Closing arguments begin in Baltimore police corruption trial


Federal prosecutors and a defense team for one of two Baltimore detectives fighting racketeering and robbery charges made their closing arguments Wednesday as a trial winds down in one of the worst U.S. police corruption scandals in recent memory.

The high-profile case is not in the hands of a jury quite yet. Defense attorneys for a second detective who has pleaded not guilty will deliver their final arguments Thursday, and government prosecutors are set for a rebuttal.

Over the past 2 ½ weeks, the jury trial has been dominated by testimony from disgraced ex-detectives who have pleaded guilty to a slew of corruption charges and are cooperating with federal authorities in hopes of shaving years off their prison sentences.

They have provided jaw-dropping revelations about their time on a disbanded police unit called the Gun Trace Task Force, an elite Baltimore police squad that was once praised as a group of hard-charging detectives chipping away at the tide of illegal guns on city streets.

But from the stand in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, four former detectives have testified that the unit was actually made up of uniformed thugs who broke into homes, stole cash, resold looted narcotics and lied under oath to cover their tracks.

Wearing lockup jumpsuits, the ex-detectives have admitted to everything from armed home invasions to staging fictitious crime scenes and routinely defrauding their department.

Derek Hines, one of the two assistant U.S. attorneys prosecuting the eight indicted Baltimore officers in the task force, reminded jurors Wednesday that nobody is above the law.

"This isn't a case against all police. It is a case against a group of criminals who happened to hide behind a badge," Hines said during closing arguments.

Detective Daniel Hersl's lead defense attorney, William Purpura, is not denying that his 48-year-old client took money — which he described as an act that "embarrassed" the city and the detective's family — but that it didn't rise to charges of robbery or extortion.

He attacked the veracity of the four disgraced detectives who testified for the government, noting that they've admitted to lying for years to juries, judges, law enforcement colleagues, and their families.

"They want that 'Get Out of Jail Free' card," Purpura quipped, referring to a feature of the Monopoly board game.

Six out of eight indicted Baltimore detectives have pleaded guilty in the corruption scandal and four have testified for the government. The trial is for Hersl and Detective Marcus Taylor, who have pleaded not guilty.

In mid-November, a Philadelphia police officer became the ninth law enforcement agent indicted in the federal investigation. Prosecutors allege he conspired with task force member Jemell Rayam to sell heroin and cocaine seized in Baltimore.

Even public defenders, who often question the testimony of police, are shocked by the sordid revelations exposed at the trial, saying there could be a few thousand tainted cases stretching back to 2008. So far, roughly 125 cases involving the eight indicted Baltimore law enforcers have been dropped.

"This was an ongoing criminal enterprise for many years," said Debbie Katz Levi, head of special litigation for Baltimore's Office of the Public Defender. "We don't believe that that this was merely a rogue unit, but rather a symbol of a flawed culture in need of serious reform."

The ongoing federal investigation centered on the Gun Trace Task Force speaks to a dark side of police authority in Baltimore at a delicate time for the beleaguered department.

A monitoring team is overseeing court-ordered reforms as part of a federal consent decree reached between Baltimore and the U.S. Justice Department due to discriminatory and unconstitutional policing. The mid-Atlantic city is also fresh off a new annual per-capita homicide record as the starkly divided city had 343 killings in 2017, roughly 56 killings per 100,000 people.

___

David McFadden on Twitter: https://twitter.com/dmcfadd


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Nation & World

Girl, 8, crossing street for bus, dies after she was hit by car
Girl, 8, crossing street for bus, dies after she was hit by car

Charges are pending for a driver who hit and killed a girl while she was walking to the bus stop with her mother. The crash happened at Rays Road and Central Drive in DeKalb County. The mother, Dawt Chin Sung, was holding Tluang Tha Men, 8, in her arms when the car struck them. Friends and relatives said they're still in shock. “Everyone is praying...
Twin babies found dead in suitcase on side of a ditch
Twin babies found dead in suitcase on side of a ditch

Arkansas authorities are investigating the discovery of the bodies of twin babies found in a suitcase in Cross County in the eastern part of the state. >> Read more trending news  The infants were found Friday afternoon around 1:45 p.m. on Crossroad 602. The unidentified bodies were inside a purple suitcase on the side of a ditch. ...
Chemicals in nonstick pans could be causing weight gain, study says
Chemicals in nonstick pans could be causing weight gain, study says

Nonstick pans were created to make cooking a little easier. However, they may be causing more harm than good, because they have been linked to weight gain, according to a new report.  >> Read more trending news  Researchers from Harvard University recently conducted a study, published in the scientific journal PLOS Medicine, to...
FBI didn't investigate tip about Nikolas Cruz before deadly school shooting
FBI didn't investigate tip about Nikolas Cruz before deadly school shooting

At least 17 people were killed in a high school shooting Wednesday afternoon in Parkland, Florida and more than a dozen others were injured, according to Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel. The lone gunman, identified as Nikolas Cruz, 19, was a former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and was taken into custody without incident after...
Melania Trump breaks with tradition again after new affair allegations
Melania Trump breaks with tradition again after new affair allegations

Once again, first lady Melania Trump gave off the impression that all is not well in her marriage to President Donald Trump when she broke presidential protocol on Friday following a report alleging the president had an affair with former Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal. As the Trumps headed to Florida to meet with the victims of this week&rsquo...
More Stories