambasted by the IRB report that a crime scene tech wasn’t searching for the errant bullet, a homicide detective acts out the discovery in the few hours that the cordon was removed before it was reinstated. ScreenGrab David Collins WBAL TV Twitter

Frustrations grew over the lockdown.  Police stopped asking people for help finding  the black man wearing the black jacket. Restricted movement remained in the occupied territory of Harlem Park. 

Late afternoon on the day before Thanksgiving, PC Kevin Davis called a press conference and announced Suiter was shot the day before he was scheduled to testify in the highly publicized GTTF case.

The city gasped. Finally a potential motive.

No one had publicly connected Suiter to Jenkins’ crew until this bombshell news. A motive for BPD’s lockdown might have been to pre-emptively thwart rising public discontent over the extent of BPD corruption still not addressed from Freddie Gray’s murder investigation. While the Consent Decree monitoring team and the ACLU both have called for one, no investigation into the police state created in Harlem Park has occurred.

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Up Next

Part III: Whispers of suicide in BPD’s bought and paid for panel of independent experts reviewing the agency’s investigation of Suiter’s death and the unraveling of the IRB report

 

 

A Chronicle of Indifference: Blood Spilled on Baltimore’s Bennett Place

PROLOGUE

Bennett Place in West Baltimore will forever be ingrained in many peoples’ memories because of the blazoned shooting death of Baltimore Police detective Sean Suiter on a cool clear fall afternoon in 2017.

The aftermath of Suiter’s death was felt immediately with a suspension of Habeas Corpus for the entire Harlem Park neighborhood that has yet to be addressed. And also long term as the shadows of suspicion hang darkly over a department desperate to shine itself in a new light.

Outside of the city, what’s incredulous is how BPD easily discounted that Suiter was shot the evening before he was supposed to show up as a federal witness to snitch on a complicated network of dirty cops.

The closer you get to the city, the debate breaks along racial lines and consequently also those who generally have a high opinion of the agency. They are the ones who grapple with whether or not Suiter committed suicide because he was fearful of the “snitch label” that accompanied testifying or if he himself was dirty.

People seriously entertain that Suiter took a partner with him to Bennett Place to kill himself, but stage it as a homicide, so his family could reap the monetary benefits. 

BPD apologists are quick to point out that if the feds believed it was a hit by dirty cops, they would have taken over the case when BPD asked.

Then there are black people and others who are suspicious of LE and more broadly the criminal justice system in general.  Sean Suiter’s widow and children have not been shy pointing the finger directly at BPD (calling it an “inside job“)  for covering up and in some ways being responsible for his death. Screenshot (1192)While there hasn’t been a murder on Bennett Place since Sean Suiter’s, there has been plenty of violent murders prior.

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ScreenGrab Baltimore Sun May 2019

Part I

Historically Bennett Place has suffered from bad press since the 1960s when redlining and later public housing would make the one block stretch a tinder box of discontent. Even today soon as the heat from the national attention from Suiter’s death dissipated, the department for sure and consequently local media seem content to let it fade from memory.

What follows is a timeline of connected activity spurred by politics, hubris, neglect, bias, intimidation and fear. At the center of it all is the Baltimore City Police department (BPD, an illegitimate agency that ought to be disbanded.

Summer 2013

Experimenting with a Police State. Baltimore police under PC Anthony Batts erected metal gates restricting entry and exit to the 900 block of Bennett Place in response to two recent fatal shootings.  A mobile unit was stationed nearby staffed by a dedicated officer. This was presented in news as normal reaction.

The victims were Maurice Taylor, 37 and Joshua Billingsley, 26.  Neither death was reported to be gang related. The corner store, UAC Food Mart, was equipped with 20 video cameras. Store owner Chris Akpala behind bullet proof glass was known to post on his walls “wanted” pictures captured from his cameras of known troublemakers in the neighborhood, according to Baltimore Sun.

gated community

Summer 2015

Chaos Ushers In the Feds. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake fired PC Batts and promoted Kevin Davis in the aftermath of the demonstrations that followed the death of Freddie Gray who lived in the Harlem Park vicinity.

Property damage was minimal save the cable news stations’ looping on a burned CVS store in Penn North. But the DEA said 27 pharmacies ( a staggering one third of ALL pharmacies located in the city) were looted totaling 315,000 doses – nearly half of which were schedule II drugs like opioids, the Sun reported. It was later discovered that a dirty BPD sold looted drugs to return back to the streets

BPD imposed a work slowdown in West Baltimore, in protest to the uprising and the political climate that resulted in six officers being charged with Gray’s homicide.

(Later, the officers’ attorneys challenged the ME’s finding of homicide, preferring instead to to call it an accident resulting from Gray intentionally thrashing himself inside the transport van). This theory has been debunked in a popular Undisclosed podcast.

Nonetheless, signs of life sprung up in Harlem Park in wake of the 2015 death of Freddie Gray after the uprising.

At the request of Mayor Rawlings-Blake, on the heels of the unrest, the Department of Justice (DOJ) began its yearlong investigation into BPD’s patterns and practices regarding claims of civil rights abuses.

Summer 2016

Feds Nab Dirty BPD on a Wiretap. Gun violence and drug overdoes spiked to record numbers.  Fentanyl deaths were up 86% in Maryland.  Baltimore States Attorney dropped all charges on all officers after judge acquitted Lt. Brian Rice of involuntary manslaughter charges. BPD’s work slowdown continued fatally impacting West Baltimore.

In the meantime, feds were listening in on a wiretap and caught a BPD officer discussing using a personal GPS device to make sure a suspected drug dealer wasn’t in his home in order to assist a rival drug dealer in a burglary.  A woman, in bed at the time of the break in,was robbed by a masked BPD officer at gunpoint.

While building the drug case, feds stumbled upon members of a specialized BPD unit called the Gun Trace Task Force (GTTF) committing and covering up robberies, drug deals and overtime fraud.

Also, the DOJ issued its findings in a scathing report outlined a pattern of constitutional violations which would lead to the city consenting to reform itself under court supervision.

Sunday December 4, 2016

The Triple Murder That Brought Suiter to Bennett Place. Residents in 900 block of Bennett Place called 911 about 3 am to report sounds of gunfire.  Baltimore Police responded and left.

Though concerned all morning, residents of 900 block of Bennett Place waited to call Baltimore Fire Department and someone requested a welfare check. Fire officials found a body and called BPD.

Police located three deceased black males in a boarded up house at 5:45 pm.  Sean Suiter, reportedly the detective assigned to the case, returned to the scene multiple times, the final time was nearly a full year later on the day he was killed.

Monday December 5, 2016

BPD labeled the murder victims as “targeted” (instead of random) and proclaimed them to be Black Guerrilla Family (BGF) gang members (an oft used tactic). Once labeled gang related, the triple murder became less palatable to suburban paid subscribers. The methods LE use to link people to gangs is controversial.

Saturday December 10, 2016

Police publicly identify the victims as Antonio Davis, 23; Howard Banks ,45 and Thomas Carter, 42.  Police’s public outreach to solve this murder was minimal based on the messaging delivered by BPD spokesperson T. J. Smith.

2017 Sean Suiter’s world collides with the fate of GTTF

 

January 2017

Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States. The new administration under the leadership of DOJ Secretary Jeff Sessions produced a consent decree to the Baltimore City and the Police Department that mandated sweeping and costly reforms.

Catherine Pugh was also inaugurated as the city’s next mayor. Rawlings-Blake did not seek re-election.

March 1, 2017

Seven Baltimore Police officers, linked to the specialized unit (GTTF), were arrested as feds announced a sordid criminal conspiracy indictment involving crimes that went back at least a decade and some capers as recent as mere days before their actual arrest.


Part II : Accusation Sean Suiter unknowingly planted evidence with GTTF and sent two innocent men to prison; BPD’s coordinated a suppression of liberty and freedoms with aid of a complicit media in the week-long lockdown of Harlem Park

Part III: Whispers of suicide in BPD’s bought and paid for panel of independent experts reviewing the agency’s investigation of Suiter’s death and the unraveling of the IRB report

The Hunting Season: Targeting BPD’s Sean Suiter and Ike Carrington

 

 

BALTIMORE — Reporters pulled at threads to piece together a coherent follow up story today to tidy up loose ends poking out about the near fatal shooting of Baltimore City police detective Isaac “Ike” Carrington.

The city’s newspaper of record, The Baltimore Sun, took pains to distinguish how police “blocked” traffic during Carrington’s transport to the hospital, but didn’t “shut down” streets as reported by sometime rival/sometime media partner television station WBAL. On Thursday, Aug 22 flailing local outlets sought out a second day story after Carrington, 43,  was craftily released from the hospital orchestrated by the department’s public relations team.

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At the center of the patrol vehicles’ “block vs charge” debate is a friend of City Council President Brandon Scott, Ike Carrington, who has not given an interview to the press though the public has gotten to know him from his YouTube appearances.  We’ve learned that Carrington is a family man, fashion entrepreneur and police sergeant with a 22-year career in one of the nation’s most notoriously corrupt law enforcement agencies.

The curtain shielding the extent of corruption was pulled back during a high profile trial of two Baltimore Police department (BPD) officers in a specialized unit named Gun Trace Task Force (GTTF) four other BPD unit members testified in early 2018 that the corruption was rampant to the degree that even the Baltimore States Attorney was tipping BPD off about feds poking their noses in. Two sergeants Thomas Allers and Wayne Jenkins did not  testify against the slew of corrupt officers as cooperating witnesses and received harsh penalties.

Even before the cops/fed witnesses held their hands up to swear to tell the truth in fed court early 2018 about their extensive criminal activities,  Det Sgt Sean Suiter was shot in a vacant alley in West Baltimore. The still unsolved murder elevated suspicion that he was targeted for his role in planting evidence along with GTTF’s leader Wayne Jenkins.

Suiter died of a single gunshot wound to the back of his head on the exact same day he was scheduled to be a fed witness against the organized crime run out of BPD HQ by some of its most decorated officers.

Reporters looking at the Aug 8, 2019 attempted murder of Ike Carrington without revisiting the early 2018 GTTF trial and Sean Suiter’s Nov 2017 murder in Harlem Park would be committing the same professional bungling BPD is known for.

Putting a Hit on Officers Isn’t That Far Fetched

Dirty cops come with dirty laundry.  No one wants to keep that stench under wraps than those who thrive on the turnstiles that make up the criminal justice system – law enforcement, judges, and prosecutors.

Whilst the feds were making its case against GTTF’s dirty cops using wiretaps and surveillance, the Department of Justice (DOJ) was also rummaging through BPD HQ in response to the homicide death of Freddie Gray while in police custody.  Jenkins as the supervisor of GTTF, used the unrest to cash in – by selling looted pharmaceutical drugs. Record overdoses and violence immediately followed in the most vulnerable neighborhoods where GTTF tended to prey with lucrative results.

Truth be known, the lack of integrity of BPD officers was simmering under the surface way before the GTTF scandal boiled over.  Arguably, the most noteworthy notch in Carrington’s two decades long career with BPD (that is before being shot in the back running from a gunman while off duty) was his partnership with oft disciplined BPD Officer Thomas Wilson III.

Then federal judge, and now Baltimore City Police solicitor Andre Davis, had a peculiar habit of throwing out drug cases. He also had well publicized scathing remarks about the trustworthiness of drug bust investigations conducted by Wilson and Carrington.

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As a federal judge, Davis routinely reprimanded Baltimore Police and in doing so, undermined the integrity of prosecutors’ cases (when he didn’t out and out dismiss charges against drug kingpins).  It wouldn’t be a stretch to assume notorious drug dealers would delight in seeing Judge Davis handle their case – betting the unconstitutional behavior of BPD would draw his ire enough to toss the charges all together freeing them to carry on.

Ike Carrington Linked to GTTF Through Wilson

As if Judge Davis calling Wilson out on several occasions from 2003 to 2008 wasn’t enough, confessed drug dealer, fence for BPD’s Wayne Jenkins, Donald Stepp testified during the GTTF trial that Wilson worked side hustles for Jenkins and was familiar with Jenkins drug dealing. All local media found the GTTF trial compelling but to have a civilian insider who also worked as a bailbondsman  relay his brash testimony was novel.  A colorful character on the witness stand, Donald Stepp routinely dropped nuggets, like exposing Wilson as an ally of Jenkins, and keeping photos of GTTF shenanigans on his cell phone.

Media Missing The Big Picture

Two weeks after Carrington’s shooting, local established media outlets have not yet made the connection between the shooting of the fashionable sergeant in front of his home and the GTTF probe. Screenshot (1138)

It did pop up on social media when public defender Todd Oppenheim posted a query that no MSM picked up on.  His Tweet is what led to this article. Specifically, Oppenheim called into question the partner history between Wilson and Carrington and wondered publicaly why no reporter had asked BPD officials if that GTTF link could be a possible motive for Carrington getting chased and shot in broad daylight.

It’s likely that the new commissioner Michael Harrison would behave exactly like his predecessor Kevin Davis who proclaimed that while the department had uncovered no motive for Suiter’s murder, his being scheduled to testify in a grand jury against his blue brethren was no way connected to his untimely demise. Zilch. Nada.

Independent journalists have looked closely into the Suiter case to reveal the possibility that the well respected officer was being exposed like a sitting duck. Namely Justine Barron has taken a painstaking look, frame by frame, of the video recovered that captures minutes leading up to his murder and BPD’s response.

Just this time last year, #WestBaltimore residents waited to exhale after holding its collective breath for the “independent” review board (IRB) examination of BPD’s November 2017 murder investigation of husband and father Sean Suiter.

From all appearances Suiter’s killer laid in wait until his partner David Bomenka was out of view before he was able to shoot the veteran homicide detective in the back of the head. Bomenka claimed he never saw anybody.

The IRB concluded there was no  convincing evidence that Suiter was murdered (but they never looked at his partner as being a suspect, only a witness) making suicide the only remaining option.  They also ruled out the shot to the back of the head as an accident.  PC Davis, after he was fired, stood by the decision to investigate Suiter’s death as a homicide and called the suicide theory “absurd.”

Woefully, initial media reports tend to be clumsy and hurried because the situation is fluid and outlets are desperate to not be scooped by their competitors. Add to in the high emotions of when police are investigating one of their own as a crime victim, we can be sure that this department will spin out of control ignoring all policies, protocols and training as it the IRB documented that they did during Suiter homicide almost a year ago.

BPD Shapping Ike’s Narrative

Harrison’s BPD has kept media at bay and orchestrated the messaging about the shooting with a public relations spin that has pushed local reporters to the periphery.

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The wounded officer’s release from the hospital Wednesday was accompanied by a social media maelstrom of photos of salutes from various angles by various first responders provided by BPD. Media was not permitted access to Carrington who has not given a public statement about his attackers.

Earliest Reports Gleaned by Press

Carrington and a neighbor were standing in front of his home where he lived with his family in the Frankford section of Northeast Baltimore when two men wearing masks approached. The neighbor dropped his wallet and phone and ran across the street, he told Fox45 Keith Daniels.  Carrington ran in the opposite direction according to multiple reports.

A neighbor and friend of Carrington (Jabir Pasha) who lives near the corner at Todd Ave heard the shots and then saw the Carrington, prompted him to render aid, reported the Baltimore Sun. Pasha noted a gunshot wound to both arms and also one in the back.

WJZ spoke with neighbors and captured the prerequisite “I’m shocked” interviews from people who claimed the neighborhood is quiet and friendly.

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A total of six shots were fired in Carrington’s direction. A neighbor’s surveillance camera captured the sound of four shots in quick succession. After a 2-3 second silence, two more quick shots.  The “robber” chased only Carrington, who ran away from his home and his friend as his assailant gave chase.

Police quickly notified the public to be on the look out for a blue Acura that was seen fleeing the scene, which in Baltimore is tantamount for searching for a 5 feet 7 inch black man with a goatee – they’re everywhere. A similar non-description description was given for the suspect in Suiter’s murder, a black man wearing a hat and a black jacket – in November.  The reward for Carrington’s shooting is $19,000. Suiter’s broke records at over $200,000 and is still unclaimed.

In a city where anyone’s life could be snuffed out at any minute, having that reality apply to law enforcement officers is extremely unsettling. Add in that they were both black officers should arouse suspicion in an agency noted for its institutional racism.

Carrington was well known in his neighborhood and it was no secret he was an officer with the Baltimore Police department.  He was gunned down steps from his house while the person within arms reach received little attention from the robbers.

Baltimore residents deserve a legislature brave enough to insist that outside independent investigators  look into if anyone connected to LE could be responsible for the shooting of Carrington and the murder of Suiter.  In the upcoming election for mayor, any serious candidate must speak on the need to assure the public that no one from LE is actually targeting BPD.

Until taken off the table, concerned citizens are likely to believe that both Carrington and Suiter were targeted because of their affilitation with crooked cops who have an ongoing operation within BPD.  Just because the snake’s head was cut off when Wayne Jenkins was arrested (and kept his mouth shut) doesn’t mean the body of the snake isn’t slithering around the halls of easily one of the most corrupt police departments in US history.

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Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired: What That White Woman Say About Black Women?

What’s crystal clear is that veteran local news anchor Mary Bubala didn’t call ex Mayor Catherine Pugh a nigger.

Nor did she sexualize Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s appearance, nor did she give the slightest hint suggesting SRB wasn’t smart enough for the job.

Never, ever did Bubala even utter Sheila Dixon and pickaninny in the same sentence.

But if she had said any of these things the conversation in public and private spaces would have been much different. So now people, black and white alike, are confused about what all the hubbub is about.

Because it intersects race, gender, and class issues in Baltimore, it’s really about a lot of things. And accordingly, the local media got it mostly wrong.

All Kinds of Wrong

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Former WJZ news anchor Mary Bubala

What Had Happened Wuz

With a black journalist on set of WJZ TV as a guest, Dr. Kaye Whitehead, who is an award winning documentary filmmaker and university professor, Bubala asked whether it was time to move away from black woman as mayoral candidates considering the failures (in Bubala’s opinion) of each of the three: Sheila Dixon (resigned), Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (did not seek re-election) and Catherine Pugh (resigned).

Social media exploded.  Journalists from a professional association (BABJ) dedicated to mentoring and establishing standards for their members drew first blood:

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Not Everybody Is Mad Tho

I’m going to talk to my people first. People, my people:

Catherine Pugh’s side hustle was a breach of trust.  I heard ya’ll say: she sold #HealthyHolly books and got a half million dollars?  Damn girl!

But this isn’t a “don’t hate the player, hate the game” type of scenario.

Gaming the system became an art form for us ever since the US defaulted on our 40 acres and a mule.

Sometimes, we know, we just gotta get ours. But in Pugh’s case she was the system, and took an oath to make the system work for the same people she swore to protect and lift up. Then she allegedly used her position to line her own pockets.

What Catherine Pugh Did Wrong

True you might say, Cathy’s game was not as strong as all the white male mayors who have likely done worse.  You might also say she broke the cardinal rule: she forgot who she was, who she was playing with, and flew a little to close to the sun.  You might even say Pugh deserved to be forced to resign i.e. fired for being so blatant with her ratchetness.

Privately I hear you say Sheila and Cathy made us look bad and maybe we need to go back to white male leadership. But when I really listen, I hear ya’ll’s pain.  As notable journalist Lisa Snowden- McCray said recently on a WYPR broadcast: “It’s sad”

We are embarrassed and ashamed. Wearily, we become more than willing to return to pointing fingers at “the man” and grumbling about how he is keeping us down.

We don’t get that many chances. Which is why Mary Bubala’s comments stung.

Baltimore City has had “ …three female, African-American mayors in a row…Is it a signal that a different kind of leadership is needed to move Baltimore City forward?”  – Mary Bubala

Across racial lines, sympathy for 15 year veteran CBS affiliate news anchor Mary Bubala is palpable and growing. A change.org petition has been started to get her back on the air.

What’s Really Wrong is … With Journalism

My source for taking the pulse of Baltimore is my mom.  Larry Young hasn’t talked about it on his show as I sit here writing, so of course, she didn’t know anything about it. She lives in senior community and the gossip spread through there like a California wildfire. So I showed her the Sun article.

According to the sage woman who raised me (and I’m paraphrasing):

[Bubala] said what she felt. What’s wrong with that? All the callers to Larry Young feel the exact same way, and they’re black.  People want to move way from black leadership, because the three mayors were failures. We had our chance, according to my mom.  She shouldn’t get fired. Everybody is saying the same thing. The Pugh ordeal was so over the top. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Understandably, the Loyola of Maryland professor, Dr. Karsona “Kaye” Whitehead prefers to discuss what can be learned from the bias displayed as discussed in a May 8 Baltimore Magazine interview.

I’m willing to accept that Mary Bubala’s apology that it wasn’t her best day, and she wasn’t as artful as she would have liked. I’ll even give her a pass for allowing an opinion slip into her questioning.

I am no way excusing WJZ’s decision to not permit Bubala to offer her apology on air or effectively engage in dialogue with the public she has served for 15 years for an utterance that will stain her career. Audra Swain, pictured above right, is WJZ’s general manager.

 

Likewise, there is absolutely no pass for the Baltimore Sun in treating the story as one of her firing and not one about the role of journalists, their ethics, duty to objectivity and struggles with bias.  The editorial staff, namely Tricia Bishop (above left)  continues to miss the point as it makes it an ideological difference in calling the conversation a left wing vs right wing debate.

There should be an apology to residents of Baltimore by both WJZ and The Baltimore Sun. However, I kind of expect one from the former that precede’s Bubala’s likely return, but I won’t hold my breath waiting for anything close an acknowledgment from the latter.

The “Confession” Tape: The Death of Baltimore County Police Officer Amy Caprio

Towson, MD – Once 16-year old Dawnta Harris made a u-turn in the cul-de-sac, officer Amy Caprio, 29, exited her patrol car. She walked in front of the 2016 off road Jeep Wrangler as it was moving, gun drawn.

The Jeep came to a stop. What happened next took probably less than a minute. Harris told Baltimore County homicide detective Alvin Barton the whole story during a 14 hour interrogation captured on video tape.

Caprio died from blunt force injuries in June 2018 when responding to a suspicious vehicle call in a residential neighborhood in the Baltimore suburb of White Marsh, MD.

The young, slightly built Baltimore County officer aimed her service weapon at driver window and ordered Dawnta out of the vehicle.  She stood directly in front of the Jeep with her gun pointed at him, blocking his only escape path.

“Get out of the fucking car” she yelled.

“I was too scared to get out,” he said during interrogation later that same day.

Dawnta said he only saw the officer once, a brief glance.  He saw the gun pointed at him.

A condensed version (three hours) of the 9+ hour video taped statement was played in a packed Towson courtroom Friday, April 26.

“Once I seen the gun I put my head down. For about 5 seconds.”

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Dawnta Harris, a 9th grader and resident of West Baltimore’s Gilmor Homes in an undated photo.

Dawnta kept his eyes closed tight and his head ducked, in fear of the officer with the gun. His heart and mind were racing.

He opened the door slowly. The body worn camera showed Caprio slowing moving sideways as the door opened.  She had just called in the license plate. She died not knowing the Jeep was stolen or that three of  the occupants earlier that day had committed a burglary.

Caprio stood behind her car, with cover, and with a better view of the door as it opened, no longer in the path of the Jeep.  Dawnta told Det. Alvin Barton that the officer was yelling something, but he couldn’t understand what exactly.

“I put my hands on the steering wheel,” is what he did next when asked.

“I was asking myself, what should I do? What should I do?” Dawnta said kind of frantically.

With a heavy sigh, he told the seasoned investigator, “Nothing came up.”

He repeated despondently, “Nothing came up.”

He closed the driver’s side door, still crouched down and with his eyes closed. The opening and closing of the door as he stated was seen on the officer’s recovered body worn camera video.

Then Caprio moved from behind her car back to her original position directly in front of the Jeep, as seen in the video.

Dawnta told Det. Barton he didn’t want to get arrested for the burglaries that he didn’t take part in.  He had been trying to avoid trouble all day with people he barely knew.

Barton told him he seemed like a good kid. In court he testified that the teen seemed intelligent and calm.

Without warning, a gunshot whizzed over the 16 year old’s head. Glass shattered around him.

Startled, Dawnta, put his foot on the gas. He was driving blindly. The car moved slowly.  On the BWC video, the car didn’t jerk, or burn rubber at a high rate of speed.

With his eyes closed he took a chance, Dawnta said. He was stuck with no good options for the 16 year old.

“I didn’t know if I was going to crash, hit her or get shot.”

After he got out of the cul-de-sac he didn’t look back.  “I didn’t know I hit her.”

The 5′ 7″ 120 pound soft spoken kid abandoned the Jeep about five minutes away from where Caprio was last seen standing. He shook the glass from the shattered rear window from his hair and tried calling other three boys on his cell phone.  Then he did the improbable.

In about 15 minutes, he was back to the same street, this time on foot with police cars swirling around.  He was stopped, questioned, and taken into custody.

Media coverage was racially-tinged common once mugshots of the four black teens are released.  Predictably, the arrest of the four boys evoked vitriol on media outlets’ online publications and across social media platforms.

The jury deliberated on Monday April 30th in the afternoon on felony murder charges. It’s the catchall charge when prosecutors fear that the bar of premeditation that comes with  first degree murder is way to high.

It’s a controversial charge. Many defendants have had their convictions of felony murder overturned. In short, prosecutors are not focused on the elements of the murder, but the accompanying burglary.

So, if the jury of three black men find that a property crime occurred (a felony, but not nearly as serious as a crime against a person), then a person can be sent to prison for any homicide that is associated with that related felony.