BALTIMORE (WJZ) — A former Baltimore City Police detective took the witness stand in a federal police corruption trial and detailed startling abuses of power.
Maurice Ward, who has pleaded guilty in the case, testified against his former partners on the Gun Trace Task Force, Detectives Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor. He was the first witness the government called in the case.
Ward describes robbing drug dealers, searching homes and cars without probable cause, and stealing drugs and tens of thousands of dollars in cash. He told the jury about "door pops," a tactic of GTTF officers, where they would drive their unmarked cars at full speed toward groups of people on street corners, pop their doors open, and chase those who ran--searching them for drugs, guns, and cash--pocketing most of what they recovered.
He also detailed "sneak and peaks" where the rogue squad would break into homes in West Baltimore without search warrants to look for drugs and money.
Ward recounted one incident where members of the GTTF targeted drug dealers on Northern Parkway. He said GTTF head, Sergeant Wayne Jenkins claimed to be a federal agent and took bags containing $20,000 in cash from two men. He then took fellow officers to an area off Liberty Heights Avenue where they split the cash and headed to a strip club to spend some of the money. "I was paranoid--kind of scared," Ward said. "I took $20,000, 20 pounds of marijuana. There was no documentation. We might have been caught on camera."
Ward said Sergeant Jenkins was selling drugs, too, and he overheard him talking after one bust, offering someone "good weed, the same price as last time."
Ward said officers were not allowed to inventory seized drugs. He also said Jenkins would profile people, stopping them for no reason other than they were driving a Honda or walking with a backpack.
He also detailed robbing a man in Carroll County, the task force officers taking $100,000 then making a fake video to document the rest of the cash, which they turned in. That victim is also scheduled to testify in the case.
"This is not a case about aggressive policing. It's about greed," said Assistant United States Attorney Leo Wise, who is prosecuting the case. "The Gun Trace Task Force was a perfect storm of officers who took advantage of their positions to enrich themselves."
"It wasn't a unit that went rogue. It was a unit made up of detectives who had already gone rogue," Wise said.
Ward testified he could not remember when he started stealing from citizens. He joined the force in 2003 and has been jailed since his arrest last March. But attorneys for Detectives Taylor and Hersl maintain their clients are innocent.
"The mandate was to get guns off the street. Quite frankly, police said we don't care how you do it," said William Purpura, who represents Hersl.
His client is also accused of overtime fraud.
"Overtime was given with a wink and a nod right up the chain of command," Purpura told jurors.
He said officers would get four to eight hours for each gun they recovered, whether they worked the time or not.
Former Detective Ward also testified that supervisors condoned overtime fraud.
"The more guns we got. The more overtime we got."
Purpura said federal prosecutors "overcharged" his client, who only committed "theft" and not violent robberies. In his opening statements, Purpura read the pledge of allegiance and oath his client took, "the evidence will show Daniel Hersl breached that oath, that his actions embarrassed the Baltimore Police Department, his family, and himself." Yet he maintains Hersl never took money by force and was not making the decisions to steal.
Jenifer Wicks, who represents Detective Taylor, attacked the credibility of the GTTF officers who will be testifying against her client.
"The government has the key to help these people get out of prison, and that's considerable reason for people to be saying what they're saying," Wick said.
In one of the more dramatic moments in court, prosecutors dumped out Sergeant Jenkins' bag that contained masks, rope, and other tools they say he used to rob people.
"They were, simply put, both cops and robbers at the same time," Wise said.
He also held up the badges and service weapons of Hersl and Taylor.
"Before these badges and guns, people yield. There are powerful, powerful things. They can be used for good...but they can be used for evil," Wise said.
Upon leaving court Tuesday, Purpura told WJZ Investigator Mike Hellgren he is still feeling confident. "We had a good day," he said.
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