BALTIMORE – Two Baltimore police detectives were convicted of racketeering and robbery Monday in a trial that's part of an ongoing federal investigation into corruption among rogue members of the city's beleaguered police force.
Detectives Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor were shackled and led out of the courtroom after the verdict was read.
Federal jurors deliberated for two days after hearing nearly three weeks of testimony centered on details of police wrongdoing. The jury was released late Thursday afternoon after a few hours and returned to their deliberations Monday morning.
Hersl and Taylor faced robbery, extortion and racketeering charges that could land them up to life in prison. They were convicted of racketeering and robbery under the Hobbs Act, which prohibits interference with interstate commerce, but were cleared of possessing a firearm in pursuance of a violent crime.
Hersl put his head down and shook it as the verdict was read. Taylor had little reaction. Hersl's family in the gallery wept and his father called out, "Stay strong, Danny."
William Purpura, Hersl's lead attorney, said the family was disappointed in the verdict but noted that the jury "did acquit him of one of the more serious crimes."
Acting Police Commissioner Darryl DeSousa said in a statement that the department will move to fire Hersl and Taylor, who have been suspended with pay since being indicted in March.
"We recognize that this indictment and subsequent trial uncovered some of the most egregious and despicable acts ever perpetrated in law enforcement," DeSousa said.
The trial in a federal courthouse has been dominated by testimony of four ex-detectives who worked alongside the defendants in an elite unit known as the Gun Trace Task Force.
Those former detectives pleaded guilty to corruption charges about their time on the squad, which was once praised as a group of hard-charging officers chipping away at the tide of illegal guns on city streets. They testified on behalf of the government in the hopes of shaving years off their prison sentences.
The former law enforcement officers testified that the unit was actually made up of thugs with badges who broke into homes, stole cash, resold looted narcotics and lied under oath to cover their tracks. Wearing lockup jumpsuits, the ex-detectives admitted to everything from armed home invasions to staging fictitious crime scenes and routinely defrauding their department with bogus overtime claims.
It's not clear when the ex-detectives who pleaded guilty will be sentenced by a federal judge.
The out-of-control unit's onetime supervisor, Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, did not testify. Jenkins was portrayed as a wildly corrupt officer leading his unit on a tireless quest to shake down civilians and find "monsters" -- bigtime drug dealers with lots of loot to steal. His subordinates testified that the onetime amateur mixed martial arts fighter told his officers to carry BB guns in case they ever needed to plant weapons and occasionally posed as a federal agent when shaking down targets.
Former colleagues say Jenkins' sledgehammer approach to policing extended to having actual sledgehammers -- along with crowbars, grappling hooks, black masks and even a machete -- stored in his police-issued car to ramp up illegal activities.
The defense teams for Hersl and Taylor had asked jurors to question the motivations of their disgraced ex-colleagues and various other government witnesses, including convicted drug dealers.
Defense attorney Jenifer Wicks, one of two lawyers who represented Taylor, the youngest and least experienced of the unit's detectives, told jurors that "reasonable doubt is all over this case" and accused the government of seeking out "professional liars" as witnesses.
Purpura did not deny that his 48-year-old client took money but said the thefts didn't rise to the more serious charges of robbery or extortion. He attacked the veracity of the four disgraced detectives, noting that they've admitted to lying for years to juries, judges, colleagues and their families.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Leo Wise described the two defendants as "hunters" who largely targeted "the weak and the vulnerable." He reminded jurors that the central question in the trial was the men's actions, and whether some of their robbery victims made money "selling drugs or Girl Scout cookies" was irrelevant.
Even public defenders, who routinely question police testimony, have been shocked by the extreme 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.
"Beyond the sheer credibility issues that should have been raised at the time, given how embedded their crimes were in their police work, all cases involving these officers are tainted," said Debbie Katz Levi, head of special litigation for Baltimore's Office of the Public Defender.