Getting to Know GTTF’s Silent Sergeant: Thomas Allers

GUILTY ON ALL COUNTS: Robbery, Attempted Robbery and Extortion

Sgt. Thomas Allers’ name didn’t often come up during the corruption trial of Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor from Baltimore Police’s Gun Trace Task Force (GTTF).  It’s certainly not because his crimes are any less egregious. The argument could be made that in many ways, his was worse.

Because the grandfather and veteran did not cooperate with the feds or profess his innocence to a jury, we are left piecing together Allers’ sordid crimes as head of GTTF for three years.

“Allers’ supporters tell [Judge Catherine Blake] he was an upstanding person and officer. The letters come from family members, former colleagues,” wrote Sun reporter Justin Fenton.

The 15-year sentence dropped on Allers showed that the judge was not moved by the pleas for leniency. Not even with an actual BPD detective writing on his behalf.  Det. John Clewell, a GTTF squad member also wrote a letter of support, the Sun reported. His son, Trent Allers also wrote an impassioned plea on his father’s behalf, according to the reporter Justin Fenton.

Allers is a tragic figure, his defense attorney would have people believe. Especially dealing with the likes of ex BPD detectives Momodu Gondo and Jemell Rayam, as reported by Baltimore Sun. The attorney claimed Allers became an “alcoholic and developed mental health problems as a result of his experiences as an officer, ” Fenton reported.

None of which ever seemed to be a problem in the eight months between the arrests of the GTTF squad and when the feds came knocking on his door.

For those unconvinced, here are four solid reasons why Allers is in some ways worse than Gondo (seven year sentence)  and Rayam (not yet sentenced). Fifteen years is getting off easy when examining the timeline below of his career at BPD.

What’s almost laughable is Allers’ claim that he was tainted by the bad apples around him and only proves that he just might be the one who is rotten to the core.

  1. He was the supervisor. The detectives can’t repeatedly steal money and have Allers sign off on what was seized if their supervisor didn’t take part in the scheme (or organize it to begin with.
  2. It was his squad. He could have pushed to transfer Gondo and/or Rayam.
  3. He tipped off Gondo and Rayam that the feds were snooping, even though he himself was no longer a part of GTTF.
  4. He isn’t cooperating (as far as we know) to weed out all of the corruption that remains within BPD.

We are left guessing as to why Allers brought his son along with him as he met up with Rayam and Gondo to burglarize a house. The BPD officers plead guilty to stealing about $8000 each. Furthermore, in pleading guilty, all three agreed that Trent Allers, who was present, took cash as well. No charges have been filed for the younger Allers in the Baltimore County jurisdiction where the robbery/extortion occurred.

allers family_LI (2)
Trent Allers (L) and his father (R) ex BPD veteran and GTTF supervisor Thomas Allers

Trent Allers has had troubles with the law himself.  The younger Allers has a history of DUI, traffic charges as well as a burglary charge in 2016, according to online records.

A TIMELINE FOR THOMAS ALLERS

1996 – Rookie

Thomas Allers joined BPD in July 1996 when Thomas C. Frazier was commissioner. His son Trent was 5 years old.

1997 – He Shot and Killed a Man

As a rookie, Allers, 28,  shot and killed an unarmed man when he responded to a domestic dispute.  Neighbors on the scene of the April 1997 shooting said the victim Nelson West, 40, was “a good man” and that he “didn’t deserve to die”.

Screenshot (2075)_LI
Excerpt April 21, 1997 Baltimore Sun. Retrieved from Newspapers.com

2000-2004 BPD and the Wild Wild West

Stopping black men for walking became the norm.  So much so that when DOJ was investigating in 2016, no one even tried to shield the unconstitutional practice. No surprise then It didn’t take long before strip searching men in public and stealing their money and personal property became routine. West Baltimore received the brunt of such wide spread abuses of power.

The brutality on display by plainclothes police was a perfect example of the saying” The cure being much more worse than the disease.

Tumultuous BPD leadership with three commissioners over four years could not have been good for morale or oversight within BPD. Commissioners faced accusations of domestic violence and criminal charges lead them to resigning or being forced out. See the 2004 article below.

The_Baltimore_Sun_Sun__May_23__2004_3 commissioners zero tolerance
Excerpt from Baltimore Sun archives from Newspapers.com May 23, 2004.

2000-2008 Zero Tolerance Policing

Allers was a young officer and among the rank and file tasked with enforcing the “zero tolerance” tactics employed by Mayor Martin O’Malley.

The 1999 death of Larry J Hubbard, shot and killed while unarmed, and settled in 2002 ignited protests against zero tolerance policing. While preparing for trial against the officers involved in shooting the 21-year old in the back of the head, Barry W. Hamilton and Robert J. Quick, the city settled with his family for an undisclosed amount.

A DOJ investigation cited the O’Malley era’s policy of “zero tolerance” as a racist and violent assault upon the city’s most vulnerable citizens, namely black males in Baltimore akin to Freddie Gray.

2013 –  Squad Leader

Allers became the sergeant in charge of GTTF. He would serve in that capacity for three years. His son Trent was about 22 years old.

2014 – Wildin’ Out

Not only had in custody deaths piqued peoples’ interest and the community’s concern, the failure to hold any officer responsible for complaints of excessive force fell on deaf ears. It would be a mistake to say that the lack of transparency and accountability served only to embolden “rogue” officers.  By 2014, the culture of “anything goes” had firmly taken root throughout the department and some might argue also spread to the city’s legislative and judicial arms as well.

  • March – Allers, along with Rayam and Gondo and the younger Allers executed a search warrant on a home in Baltimore County where about $420k in cash was discovered. They each took about $8,000. Trent Allers was not charged.
  • October – Allers along with his GTTF squad stole $3,000 from a store owner in Baltimore City.

2015 Freddie Gray death and Citizen Uprising Against Police Brutality

  • April – Thomas Allers and his GTTF squad rob a family of $5700 taken from their home.
  • May – Trent Allers takes a shot at being his father’s PR guy.  When Freddie Gray was killed and the city exploded in protest, the younger Allers sought media attention to his father by contacting Joe Flacco, The Washington Post and the local Fox news station via a social media account.
  • July – After stealing $8,900 from a home in Anne Arundel County and before AAPD showed up, Allers, Gondo and Rayam when to a bar to split up the money, which was their usual protocol.

2016  Allers’ Promotion from GTTF to DEA

Thomas Allers left GTTF for a  joint DEA operation and Wayne Jenkins took over leadership of the squad.  Commissioner Kevin Davis took over the helm in the summer of 2015 from Anthony W. Batts who was fired for his handling of the uprising. Testimony showed Jenkins was some ways worse than Allers in that he was ruthless with citizens they encountered, brash about the drug dealing, and acted as if he had protection from higher ups.

Never “remorseful” , Allers claimed he was sullied by the likes of Gondo and Rayam over the course of three years. Yet once free of GTTF , Aller’s doesn’t run to the feds about the sordid crimes Rayam or Gondo had committed.

Instead, Allers tipped them off that they were being watched. Feds had a wire in Gondo’s car and on his phone as of July 2016. The brashness was contagious as GTTF crimes extended nearly up until the very day they were arrested.

Meanwhile, the younger Allers posted how hyped he was for the presidential campaign of Donald Trump.

Screenshot (2077)

2017 – Dominos Fall and a Homicide Detective is Downed

February – seven members of GTTF were arrested on federal RICO charges, including the Sgt Wayne Jenkins. The indictment spelled out an organized crime operation that spawned at least a decade using Baltimore Police HQ as little more than a front.

The first to plead guilty and cooperate were Hendrix and Ward, followed closely by Rayam and then Gondo. They all four would become government witnesses. The trial was set for January 20

  • August – Thomas Allers was arrested, nearly 8 months after mass arrests of GTTF squad. He might have thought he was safe. The court denied bail when he pleaded not guilty. A discussion over whether a 12 page letter was a suicide note or not cemented the judge’s decision to keep Allers in custody
  • August – Momodu Gondo  testified in open court that he along with Rayam committed an armed robbery of a drug dealer. A GPS tracking device purchased by fellow GTTF Det. John Clewell was used as a way to make sure the home would be unoccupied.  It wasn’t. The ski-masked wearing bandits held a frightened woman at gunpoint  while stealing money, jewelry, drugs and a gun.
  • November – BPD Det Sean Suiter was murdered and died the day he was scheduled to testify against members of the GTTF squad in front of a grand jury.
  • December – Allers changed his plea to guilty. He was later sentenced to 15 years. He was last known as being held in a minimum security prison in Florida. His release date is Sept 2030. He will be 61 years old.

2018

  • January – Wayne Jenkins plead guilty. He told the court he was “ashamed”, according the Sun.
  • Late January – The GTTF trial began.
  • February – Both Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor were found guilty Gondo, Rayam, Ward and Hendrix would each testify against them.
  • August – A review panel paid for by BPD concluded that Det Sean Suiter shot himself in the back of the head fooling even his partner who had been by his side for 2 days. His wife, Nicole Suiter, all of West Baltimore, and maybe half of the rest of the city disbelieve that the panel’s conclusion of suicide. 
  • November – The one year anniversary of Sean Suiter’s death came and went without any new official suspects or evidence presented to the public.
  • December – The medical examiner after reading the panel’s findings has kept its ruling: Homicide. Sean Suiter was murdered.

EPILOGUE

No one has been held accountable for the unprecedented and unconstitutional lockdown of Harlem Park by BPD in the aftermath/coverup of the fatal shooting of Det. Sean Suiter.

 

 

Momodu Gondo: From Sierra Leone to Baltimore, What a Trip (Part II)

Momodo Bondeva Kenton Gondo was sentenced today to 10 years in federal prison for taking part in the organized crime syndicate that ran out of Baltimore Police Department headquarters for the approximate 10 years that preceded the February 2016 federal indictment of members of the Gun Trace Task Force (GTTF).

The 34-year old single man apologized to the citizens of Baltimore Tuesday Feb 12 during sentencing, and to the heartbreak he brought to his family, according to reports from Mike Hellgren of WJZ in Baltimore.

Gondo’s parents both came to the United States escaping violence and tyranny in the former British colony of Sierra Leone in Africa as the nation fought for its independence and suffered through skirmishes that led to a decades long brutal civil war.

Screenshot (2007)

Gondo’s attorney Warren Brown, in the shadow of the courthouse indicated today that his client’s cooperation was instrumental in the government’s case.  Sentencing judge Catherine E Blake agreed that Gondo’s testimony was tantamount to “next level” in alerting feds to the extent of the corruption that breeds within BPD. Of the eight BPD indicted on RICO charges, two plead not guilty, stood trial (found guilty) and four became cooperating witnesses.

The two highest ranking BPD convicts who served as supervisors to the GTTF squad  both plead guilty. Reports have varied on whether either have cooperated with the government, especially since the investigation is ongoing. Given their emotional responses to the sentences, it would not be surprising if they seek to cooperate to amend their sentences.

Above: (L) Wayne Jenkins, 25 years, booking photo. And (top R)  Gondo, (bottom R) Rayam arrest photos.

Not all GTTF squad members are created equally. The buddy system broke down as follows:

Gondo and Rayam; Jenkins and Hersl; Hendricks Ward and Taylor. John “Golden Boy” Clewell, a GTTF member who was not indicted, seems to be a lone wolf. Given the opportunity several GTTF members took pains to exclude Clewell from knowledge or participation in their multitude of crimes. ex Sgt Thomas Allers’ crimes included bringing his adult son along (masquerading a BPD officer) to rob civilians in their home. He was sentenced to 15 years.

allers family_LI (2)
Allers family photo from FaceBook

During GTTF trial testimony, Gondo’s tempered flared and hubris exploded.

Jenkins was intimidated by him because of his intellect, Gondo insinuated. Coupled with his Denzel-like deportment and how he spoke, Jenkins was put off.   Gondo suggested that Jenkins’ views of black men didn’t square with Gondo’s presentation and that irked him.

To have Gondo tell it, even his buddy Rayam was jealous of him. Being a single man, Gondo dated frequently, spent his money freely without the entanglements of a wife and a brood of children. He was living the life that Rayam envied, according to Gondo.

sketch 2
An artist rendition of Momodu Gondo on the stand testifying against Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor in response to questions from Asst. U.S. Attorney Leo Wise published in @BaltimoreSun

What You (Probably) Don’t Know About Momodu Gondo:

  • He was brought into GTTF led by Sgt Wayne Jenkins by his Acadamy-buddy Jemell Rayam.
  • He pressured Jenkins to pony up from his take (of four way split ) after Gondo accused Officer Daniel Hersl of skimming $3000 before they even left the house where they stole $20k+ at gunpoint.
  • He swore on his father’s grave that taking 3 bullets to the back by a drug dealer was in the line of duty, disputing Rayam’s testimony that it was in response to Gondo’s own drug ties.
  • He named names. Namely, Dep Commissioner Dean Palmere as inventing a cover once Rayam shot a man in the head because he was too tired to chase him. Gondo said Palmere gave each officer on the scene a story to tell about how the man was driving towards Rayam who then shot after feeling in fear of his life’
  • He knowingly, willingly and proudly protected his friend Kyle Wells from police investigations into his illegal drug activity.
  • Gondo’s loyalty to his childhood friend Kyle Wells prompted him to protect Wells from the likes of Jenkins. Because Jenkins was always hyped to rob drug dealers simply because they were the least likely to report to that their money, drugs and guns were stolen.
  • Gondo offered to rob a different drug dealer to appease Jenkins desire to rob Wells. Using a GPS purchased on the credit card of GTTFer Det John Clewell, Gondo, Rayam and Wells broke into a rival drug dealer’s house, held a sleeping woman at gunpoint wearing ski masks. They left after stealing money, guns, jewelry and drugs.
  • Wells’ conversation with Gondo about getting protection from being on Jenkins’ radar is what prompted the wiretap onto Gondo’s phone in 2015.
  • Gondo and Rayam are both heard on the wiretap discussing him joining GTTF and doctoring up OT slips as SOP under then Sgt. Wayne Jenkins.

 

Cops as Criminals: It’s Not Black and White

All crooked cops aren’t created equally.

Some are born crooked. Some are led astray. Still others, like Momodo Gondo, has crookedness thrust upon him.

No one can pinpoint exactly when Baltimore Police became a hotbed of corruption. More importantly though, no one alive today can honestly remember when it wasn’t.

Screenshot (1982)

Above: Momodu Gondo points to former BPD commander Dean Palmere (Below) who helped orchestrate the cover up of a murder carried out by a GTTF member. Palmere is the subject of a lawsuit that claims it was his command that permitted abuses by GTTF.

Screenshot (2022)

Gondo and his closest Baltimore Police Department (BPD) buddy Jemell Rayam set the federal courthouse on fire last year as cooperating witnesses against two officers standing trial, Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor. The testimony was explosive pointing fingers at higher ups and eventually one another as members of the media darlings: Gun Trace Task Force (GTTF).

Gondo is scheduled for sentencing Tuesday February 12th. The month-long trial left a lasting impression:  corruption is rampant throughout BPD and everybody knows it.  The most influential media types have coddled the likes of former BPD commissioner and WBAL guest talk show host Kevin Davis who as points to a few bad apples tarnishing an otherwise stellar organization.

The world (not an exaggeration) took notice of BPD’s level of corruption after what happened to 25-year old Freddie Gray.  A bystander’s  video of Gray, wounded and howling, sickened all with a conscience who heard it.  People still cringe watching the previously healthy and strapping young man being helped into the back of a van by a cadre of white officers.

So there’s that.

Even before Gray’s fatal injuries in police custody, in 2014, the Baltimore Sun chronicled the exorbitant payouts in taxpayer dollars to silence citizens who suffered mightily at the hands of a small, but growing and increasingly violent cadre of police officers.

If Baltimore didn’t invent Walking While Black, it sure did its damnest to perfect it. Screenshot (2023)

West Baltimore is where the long arm of constitutional protections simply does not reach.  Never did. Generations of families suffer from substandard housing, lack of health care, poor nutrition, high drop out rates and low income with precious few escapes.

Heavily reliant upon mass transits, West Baltimore is where BPD members hone their racist practices disguised as stops, searches, and seizures.  Sadly, two decades into the new millennium, some blacks believe that over policing is what is needed to make their communities safe.

The lack of concern for West Baltimore was never more evident that during the uprising when Douglass High School students were dismissed early from school, only to have the MTA refuse them service at the Mondawmin Metro stop, forcing them to walk home, only to be confronted with grown as police men (mostly) in riot gear hurling chunks of brick at the children.

AP_baltimore_10_kab_150427_11x7_1600

After a yearlong investigation, the Department of Justice (called in after the Freddie Gray homicide), released its findings in an August 2016 scathing report. To no one’s surprise, the DOJ found that systemic racist practices were embedded so deep into the culture that BPD had not shed even a layer of its  history cloaked with KKK sympathizers.

The corruption was inescapable in 2016. Even so, when black homicide detective Sean Suiter was shot in the back of his head in November 2017 on a vacant lot in broad daylight with a white partner in tow, no one hardly blinked when BPD treated residents of Harlem Park like it was Fullujah.

Parallels to the Iraq War and BPD training are eerily similar.  Evidence of mistreatment of women recruits was captured as a “trophy”.

Arguably, Momodo Gondo, as an eager recruit didn’t join BPD with plans of using his badge and glock as a literal license to kill, maim, intimidate and harass.  The kid came from a “good family” of immigrants in a two parent household of professionals.

His father, Albert Gondo, a native of Sierra Leonne (as is his wife), worked for 20 years as a teacher in Baltimore City Public Schools. He died in December 2016 after a lengthy battle with Cancer.  According to his family, he was known a a principled man, a devoted husband and father.

When emotions ran high during the GTTF trial, Gondo would take to swearing on the memory of his dead father to repudiate fellow detective Jemelle Rayam’s claim about why Gondo was shot shoon after leaving the Academy. Rayam has yet to be sentenced.

If Gondo wasn’t born bad, when did it all go wrong?

The Academy – 2005

Gondo @22 years old

Gondo and his academy brother  Rayam are the final two government witnesses awaiting sentencing.  Gondo – under oath accused Rayam of cold-blooded murder (explored further in Part II) that was covered up by Palmere.

Academy training has more in common with military training than the most of the public may know. The enemy are the people on the street, the community members and the only ones cops trust are themselves.  The creed is to make it home safe. It rarely has anything to do with protecting and serving the public. Especially if the public is black, male and doubly so if he lives in West Baltimore.

Indoctrination and training are the two major components of the trainee’s experiences.  Like the military, the BPD academy experience is designed to break down a person, and build them up. Not coincidentally, it also serves as a loyalty demand. Recruits early on learn to depend on the brotherhood as if their life depended on it.

Gondo graduated in October 2006.

Screenshots from a 2004 era video of a training exercise where a trainee exits a gas house puking with her skin burning reliant upon BPD to carry her to safety. The level of depravity at BPD seemingly knows no bounds.

3 Shots in the Back – 2006

Gondo @23 years old

Then-Officer Gondo was shot three times in the back in December 2006, barely two months after graduating the academy.  Using a photo array, Gondo fingered the shooter as 24-year old Collin Hawkins (with a long history of drug dealing offenses on his record).  The feds, not the Baltimore States Attorney’s office made the case.

The particular moment that turned Gondo into a career criminal cannot be exact, but the same cannot be said for determining when BPD failed him and the community he was allowed to stalk.

Attempted Murder Trial – 2008

Gondo @25 years old

A case of He said vs He said.

The jury returned a not guilty verdict for the man charged with pumping 3 bullets into the back of a bullet proof vest Gondo was wearing as he got out of his car near his home in East Baltimore.

As the victim (and a cop to boot) Gondo pointed out for the jury,  a young black man Collin Hawkins as the person he fired 13 rounds at in a street shoot out. Gondo told the jury that he he and Hawkins struggled as he tried to thwart a carjacking. No dice. The jury decided not to believe Gondo.

Hawkins’ defense attorney claimed that Gondo simply chose the wrong guy. The defense pointed to the State’s Attorney’s Office’s extremely weak case with no gun, no DNA from the reported struggle. It was just the rookie’s word,  and it wasn’t enough.

Next Up: in Part II Fed Witness Testimony and The Sentencing

Freddie Gray: BPD’s Most Famous Yet Forgotten Victim

Freddie Gray’s painful wails resonate as loud as those who suffered the barbaric Middle Passage.

Instead of a transport from African tribal villages to “The New World” Baltimore Police chained him like a hog. Not in a ship, but in a van,  they circled around between Gilmor projects to McCulloh Homes and back again to the Western precinct – all the time with him shackled.

It was at Western District HQ that EMT’s found him to be unresponsive, surrounded by law enforcement officers already in the throes of denials.

screenshot (1779)_li

It took a Constitutional Amendment to abolish slavery (except for punishment of a crime) in the United States.  Academy award winning director Ava DuVernay produced a Netflix documentary on the subject. Regardless, since 1865, law enforcement officers have become judge, jurors and executioners.

Running in the opposite direction at the sight of police isn’t a crime. Chasing people who do, though, ought to be be.  The Baltimore six were either tried, exonerated or had their charges dropped in a court of law.

Freddie Gray was charged with possession of a knife that was hidden in his pants pocket. Police stopped him because he could. He ran because BPD are notorious for robbing people and/or planting evidence. It was an early Sunday spring morning.

screenshot (1778)

To Know Where You’re Going, Know Where You’ve Been

It’s not an exaggeration to say that Baltimore Police is awash with criminals.  A Department of Justice investigation found that the department rarely follows the supreme law of the land, the U.S. Constitution.  The culture of unconstitutional behavior goes back decades, for generations.

If not for the Freddie Gray investigation, it’s likely that members of the Gun Trace Task Force (GTTF) would still be driving their cars into groups of unsuspecting citizens.  Sgt Wayne Jenkins and officer Danny Hersl  would likely be planning to burglarize their next luxury condo at the city’s crown jewel, the harbor.

The resulting Consent Decree is a referendum on the actions of BPD and Freddie Gray’s death.  An in depth look at the absurdity of the internal investigation is explored in a podcast, UnDisclosed The Killing of Freddie Gray.

For perhaps underlying racist reasons the courts, the monitors and even the DOJ seem content to allow the BPD to make it about the Gun Trace Task force and not about Freddie Gray.

Gun Trace Tack Force’s Forced Confrontation of What Everybody Already Knew

Sitting in on the GTTF trial was an eye opener for many seasoned reporters.  As each victim under oath recounted how armed Baltimore Police officers cased their homes, held them at under threat of lethal force and stole not just money, jewelry, clothing and for some drugs, a fact could not longer be ignored.

screenshot (1780)

Baltimore Police Department itself is corrupt. No one  (other than the FOP) will dare say now that the problem is either a few bad apples or rogue officers. It’s an unavoidable certainty that the systems in place at BPD produced, cultivated and unleashed emboldened criminals to prey on primarily the weakest and most vulnerable of the city’s residents. For this, there is no redemption.

The barrel that holds together the law enforcement agency for Baltimore City is a putrid vessel carrying despicable and deplorable individuals. Anyone after listening to GTTF and still believes  BPD can be reformed instead of destroyed.

Freddie Gray’s Death Cloaked BPD in Feelings of Invincibility

How rotten is BPD?   GTTF robberies occurred while the feds were in cruisers doing ride alongs, knee deep scouring IAD files, and listening to wiretaps.  A (still yet identified) snitch within the State’s Attorney’s office leaked to the BPD gang that indictments were likely. Jenkins, his crew, and ilk continued to plant evidence and sell drugs.

It’s easy to see why GTTF felt emboldened. Freddie Gray died from  painful and pronounced injuries while police custody. His death was  likely the result of excessive force by multiple officers.  Even with charges filed, trials held, and exoneration handed down, there’s been no accounting for his untimely death.

screenshot (1782)

The federal government was closing in.  The indicted BPD officers (low level) were weeks away from trial.  Some were looking to cut a deal or change their pleas.  Next, a former member of their team was scheduled to testify the next day.  Before he could name names and point fingers, Det. Sean Suiter ended up with a bullet in the back of his head in an abandoned lot with only another BPD officer present.

In this environment, the likely suspect would seem to be connected to Freddie Gray and/or the GTTF crew.  Instead, BPD hired an “outside” and “independent” panel which arrived at an incredulous finding of suicide.

Keeping One’s Eyes on the Prize

In a 20 minute opening statement on Thursday January 24, 2019 in the U.S. Courthouse, Judge James K. Bredar who is overseeing the implementation of the Consent Decree spoke of several matters. Not one time did he mention Freddie Gray.  A synopsis of his major points are as follows:

  1. The BPD’s training facility is really cold and unimpressive. The state should fund a new state of the art building/campus to lure good cops to Baltimore.
  2. Michael S. Harrison, New Orleans’ top cop is the best hope Baltimore can ask for considering its last commissioner was arrested for tax evasion.
  3. If BPD doesn’t reform itself, the violence and crime will skyrocket.
  4. Feds find themselves in “deplorable circumstances” having (during a shut-down) to represent the government without being paid.
  5. 23 murders by the 24th of the month is a “shocking statistic”
  6. The department’s only hope now is Michael S. Harrison.
  7. Community engagement efforts are lagging.
  8. BPD has written new policies.
  9. CRB is all but in the trash bin.
  10. Mayor Pugh didn’t show at all and Tuggle didn’t return after the lunch break to attend to a “family emergency.”

Once the meeting was winding down and some thought levity was appropriate, Judge Bredar made a quip. Bredar said he couldn’t wait to read the book interim commissioner Gary Tuggle is likely to write after his stint with BPD.

That, my dear, is the Baltimore way.

 

 

 

 

Who Orders Pizza During a Home Invasion? The Missing Link in the Chain to Convict the Mansion Murderer

The #QuadrupleMurder trial will prove beyond all doubt that Daron Wint is a liar. But the biggest whopper of them all may very well be the one he told to wriggle out from under blanket felony murder charges.

The first 48 hours of a high-profile homicide case during a nonstop 24-hour news cycle can be an eternity for politicians thrust in front of cameras.

Home invasions isn’t something that commonly happens in prestigious Northwest DC. It might as well be a different planet than the life described by a parade of witnesses who testified about working at restaurants, as day laborers, a personal assistant/gopher, or semi-skilled manual labor jobs.

Worlds would collide by Thursday May 14, 2015.

The haves:  Savvos, 47, and Amy, 46,  Savopoulos, and their 10-year old son Philip were brutally murdered as was the family’s housekeeper. Vera Figueroa , 57.  The non English speaking domestic was considering retiring according to her husband Bernardo Alfaro.

A have not: The sole suspect, Daron Wint, of Lanham, MD nabbed by a profile that includes him (and all male relatives) to a profile obtained on a pizza crust left behind.Screenshot (976)Investigators first believed it was a mundane fire that quickly became a quadruple murder, then revealed itself to be an in-home kidnapping – all kicked off by a violent home invasion. And in between,  the state would have jurors believe Wint got his captive, Amy Savopoulos to order two pizzas and one can of soda.

The adults showed evidence of blunt force trauma, some also stabbing, others asphyxiation.  Close to the end of the ordeal, there was a sense of panic and desperation that culminated in a haphazardly dousing of gasoline that effectively only burned and destroyed Bedroom 2 where Philip was recovered. Bedroom 1, where firefighters discovered a “bloodbath” still showed in photographs a baseball bat that was bright red with blood.

If anything was going to solve the case (and in a hurry), it would be DNA.  People shed layers of skin every hour. Unless the perpetrator(s) wore full body latex suits, it’s highly unlikely that they could have been in the house for over 18 hours and not leave a trace of being there, no matter how many pairs of gloves they wore.

By the prosecutor’s count, there were three adult victims, one child and one perpetrator when the pizza was ordered at 9:14 pm on May 13 as they settled in before a flurry of phone calls began about 7 am to arrange a cash withdrawal using electronic signatures for Savvas. Young Philip’s DNA was found on the mouth of a bottle of water.  (The soda can was never brought up as evidence by any technician working the scene).

The photo of the remaining corner of uneaten pizza has a story of its own to tell. It’s not difficult to suppose that either by accident or by intention that DNA that points to Daron Wint was placed on the crust.

It’s been said that successes have many fathers while failure is a bastard. It’s suspicious in itself that no one person has taken credit for : 1. finding the crust 2. deciding to go against policy, take a risk, and test it anyway.

 

 

With the clock ticking, the second 48 hours began with a decision to work into the weekend, acknowledging the pressure to solve a high profile case, officials testified. Below is a series of events uncovered with expert testimony, mainly from Emily Head, ATF forensic biologist, the forensic lead on the case. She has multiple degrees and six years of experience.

Q: How did Emily Head become the lead of the forensic’s team?
I was the only one there working. It was a Saturday.

Q: What was your plan for the day?  
The plan then was to go to the Savapoulos house. We were told there was a pizza crust at the scene.

(Prosecutor pauses seemingly taken aback by the second part of the answer, but he forges ahead, he himself appearing unaware of the answer)

Q: Who told you?
I don’t know who told me.  But I had high expectations of getting a DNA profile.

(A curious response since the department’s policy at that time was not to test perishable items at all).

Q: Who was there?
ATF and Metro PD were on the scene when we arrived, along with Task Force Officer Michael Pravera.

Q: What did you do first?
We had to wait before given entry. I’m not entirely sure why.

(Maybe someone was tampering with the evidence).

After surveying the premises starting at the basement, Emily Head was given a brown paper bag like you would get from Safeway containing the discarded pizza. What follows is a summation of her actions:

  • Examination and swabbing of the pizza crust took place inside the Savopoulos’ house on the second floor in the room identified as the office where two days before over 100 firefighters were on the scene, many of them maneuvering and clearing spaces on their hands and knees.
  • Brown butcher-type paper was spread out and the pizza was dumped on the paper.
  • Two swabs were taken: one from the top of the pizza where it had been bitten and another from underneath of the uneaten portion of pizza.
  • She swabbed the crust that day and by Wednesday luckily, the saliva was sufficient to create a DNA profile. Her intuition was spot on.

The good luck continued.

A database search came up with a name of an individual who had a close enough profile for police to broadcast a break in the case!  They named a suspect: Daron Dillon Wint.  The address the police had was for Daron’s stepmother and father.  They permitted police to enter and search the house including the crawlspace area where they told Daron he could store his belongings. Daron though had gone to New York a few days prior.  He left a phone number where he could be reached, mainly because he was expecting a call back from an immigration attorney.

Court and arrest records also reveal both Daron and a brother (Darrell Wint) who he claims to have committed the crime, have criminal histories.  Since they both have the mother and father, when compared to the DNA profile from the pizza – statistically speaking, neither would be able to be excluded as the contributor.

Once captured a cheek swab was taken directly from Daron Wint to test against the profile recovered from the pizza crust.

With new crusty evidence, a timeline started to emerge.  Police theorize the crime began a day earlier on May 13.  At least as early as 9:14 pm when a call came in to Domino’s Pizza for a delivery: two pizzas and a can of soda.

A soda can have not been entered into evidence.

The instructions were to leave the pizza at the front door.  A female caller who sounded to be about 20-30 years old paid for the pizza using a credit card and also included a $5 tip.  Media reports have said the man described the house as dark and that he followed the instructions and left.

The pizza deliveryman did not testify.

The 17-year Domino’s employee, who took the call, testified that the number that called in the order showed up on their system as being a previous customer with the address and prior instructions. The phone number used was clearly observable on the box,  and so was the prior instruction: Ring the Bell.  Roland Chase, who still works for Dominos but now in Florida (he drove up to give his testimony) recalls giving verbal instructions to the pizza delivery guy to simply leave the pizza and walk away.

Media reports have reflected that the pizza delivery guy was left an envelope with a tip. This contradicts Chase’s testimony that the pizza and the tip was paid for via a credit card over the phone.

Who Doesn’t Like Pizza?

In his defense, family members and a flashy attorney who was seeking the job proclaimed that Daron Wint never ate pizza because he didn’t like it. Case closed. Next suspect. Not surprisingly, he became the butt of many jokes and investigators continued to build its case and h

In opening statements, defense attorneys told the jury that Wint did in fact eat the pizza. Making his family liars.  That he ate the pizza in a house where a major crime was taking place unbeknownst to him — is an admission that is very tough to swallow.

Perhaps Daron Wint believed that copping to a small transgression (eating the pizza) would lesson his culpability.  Maybe he thought he knew no evidence existed to connect him directly to swinging the bats or burning the bodies so admitting to eating the pizza would take the heat off of him.

But if it was a lie.  If he never ate the pizza and his defense still permitted him to mislead the jury, that would insert a needless link in a chain that could hang him for these murders.

It could be the biggest lie he told in this sordid story.  In order for jury to  convict him of felony murder all they needed to believe beyond a reasonable doubt, was that he was in the house while the kidnapping and murder was occurring.

Almost every aspect of this trial illuminates tremendous failings of this country’s criminal justice system.

 

The Domino Effect: Follow the Crumbling Crust

Blinded by the heat of dark smoke sucking all breathable air from the room, firefighters crawl on all fours, feeling their way around the mansion’s bedroom’s walls, After circling back to where the crawling began, they venture into the room’s center.

A bump into a chair didn’t sit right. It was unusually heavy.  Almost an hour since the call came in for a ho hum chimney fire, firefighters would uncover what nobody had expected: there was a body on the chair.

Adrenaline and shouts filled the room with newfound urgency.

The rescue wouldn’t be easy.  The body kept slipping through rescuer’s fingers!

My lieutenant asked with exasperation, help me with the victim, Sgt Michael Adler told a jury.

“I am,” he recalled saying.

“Turns out we were touching two different bodies.”

Once the smoke cleared they saw through blood smeared goggles  what they previously had only felt by sliding. “It was a bloodbath,” Ader said. Cutting through the layer of soot that covered the bedroom’s door that lead out to the hallway, he used his fingers to write “No Go.”

Screenshot (963)

From that moment on, entry into what would be called Bedroom 1 was forbidden without an escort. The recently redecorated house was now a crime scene. Jurors would hear firefighter’s tales of using webbing to get a grip on a body covered in blood and intricate details about the science of DNA.

At the center of the trial’s testimony rests two nearly pristine pizza boxes recovered in a bedroom mostly covered in soot and soaked where water sprayed all around much like the dancing balloon guy, a witness said.

Screenshot (966).png

Bedroom 1 and the pizza boxes inside would be the key to piecing together clues that investigators would use to identify a suspect.

The lead evidence technician for the case, Jeffrey Henderson testified he recovered the boxes from Bedroom 1 documenting it with a photo shown to the jury. The side of the box still had a paper printout with the  order time of  9:14 pm, the phone number that called and instructions: Ring Bell.  Henderson discarded the pizza into a bag in the hallway he said. The department’s policy and practices was not to test perishables, he said.

Was there a crust? The prosecution asked attempting to zoom in and around the remaining three slices.

“I don’t remember,” Henderson said.

Six days after Washington DC firefighters stumbled surprisingly upon three adult bodies in a house they originally thought was routine, Daron Wint’s fiancé got the shock of her life.  A haze of confusion would suggest that the love of her life was connected to the horrible events that occurred between May 14 and 15, 2015 in Bedroom 1.

Three years after the fact, sixteen jurors would watch as diagrams, photos and vivid descriptions told the tale of how four lives came to a brutal and bloody end in the first four weeks of testimony in what media dubbed The Mansion Murders.

The Victims

On May 14, 2015, the couple (both 47 years old) along with their 10-year old son Philip and a longtime housekeeper Vera Figueroa were violently killed using multiple weapons.

Vera would survive for only minutes when rescuers arrived. But both the husband and wife, although removed from the house, were already dead.  They were all pulled from Bedroom 1.  Sharing a closet, that sort of became a passageway for the fire to travel was Bedroom 2, where the fourth body would later be recovered.

The fourth, final and tiniest body was discovered in Bedroom 2, precariously balanced on what remained of metal coils of a bed’s box spring.  The firefighter nearly fell through the floor as he simply covered the remains with a protective orange tarp.  Although discovered last, investigators told the jury, the boy was where the fire started. Someone poured gasoline on the bed, enough to seep onto the floor underneath. Wooden matchsticks outside the door revealed the exit path took by the murder(s) down the stairs away from the horror left behind.

The Suspect

Daron Dillon Wint, 37, came to the United States from Guyana, South America when he was a teenager in 2000.  He comes from a large blended family with cousins and extended family in the DC/MD area as well as in New York.  His green card had expired and he had hopes of becoming a U.S. citizen.  Skilled as a welder, he was known as XX for the decorative welding mask he wore.  His fiancé, who goes by the name of Vanessa, knew him simply as Dillon.

Screenshot (936)
Daron Dillon Wint in undated photo

A health enthusiast, his visits to the gym would last for hours and he would go 4-5 times a week.  His small stature, about 5 feet 8 and 160 lbs, the most striking physical attribute would be his shoulder length locks. His courtroom attire of dress pants (accentuated a waist of about 28 inches) and freshly pressed dress shirt and tie. His voice carries the flavor of both his Caribbean roots and tinges of his American aspirations.

They two spent three days together, shopping, eating out, and planning their lives together. Daron had told her we won the lottery twice that week.  On May 20, 2015 in her New York apartment Vanessa was watching the evening news; her fiancé Daron had already drifted off to sleep.  It was hump day.  Pretty humdrum.   Until she saw the face of the man lying next her pop up on the television screen.

For all the world to see, broadcasters were saying Daron Wint was wanted for a quadruple murder in Washington DC. Her scream startled Daron awake.  The first call he made was to his father. The call was expected; police were at the house.  Over the phone, D.C.’s Metropolitan police department notified him of the warrant, charges and told him to turn himself in. He hung up and the two checked into a hotel.

What Wint didn’t know at the time is that police had linked him to the crime by DNA tests conducted on a sliver of pizza crust that investigators say was ordered to the house while the family were tied up while waiting for the bank to open the next day. The story of the murders and subsequent fire made the news not just in DC and Maryland, but Matt Lauer led off his broadcast on The Today Show with the story.  The brazen nature of the crime and how intricate the planning appeared had people (including police) speculating that more than one person was involved.

Daron Wint has maintained his innocence in the three years it took for the case to come to trial.  No other suspect has been charged.

A week after the murders, police would have gotten their man: taken down by pizza crust.  Inside Edition and ABC’s 20/20 ate it up.  The surprises, however, don’t stop there.

Carving Up State’s Pizza Crust Accusation

Sloppiness, inaccuracies and lack of confidence had the FBI halting its use of Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) forensics unit.  In a series of articles by the Washington Post, In May 2015, the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) had stepped in to conduct investigations for the District.

A combination of forensic employees from both agencies were assembled in a task force working as a team to process the sprawling three story house that also included a finished basement as well as the cars in the garage, the driveway, and two vehicles that were off site and set on fire.  Simply put, it was a lot.  A lot of eyes were watching.

Screenshot (964)

Resources were stretched thin.  Roles sometimes were undefined or overlapped. Prosecutors spent days tediously laying out pieces of evidence that had been photographed, collected, tested and stored. Initially, keeping the juror’s attention, until testimony revealed that no fingerprints or DNA was successfully lifted from either of the baseball bats presumed to be the murder weapons or a sword with its handle left in the toilet.

The brazenness of hardened killer(s) ordering pizza delivery to a house with the family tied up in a bedroom as while waiting for banks to open the next morning is tough to swallow. Even more flaky is that the prosecution has yet to provide the first link in the chain of evidence and has not yet answered:  Who recovered the pizza crust?

Part 1 of 2  “The Domino Effect”

Next: Part 2 Focuses on the chain of custody of the crust no one can account for as well as surprising revelations by the defense.

Never Saw it Coming: Suspect on Trial for Mansion Murders Was Duped

It’s saying a lot when there’s no Law and Order episode that even comes close to what’s been unfolding in the #MansionMurders trial in D.C.’s Superior Court.  Nearly for the entire month of September jurors have been able to come face to face with the person who ate pizza in a house where a quadruple murder/kidnapping plot was unfolding.

The prosecution’s case charging felony murder did not disappoint. The surprises came early and often.

The diverse jury was seated on Monday Sept 10 in the government vs Daron Wint, 37, a native of Guyana, South America.  Wint faces 20 counts involving the brutal deaths of husband and wife Savvos and Amy Savopoulus, both 47, their 10-year old son Philip and their housekeeper Vera Figueroa on a sunny and warm afternoon on May 14, 2015.

 

There’s also no shortage of shocking moments in the 2015 case. It’s easy to imagine writers around Law and Order tossing the Mansion Murder’s script in the trash – claiming that it’s just too far fetched.  Who would believe cops caught the person eating the pizza, but not those who swung the bat and literally burned the house down?

News accounts even before the trial’s opening statements had the public salivating for more knowing only:

  • An innocent 10-year old boy’s body was burned beyond identification and police suggest that he had been tortured.
  • Firefighters respond to a call for a chimney fire and later end up stumbling over three adult bodies in a bedroom before finding the charred remains of the fourth in an adjoining room.
  • A newly hired personal assistance/driver to Savvas as CEO of a manufacturing company was also a flashy aspiring race car driver.  He delivers the ransom money by leaving $40,000 withdrawn from the bank that morning in the driver’s seat of a rare sports car parked in the family’s garage.
  • The driver sends pics of half of the money to a girlfriend, quickly deletes it and tells a series of lies to homicide investigator about his activities the day the ransom was delivered.
  • While being held against their will, both Amy and Savvas make multiple phone calls keeping people away from the house and arranging large cash withdrawals talking to his sister and a company executive. They also leave voice messages sounding oddly casual and chipper that would later be played in court.
  • Vera’s husband and daughter bang on the front door looking for her after she didn’t come home only to get a phone call from Savvas saying no one’s home, they’re at the hospital. They snap pictures of a Porsche before leaving to find Vera.
  • Amy’s Porsche (saw by Vera’s family) is spotted on camera heading out of the city and later found that evening ablaze in a Maryland parking lot with evidence  inside, linking Wint to the crime.

Surprise #1 The Opening Statements

The prosecution went first.  Assistant US Attorney Christopher Bruckman, who could easily work at Dundler Mifflin, called the motive behind the quadruple murder one of the earliest known to mankind: greed.  Case in point the $40,000 in ransom money delivered to the home the morning of May 14, 2015.  The government all but assured a grieving family and a worried community that the only person involved in the massacre was sitting at the defendant’s table wearing dreadlocks.

Screenshot (944)
Daron Wint booking photo in 2015, then 35, of Lanham, MD.

Calling the DNA evidence “powerful” the prosecution abandoned the narrative homicide detectives have been pushing nearly from the beginning: the murder and kidnapping could not have been a one man job.  Three years later, they assert, Daron Wint, and him alone is responsible.  This new strategy causes the entire gallery to sit on the edge of their seats.

Surprise 2: Opening statements, this time a double whammy from the defense’s table: The defense places their client in the actual house where three adults and a 10 year old were being held captive with duck tape and neckties. Jurors shifted in their chairs when defense claimed that the kidnapping was occurring upstairs, unbeknownst to him. It was a tough sell.

Four people were being held captive for about 18 hours. Then murdered in a grand house in a prominent neighborhood that was then set on fire.  Wint, although in the house as one time or another was extremely clueless. but also very hungry. He ate pizza while he was there- his attorneys tell the jury.  And then the other shoe drops.  Wint knows who did it!  His brothers.  The prosecutors across the aisle learned of this tidbit at the same time media did. The air in the courtroom hang heavy.

Fig 1 Arrest warrant for Daron Wint

Circled in yellow below, authorities were looking for others involved in the kidnapping and murders, admitting that no way the crimes could have been carried out by a single individual.  That is until Wint himself said other were involved – then the government said no way – it was only you.

Screenshot (946)_LI

Wint’s lawyers from the DC public defenders’ office told the jury how cell phones would reveal coordination between his brothers as they carried out the scheme.  And that Wint himself had an alibi for part of the time the crimes were taking place.  Wint, learning only after the fact of what had occurred, is offered money for his silence, the story goes.  With his name the only one attached to this crime, Daron Wint, puts two and two together. He’s been set up. Counsel for the defense is Judith Pipe and Jeffrey Stein.

Screenshot (935)

Time Is Not on Their Side

Three years have since passed. School shootings have become quite normal. Donald Trump is now midway through his first term after a hot mic caught him boasting about routinely sexually assaulting women. What caused people’s jaws to drop in 2015 may now only raise an eyebrow.  As gruesome of a story the mansion murder case still is, the national consciousness had grown callous.

Daron Wint now 38, was captured on live television, suspiciously, after a reported “manhunt“took over the morning national network news shows.. Back then, media outlets across the country broadcast a picture of a muscular black man with long dreadlocks with piqued interest since the crime occurred within blocks of the residence of then-Vice President of the U.S. ,Joe Biden.  Everyone from Inside Edition covering the funeral, to ABC’s 20/20 wanted a taste.

Screenshot (932)

From almost day one, police have speculated that the quadruple murder that involved holding three adults hostage overnight would involve more than one person. Not to mention the travel coordination that could explain the removal and subsequent torching of Amy Savvapoulos’ Porsche, miles from the scene.

The bombshells dropped during opening statements were only a reflection of what would lie ahead.

Next up:  Surprise #2 The Domino Effect: Follow the Crumbling Crust

Also in this series:  Prosecutions’ Star Witnesses Jordan Wallace; Judge Juliet McKenna and the Case of the Hairy Evidence

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Judge says Baltimore Police Too Big to Fail, But that Ship Might Not Hold Water

Baltimore.

Not quite Charm City.

Far from Bodymore, Murderland.

A town with an abundance of big city problems – much more like, Small-timore.

Members of AFSCME Local 1195 Baltimore, Maryland Police Union strike in 1969.
BPD walked off the job in 1974 even after gaining widespread protections in passage of the state’s Law Enforcement Bill of Rights (LEOBR) in 1972.  Pushback prevented collective bargaining until 1982 leading to today’s FOP3.

Baltimore is big on grit, tenacity, history, humor all blended together to make for a special brand of what some call charm.  Tinged by the threatening cloud hovering over the major sports stadiums and scaring away any potential corporate growth is the city’s biggest budget item: The Baltimore Police Department.

The Problem

Baltimore’s Police Department is too big – to fail.  Yeah, just like the banks that suckered people into mortgages they could not afford, made a ca-billion dollars by packaging the loans together, disguising their value, and getting taxpayers to bail them out when their balance sheets couldn’t add up.

Chief U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar in his remarks Thursday during the second quarterly update by the parties involved in Consent Decree declared (Small-timore) Police Department too big to fail.  The analogies didn’t stop there.

Judge Bredar was clearly no fan of BPD at any point while negotiating the Consent Decree between the feds and the city and then selecting a monitoring team to oversee the process.  Furthermore, he is set to spend the next 5-10 years enforcing the decree to fix the ails (Monitoring Team points to “decades of neglect and mismanagement”) that DOJ uncovered when it pulled back the covers of BPD following the in custody death of Freddie Gray.

Still after witnessing all the ugliness festering inside a racist institution with little challenge for generations, Bredar then was subjected to a month long trial with sordid tales of murder, drug dealing, robberies, and the efforts to cover up the crimes while working as special unit detectives with the Baltimore Police dept.  Bredar spits out each letter of the Gun Trace Task Force (GTTF) like he’s riding himself of the taste of a bad peanut at an Orioles game.

bs-md-ci-bredar-profile-20170112
Judge James K. Bredar. Undated Photo. Presumably 10 year old. caption

Even this judge, with all that he has seen, is not in favor of disbanding BPD and starting over.  This city is not Camden, New Jersey he said.

“It’s not going to happen” said Bredar. There will be no fourth quarter “hail Mary pass” by way of a magical fix to the dept’s woes.  Anything other than sticking to the course set forward by the Monitoring Team is an “infeasible concept.”

At times the Judge appeared at a lost, but nonetheless compelled to dole out some measure of encouragement. For instance, he liked Solicitor Andre Davis’ oratory skills. Maybe how his forced sincerity bounced off the portraits hanging on the chamber walls.

With a proverbial pat on his head, Judge acknowledged how interim BPD Commissioner Gary Tuggle is pressing forward meeting deadline after deadline in drafting  policies that most likely eventually be tossed in the trash. Bredar expects whoever eventually takes over the helm, and rightfully so, would want his or her stamp on the process. Mayor Catherine Pugh did not attend this day long hearing. At the first hearing she and DeSousa left immediately after giving their opening remarks.

“BPD is the only police department that going to police the city of Baltimore – especially in my lifetime,” said Bredar.

Even with his commitment to the institution, the the judge ticks off significant if not insurmountable wrongs with BPD namely:

BPD has no commissioner. It’s had three in first six months of the year. Depending on the analogy of the day, the department lacks a construction foreman, compass on a barn, rudder on a ship, architect with blueprints, pilot with a flight plan,  foundation to a skyscraper – it’s become quite comical as new ones crop up.

City Solicitor Andre Davis said 10 resumes have been submitted after a nationwide posting and efforts were being made to replace former Commissioner Darryl DeSousa chosen by Pugh, who resigned  four months into the job after admitting to failing to file his taxes for multiple years.  Davis  attempted to assure the judge that the “flight plan” that the city has put forth using the Police Research Forum to aid in selection of the next commissioner will have one in place by Halloween.

Judge Bredar’s concerns were not assuaged.  “Sooner than that I hope,” he said. Everyday there is one or two negative things in the press.  He pointed to the officer arrested that week in Baltimore County county on charges of selling prescription narcotics.

“I’m not afraid to make the tough decisions” the Judge said. And then slightly under his breath,  “I don’t always make the popular decision.”

While claiming BPD is too big to fail in his eyes, Bredar had little difficulty often pointing out the department’s numerous and substantial umm, failures:

  • Staffing shortages
  • Stalled union negotiations
  • Fiscal constraints
  • Void in technology infrastructure
  • Lack of leadership
  • Deft of public trust

The Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) which houses Internal Affairs Department (IAD) is a revolving door of people in command with no policy to implement and not captain to steer the ship.  The department said the judge is an “essential organ in a healthy police body.”

“I suggest there are no more critical questions than one, who will be the next commissioner and two does that person have what it takes to lead the department out of the wilderness.”

The Department of Justice (DOJ) chimed in with its own concerns of the “capacity” the department has to make any changes. Along with being the “complainant” in the Consent Decree urging reform, the DOJ is participating with other federal agencies on four ongoing investigations of BPD:

  1. The death of Det. Sean Suiter
  2. Accusations of rushing recruits through the Academy
  3. BPD’s role in revelations uncovered by the GTTF trial
  4. Allegations that an officer lied on the stand in a criminal matter

Problems to Come

Suffering from a back ailment, Judge Bredar often looked uncomfortable at the bench. He said he is bracing himself on the results of the full investigation of BPD’s actions during last year’s Harlem Park lock down.  Citizens implored government intervention to no avail with pleas of #FreeWestBaltimore.  After Det. Sean Suiter was shot on in Nov 15, 2017, BPD all but suspended the Constitution by erecting an expanded perimeter that kept innocent people virtually prisoners in their homes.  Then commissioner Kevin Davis swatted away concerns of violations excusing them in favor of a pressing murder investigation.

Judge Bredar took particular exception to command’s reaction.  Noting it is in exactly times of stress and upheaval that training, adherence to policy and procedure is needed and must be adhered to. Baltimore failed.

The media and others did not recognize that it wasn’t just Harlem Park who suffered when then Commissioner Kevin Davis displayed a utter breakdown in his failure to lead, the entire department and therefore all of the citizens experienced a rip in the very fabric of what holds a civilization together. “The fix is at the top of the organization. Right now we don’t have a top,” said Bredar.

Stops and searches went on for nearly a week after Suiter’s murder. People were detained, some where brought into police station, most without their consent and questioned. One officer out of the multitude that ascended to 900 block of Bennett Place had activated her body worn camera capturing two hours of footage.

Children were kept out of school. Some were even given written passes permitting their travel in and around certain neighborhoods.

“The verdict’s not in” but in talks with the monitoring team “My suspicion is that it’s going to be disturbing.”

 

Top 10 (Known) Crimes by ex Baltimore City Police Det. Danny Hersl

Warning: Do Not Proceed Unless You Believe (Some) Baltimore Police Straight Up Rob People on the Regular

Veteran cop, Daniel T. Hersl, 49, infamous for his abusive rants and provocations of Baltimore’s citizens, awaits sentencing Friday June 22 in U.S. District Court. He faces up to 60 years  after a jury found him guilty of racketeering, fraud and robbery charges as a member of the violence-prone street gang with badges, – otherwise known as the Gun Trace Task Force (GTTF).

Using RICO statutes, originally crafted as a way to bust open impenetrable crime syndicates like the Mafia, the feds pursued eight cops who as employees of Baltimore City Police department created a criminal enterprise while working as BPD officers that included robbery and drug dealing.

officer arrested 4
ex BPD Det. Jemell Rayam. During trial accused Danny Hersl of stealing $3k cash from the $20k cash they stole during a robbery — proving there is no honor among BPD thieves. The robbery victims currently have a civil lawsuit against the city.

During closing arguments in a February 2018 trial, federal prosecutors reminded jurors that Hersl, who joined BPD in 1999, and other veterans in the Baltimore City Police department were acting as both cops and robbers for years, some even before they joined the GTTF.  The victims were believable; the crimes were brazen; the sentences are historical.

A timeline to assist with understanding the “Top 10” Crimes by Daniel T. “Danny” Hersl

  • April 2015      Freddie Gray in-custody homicide
  • April 2015  Civil unrest in West Baltimore’s to protest F.G’s violent death
  • Summer 2015 Jenkins sells looted pharma drugs, sparking opioid crisis
  • July 2016 Feds tap BPD vehicle in the Shropshire drug organization investigation
  • August 2016   Department of Justice scathing report on BPD systematic abuses
  • March 2017    Federal indictments announced against BPD’s GTTF squad
  • April 2017   City enters into a Consent Decree to reform BPD’s racists practices
  • Oct 2017 Rayam and Gondo testify as gov’t witness against A. Shropshire
  • Nov 2017   Det. Sean Suiter murdered the day before scheduled witness testimony
  • Jan 2018 Four ex GTTF cops testify to a 4+ year crime spree while police officers
  • Feb 2018 Jury find Danny Hersl and Marcus Taylor guilty using RICO

To recap, the Gun Trace Task Force was one of many special units within the BPD that operated with little oversight and under various acronyms through different administrations over decades.

As plainclothes detectives, they have untold (and undocumented) interactions with a plethora of drugs, guns, and cash.  Such units are ripe for corruption, according to the the federal government, even in the best of departments.  One member of GTTF, Det. Thomas Clewell who worked along side of each of the members has not been charged.

 

GUN TRACE TASK FORCE

In closing arguments, federal prosecutors implored the mostly white jury to see the parade of unlikely victims, some drug dealers, others with a criminal background as not worthy of protection of the United States Constitution.

Hersl’s co-defendant Marcus Taylor, who joined BPD in 2009,  was sentenced to 18 years earlier this month and is planning an appeal.  Judge Catherine Blake will hear motions related to Hersl’s conviction, but is expected to proceed with his sentencing.  Others who plead guilty thus sparing taxpayers the expense of trial or the complete farce of proclaiming innocence are:

Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, now serving  25 years, joined BPD in 2003. Was the ranking officer in charge of the Special Enforcement Section (SES) with Taylor along with officers Evodio Hendrix and Maruice Ward before taking over GTTF.  Robberies by Jenkins, Hendrix, Ward and Taylor began as early as 2013 as members of the SES squad.

Sgt. Thomas Allers, now serving 15 years, joined BPD in 1996. Headed up GTTF from its origin to 2016 before handing the reigns over to Jenkins and leaving to join a joint DEA task force.

Two other Baltimore Police detectives who plead guilty, did not go to trial and also served as cooperating witnesses (presumably are still doing so in ongoing investigations) include ex detectives Jemell Rayam and Momodu Gondo.

ex Det. Danny Hersl’s Top 10 Crimes and Lawsuits

10 Gave a slip of paper with the date written on it as a warning to H.T. after searching his mouth and down his pants not to let him see him again – only to arrest him a few days later in Nov 2015. Hersl stole $314 from a check he had just cashed. Guilty of robbery and extortion.

9  Stole narcotics and $1700 cash from A.F. and let him go. Guilty of robbery and extortion in Aug. 2016.

8 Stole $2000 from a sock in a homeless man’s storage unit. Threatened the business’ clerk when he would not hand over the surveillance video that captured the theft.

7 Took about $8000 from glove compartment of D.A. who was caught after fleeing scene tossing cocaine out of the window.

6 Nearly doubling his $75k annual salary with false claims of overtime and wire fraud.

5 Breaking the jaw of fleeing suspect until he passed out in 2010. City paid $49k.

4 Breaking the arm of a 19-year old girl in a carry out restaurant in 2007. City paid  $50k

3 Dropped charges by prosecutors in a 2006 case when jurors were notified that complaints against him to Internal Affairs were in the double digits.  This was 10 years before he was promoted to the GTTF.

“Misconduct, sometimes when it’s frequent enough, it indicates a lack of desire to tell the truth” (the late) Circuit Court Judge John Prevas is quoted as saying after reviewing Hersl’s IAD file, in a 2014 Baltimore Sun story

 

2 The double cross. Robbery of the Hamiltons in July 2016. Hersl reportedly stole $3k while the GTTF crew wasn’t looking and before BPD stole $20K from the family.

1 The depraved indifference.  Instead of rending aid, Hersl sits with other GTTF cops  in a nearby police car after an illegal high speed chase that resulted in an Aug 2016 car crash.  Hersl is heard on the wire tap suggesting ways to cover up the fact that they were working at all by altering documents to avoid discipline or prosecution.

Hersl bike
Danny Hersl, convict and former “elite” Baltimore Police officer

Within the Constitutionally-adverse BPD, these units became known as “elite” by the media as well as up and down previous and existing names in command. Both would hype the arrests as a measure of crime fighting.

But for the citizens they were sworn to protect and serve, these units became the living, breathing, gun-toting, badge wearing symbol of why no one would ever willingly call or cooperate with the police even in the most dire of  circumstances.

Hersl’s (Dis) Hornable mentions:

  • Harassing dirt bike enthusiasts.
  • Harassing local rapper Young Moose chronicled by CityPaper.
  • Pepper spraying demonstrators in the wake of of Freddie Gray’s death.

“Detective Hersl, he a bitch, I swear to God he ain’t right/ Heard about my rap career, he trying to fuck up my life/ That nigga fuck me over once, he ain’t getting another,” Moose raps on the song ‘Tired,’ off 2014’s “OTM 3” mixtape. “That racist bitch had the nerve to put the cuffs on my mother/ Put the cuffs on my father, then put the cuffs on my brother/ He think about me every day, that nigga mind in the gutter/ Looking for some information bitch that ain’t how I rock/ Throwing dirt on my name because I’m going to the top/ The warrant wasn’t even right when they ran in my spot.” – Young Moose interview by Brandon Soderberg

 

 

Murder By Numbers: Policing in Baltimore Just Doesn’t Add Up

Prologue:  Baltimore Police are cornered. After the uprising sparked by the 2015 death of Freddie Gray, the Department retaliated by purposely neglecting neighborhoods they deem to be not worthy of police protection by what they ironically called taking a knee. In one of those areas, Harlem Park, Det. Sean Suiter was shot in the head and left for dead in 2017. Police face scrutiny from Baltimore’s Office of Civil Rights and the ACLU when it suspended the Constitution by preventing free movement in this residential area for nearly a week. Top brass rationalized the move as necessary to catch a vaguely described black man wearing a black jacket. The case is still unsolved despite a record setting $215,000 reward.

Nudged in between 2015 (Gray) and 2017 (Suiter) one murder victim went largely noticed.  However, the case emerged from the shadows, in March 2018 when parents took their concerns to the regular monthly meeting of the Civilian Review Board. Just so happens, representatives from the U.S. Department of Justice were in attendance and took a keen interest in the case of Greg Riddick. After tearful testimony and an enraged Board at a May 2018 CRB meeting, the Board issued its blistering findings – willfully exceeding its authority due to the atrocities its investigation uncovered. 

PART I: What follows shows what happens when civilians have a say in policing and why clearly Baltimore police are utterly incapable of policing themselves.

 

crime scene tape

Gregory Riddick’s parents learned of their son’s death like countless many others in Baltimore.

They logged onto to Murder Ink.

No one from BPD called the family about recovering Greg’s body.  There was no late night knock on the door. Nor did the family themselves call around to hospitals or their local precinct.  That stuff only happens in the movies.

In this instance, Baltimore’s latest murder victim was not identified by name, but by number. The report stated  a 26-year old male died of gunshot wounds in the area where Gregg was last known to have been. It was with the announcement on Murder Ink,  the family’s tug of war with the all mighty and powerful Baltimore City Police Department began.

“They didn’t ask me to come down and ID my son or nothing,” said Riddick.  “The next time I saw my son was in the funeral home.”

Greg Trill
Gregory E. Riddick, Jr

Justice at this point seems to be too big of an ask. Each day local television, social media and The Baltimore Sun tallies up people’s sons, brothers, uncles, husbands, fathers and friends as if they were counting Chicklets out of a gumball machine.

Save the rare novelty of a victim who was also an honor roll student, a grandmother or young child, mainstream media fails to show the humanity of the lives lost, the suffering of the community, and more likely than not these days, the role that BPD played.

Murder Ink, the lifeline for much of Baltimore, didn’t tell the whole story, of course. Maintained by the alt-weekly City Paper, crime victims relied upon its community-centered reporting.  Reporters filled in details where outlets like The Sun fell short.

Predictably, mainstream media only told the police’s version.  Greg Riddick Jr. was shot, yes.  But he was also ran over and dragged over 1,000 feet, in full view of police officers, a innocent bystander who became a witnesses, and even to those of us listening/reading the 9 1-1 call.

There’s one  significant detail BPD didn’t release to the media that became the catalyst for one Baltimore’s family to become mourner-activists. Police were on the scene at the shooting. Neither officer made a move to secure the crime scene, call in the shooting, or do what the civilian did when he saw a man suffering – come to his aid.

 

Riddick Sr.’s strong Christian faith and the determination of everyone who loved Greg is what that propels them all to push for answers and accountability of the Baltimore City Police Department.

For an emergency, dial 9 1-1

This murder story begins with 9 1-1 call regarding shots fired and ends with a horror one cannot imagine.  The tape is likely to haunt all not lulled to sleep by the silent counting of those who lost their lives to the proliferation of guns and the ineffectiveness of the Baltimore Police Department. It all happened in front of witnesses, and it was captured on video surveillance.

“I am on Harford Road and Homestead. Uh, somebody just got shot in front of me,” said the caller on the 9 1-1 tape.

These are the words of the Good Samaritan traveling home about 1 am after visiting an ailing family member. His identity is being shielded as the investigation is ongoing and because, well, it’s Baltimore.

It was his first words spoken to the 9 1-1 operator.   It details the eyewitness’ account, establishes the presence of BPD at the scene, and gives a real time accounting of the hit and run that would follow after Riddick was shot.

Riddick Sr. first heard the 9 1-1 tape alone.  He heard a male caller describe how he saw a car speed away after a shooting.  And that the victim was laying in the middle of the street.  The witness recollects first trying to get the police’s attention before resorting to calling 9 1-1.

He finds the man’s efforts and experiences to be both horrific and at the same time comforting.  A complete stranger stood near his son to provide comfort and security.

“The man. He didn’t have to stop,” Riddick said.

For Annette Gibson, Greg’s mother, the discussion of the tape and the officers’ lack of action stirs up a full range of emotions.

“I couldn’t, [listen]” Gibson said through tearful sobs. “I don’t want to hear it.”

At first despondent, then determined, suddenly angry and back to sobbing she relives the events of earier that day.  Greg had arrived in Baltimore earlier that day to pack. He was moving out of the city and the dangers that he was no stranger to.

Before hanging up with the 9 1-1 dispatch, the witness final words were prophetic.

“Yes, the police are here,” said the eyewitness. “They’re taking care of it.”

9 11 Tape Transcript

One answer Greg’s family wants to know is whether the officers at the car stop had Body Worn Cameras (BWC).  A new BWC policy was implemented shortly after Gray’s widely publicized death because of explainable circumstances clouded his in custody death, eroding what little trust existed between the majority of the city’s residents and the 3000+ member force of sworn police officers.

The voice on 9 1-1 tape captures the fear many black men feel in the city. Along with the literal and figurative distance victims and witness alike experience as detached police officers pursue a traffic stop while ignoring a desperate man’s attempt to flag down assistance.

Believing half of what you see and none of what you hear.

There appears to be two sources of video that could have captured both the shooting and the hit and run. One is the owned by the liquor store on the corner and the other is the surveillance system, Citi Watch, operated by Baltimore City Police.

“[BPD] didn’t show me the one on the pole, that’s on the street, said Riddick. The family believes a video exists that would capture the exact location of the police during the traffic stop and why they both didn’t see or hear the shots that the witness did from inside his car.  It would also verify the witness’s account that police ignored his request to help the gunshot victim, prompting him to call 9 1-1 instead.

Pressing for an arrest, the homicide detective initially assigned to the case, Det. Joshua Fuller, met with the family for an update on the investigation. Fuller showed Riddick the footage from the store. Two men are seen creeping along side of the liquor store lying in wait for Greg to get to the corner. Based on conversation Greg was having on the phone, Riddick believed family members would be able to identify the shooters.

No one has responded to the family’s request for Citi Watch footage. It appears that the camera is positioned perfectly to capture the assailants who crept up on Greg from Homestead as he was walking along Harford Road.

Harford Road and Homestead

“[The family] came to I.D. [the shooters], but Fuller wouldn’t do it,” Riddick said.

According to police, while waiting to view the video, BPD overheard a conversation that concerned them about potential retaliation.  As a result, the only family member who was then allowed to see the video was Riddick, Sr.  He was not able to make a positive identification.

“Fuller’s supervisor told him not to (make the arrest ) because of retaliation.” Greg’s family believes something more sinister is at work.  They are seeking the medical examiner’s report to determine the exact cause of death.  If Greg could have survived the bullets but died because of the injuries sustained when the car ran him over, they believe Baltimore City Police have reason enough to stave off the investigation.

“I went down to Internal Affairs and filed paperwork.”  A common public misconception is that IAD is an independent body charged with investigating complaints against the police.

“I told them the whole story. So I figured that OK, Internal affairs. They gonna investigate. They’re not on the police side,” said Riddick.

It then became a waiting game.

“I guess they was hoping that the eight months that the paperwork was just sitting there on his desk that I would just let it go, but I wasn’t going to let it go,” Riddick said.  “Then I got a letter from [Ian] Dombrowski … that they didn’t find anything.”

The head of IAD at the time -then Deputy Commissioner Ian Dombrowki was fingered by convicted BPD officers from the now defunct Gun Trace Task Force (GTTF) squad during a 2018 federal corruption and robbery trial of tipping off officers that the feds were watching. He has since been demoted to major.

dombroski
Major Ian Dombrowski

His boss, the head of the department overseeing IAD, Deputy Commissioner Rodney Hill, retired shortly after the GTTF trial ended.

After IAD notified the family that it found no wrongdoing on the part of Baltimore Police in Greg’s murder, the homicide detective leading the investigation, Det. Fuller resigned from BPD, said Riddick.  It would take months before the family would meet the new lead investigator Jill Beauregard-Navarro.

She would make headlines in The Baltimore Sun in May 2018 for what prominent defense attorney J. Wyndal Gordon would call “putting bodies on bodies.” BPD, facing mounting unsolved murders, has cleared record numbers by fingering a dead person as the likely the suspect – case solved.  If more could be done to drag Greg’s memory for his family, it would be if such an atrocity happened.

When one door closes…

Had Riddick known to have asked, he would been told that IAD rarely sustains complaints of police misconduct. With Gregg Riddick’s death, the membership into a club no one wants to belong to grew by dozens. The friends and families of victims of gun violence quickly become students of not just the intricacies and bureaucracy that accompany police investigations but receive an up close and personal view of the purported Wall of Silence.

The family stands alone.  No one in BPD or the State’s Attorney’s Office has told them that the two officers who were citing a traffic violation while Greg was being shot and later ran by over by a car did anything wrong.

When BPD didn’t find any wrongdoing with the two officers who seemingly were preoccupied with a traffic stop and not with a gunshot victim, the Riddick family filed a CRB Complaint form_2 with the Baltimore Office of Civil Rights’ Civilian Review Board.

A well respected community leader, Delegate Jill Carter left Annapolis in early 2017 to rejuvenate the Civilian Review Board as she took the helm of the Office of Civil Rights. Community members appointed by the commission and approved by the Mayor represent each of the BPD nine districts.  By statute they can subpoena witnesses, view police files, and investigate complaints. What they cannot do is mete out punishment to offending officers.

The Law Enforcement Bill of Rights (LEOBR) from the 1970s establishes protocols for police accused of misconduct and criminal activity. Over the years, as cries of police abuses have increased, the protections afforded by the LEOBR has largely stayed the same.  The CRB is handcuffed. The board of citizens can only investigate on claims against officers in five categories: Excessive Force, False Arrest, False Imprisonment, Harassment and Abusive Language.

Although the circumstances of Greg’s death didn’t not fit the definitions that by statue limit CRB’s purview, they took the complaint as a “harassment” claim and investigated the case.

“It breaks my heart, really really to read that whole situation,” said board member George Buntin, Wester District representative.  “The harassment is not there.”

Appalled at even the failure to control the crime scene, the board’s frustration with their limitations was evident. The board met in March CRB Minutes and initially struggled with making a determination of the complaint designated as harassment.

“It’s hard to stretch any of our jurisdiction to what happened here. Can we call it harassment? I don’t think so,” said member Mel Currie, Southwestern district.  “The Civilian Review Board, what I think we should be is.. .we would be the counterpart to Internal Affairs. We should be External Affairs.” Currie said.

As the board began to debate not sustaining the harassment claim, silent tears began to fall from Greg’s grandmother’s eyes.  She was given a box of tissues.  Greg Riddick, Sr was given the opportunity to talk.

For five minutes, a father implored the Board to not let homicide number 299 from 2016 become a historical statistic. His moving account of the circumstances of the 26-year old’s murder had seasoned Board members holding their heads in their hand and lawyers wiping at their eyes.

His sometimes wavering voice full of emotion carried much further that day because unbeknownst to him, representatives from the Department of Justice were in the audience. Video from the meeting can be viewed here around the 32 minute mark.

Justice for Greg is not likely to come from BPD, the SAO, the media or even the DOJ.  It’ll happen when citizens like those on the CRB have the power to decide what behaviors they will and will not accept by the officers that roam the street.

CRB envisions itself having a different process in handling complaints where the public is negatively impacted by police action.  The current process requires complainants to check a box accusing officers of a specific violation.  The Board then deliberates and decides whether or not the stated accusation is upheld.

CRB chairman Bridall Pearson suggested a better process where the event is described by the complainant and the board then arrives at the label of the associated violation.

“If we have a process like that, there’s something we could do about [Riddick’s complaint],” said Pearson.  “In this situation it’s difficult, because our hands are tied.”

 

 

Next Up: Part II The Medical Examiner, Healing and Advocacy