Police corruption trial over, but investigators keep digging
BALTIMORE (AP) — A trial exposing a unit of wildly corrupt Baltimore detectives has wrapped up in a courtroom, but federal and police investigators are still digging into possible offshoots of one of the worst police corruption scandals in memory.
As part of an ongoing investigation with the FBI, Baltimore police monitored testimony during the jury trial of two officers who last week were found guilty of racketeering and robbery in an explosive federal investigation that’s seen six former law enforcers plead guilty. Four disgraced detectives named over a dozen current and former police officers and supervisors during testimony detailing instances of sordid police misconduct over years.
In addition, the trial revealed that the out-of-control police unit was tipped off multiple times as the noose tightened, including one leak that U.S. investigators say came from an assistant state’s attorney in Baltimore.
“We know who the person is,” said Stephen Schenning, the acting U.S. attorney for Maryland.
In a Wednesday interview at the U.S. attorney’s offices in downtown Baltimore, Schenning wouldn’t say whether more indictments are on the horizon or might be likely, saying only that “we’re always following things down.”
Federal prosecutors Leo Wise and Derek Hines, dubbed the “Twin Towers” by defense attorneys due to their heights — 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-6, respectively — prosecuted the case against the eight Baltimore police detectives in the rogue Gun Trace Task Force. The pair of skilled legal tacticians spent much of the last two years scrutinizing the unit, which Wise told jurors was a “perfect storm” of corruption.
During the Wednesday interview, Wise told The Associated Press that the metaphor was apt, saying it was “extraordinary that they all came together” on the specialized gun unit.
Wise, the founding director of the nonpartisan Office of Congressional Ethics until he resigned in 2010 to join the U.S. attorney’s office in Maryland, said the police corruption case “took us into places that at the beginning I never would have expected to go.”
It began as a relatively straightforward matter investigating a Baltimore heroin-trafficking ring led by Antonio Shropshire, who was sentenced last week to 25 years in prison. Once an allegation that Shropshire’s drug crew was protected by a corrupt detective was found to be legitimate, the case gradually ballooned to include robberies, the reselling of seized drugs and even home invasions by dirty cops.
When they were arrested and indicted in March, all eight Baltimore detectives pleaded not guilty. But gradually they started to flip, with six detectives admitting crimes and implicating others. Two of the indicted detectives fought the charges and were convicted following the jury trial.
Hines said one eye-opening element of the Gun Trace Task Force case was the evidence about robberies and other criminal activities by the defendants that took place years before they merged together in the specialized gun unit.
“They were committing criminal acts before they came together,” Hines said.
From Schenning’s perspective, the way the federal prosecutors went about attacking the matter as a racketeering case was significant.
“We looked at the thing and said: ‘Is there something larger, is there something systemic about what’s going on here?’” Schenning said.
The answer turned out to be affirmative, at least when examining the now-disbanded police unit that was tasked with chipping away at the tide of illegal guns on Baltimore’s streets.
The embarrassing case has prompted a painful self-review for the Baltimore Police Department during a time of transition, and police leaders say they’re determined to mend fences. Acting Police Commissioner Darryl DeSousa has said that weeding out corrupt officers will be one of his top priorities.
He’s introduced plans for random integrity and polygraph testing and created a new anti-corruption unit, not only to probe the activities of the disbanded unit, but also that of the current and former police officials whose names came up in the testimony by disgraced detectives.
David McFadden on Twitter: https://twitter.com/dmcfadd