true crime

What Do You Call Two Dirty Cops Going to Prison? A Start

An insane trial proved widespread racketeering, drug conspiracy, and robbery by police in Baltimore. There's more coming.

by Brandon Soderberg
Feb 13 2018, 10:30pm

Baltimore Detectives Marcus Taylor and Daniel Hersl, who were convicted Monday. Photos via Baltimore Police Department/AP

After the cops finished illegally searching the house, they un-cuffed Ronald and Nancy Hamilton, walked outside, and turned things over to Maryland State Police, who actually had jurisdiction to search the suburban Baltimore home in the first place.

Ronald Hamilton, who had a history of drug-dealing but said his recent income was from car sales, rental properties, and gambling, had around $70,000 stashed in his bedroom that day. He quickly noticed some of the cash was missing and rushed back outside to stare down Jemell Rayam of the Baltimore Police Department's Gun Trace Task Force (GTTF). Rayam, wearing his vest marked “POLICE,” ultimately made off with at least some of the missing $20,000.

“What you doing?” Rayam’s fellow detective Momodu Gondo testified asking him right there in the driveway.

“Yo G, I'm taking it,” Rayam replied, according to Gondo.

The way Gondo—who pleaded guilty to racketeering and drug conspiracy last year—told it in court, his problem wasn’t that Rayam took the money, but that they hadn’t discussed the theft ahead of time. Meanwhile, the Hamiltons were never charged with anything, but the raid helped tear the family apart, with the kids to this day scared to be in their house alone and the couple en route to divorce.

“They came in my house and destroyed my family,” Ronald Hamilton screamed from the stand last month.

The family is just one of many victimized by the GTTF. Six members of the task force—Rayam included—pleaded guilty ahead of the trial for detectives Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor, which ended with their own convictions Monday. Jurors found the men guilty of robbery, racketeering conspiracy, and racketeering. The latter two face up to 60 years in prison.

“This verdict is not so much a case of the criminal justice system working, so much as the system taking a rare beat from being totally broken, only to remind us of how broken it really is,” Baltimore City councilman Ryan Dorsey said.

A dozen other police officers were implicated throughout the trial, and GTTF left in its wake thousands of cases called into question due to the specialty gun unit's illegal searches and seizures and callous shakedowns—all while filing outrageous amounts of overtime.

“We’d use law enforcement tactics to target big-time dealers,” Gondo explained plainly when he was on the stand.

The outrageous revelations during the trial—including that cops carried fake guns around to plant on people they shot—made waves across the country at a time when Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions have been doubling down on old school, "Anglo-American" cop worship. But almost none of it was news to black residents of Baltimore, the people who’d been saying cops plant guns and introduce drugs into their neighborhoods for decades.

“The Baltimore Police Department is fundamentally a white supremacist organization that hurts Black Lives,” said Lawrence Brown, a professor at Morgan State University who has called for the BPD to be entirely disbanded. “The GTTF trials reveal the ways by which BPD officers have increased crime in Baltimore City.”

In a written statement released to the press after the verdict, recently appointed acting BPD commissioner Darryl DeSousa said, “We recognize that this indictment and subsequent trial uncovered some of the most egregious and despicable acts ever perpetrated in law enforcement. Our job moving forward is to earn back the trust and respect of the community.”

These cops' victims spanned the economic spectrum, from people with large houses in the counties to city folks scrapping in a rustbelt town that no longer has rustbelt jobs. Some were dealing dope on the side or out of the game but with friends still in it—faces the cops remembered and thought they could hit up for information on big scores. There was Sergio Summerville, who was homeless and selling $10 bags of coke and heroin out of a storage locker; Antonio Santiful, who had a few gun charges in the past (some legit, he admitted; some planted, he alleged), working construction and cleaning office buildings overnight for under-the-table pay; and Herbert Tate, an HVAC technician who was detained while walking through his old neighborhood and had $500 snatched and heroin planted on him, too.

“Hersl always lying on me,” Baltimore rapper Young Moose told me back in 2015 at his Out Tha Mud store in East Baltimore. Moose, as Noisey reported, was caught up in a series of charges and probation issues due in part to Detective Hersl singling him out for scrutiny. Among other things, Detective Taylor, for his part, was arrested with a fake gun on him.

“Those people were often our clients,” veteran public defender Todd Oppenheim told me of GTTF's victims, adding that he had, like many other attorneys, warned the city about these crooked cops. “The verdict merely validates grave concerns with this group of officers—and beyond—that we've raised to both prosecutors and judges for years to no avail.”

Ralikh Hayes, a community organizer in the city, noted that while these anecdotes remain shocking to some Americans, they happen every day in Baltimore. So the focus should be on local accountability.

“I am more interested in what this means for the long term and the wider range of implications of corruption this trial brought to light such as people in the [State’s Attorney] office knowing that some officers can’t be trusted and using them anyway to tipping them off,” Hayes said, referring to someone yet unnamed in State's Attorney for Baltimore Marilyn Mosby's office who allegedly tipped GTTF off about the investigation.

Among the reporters and family of Hersl and Taylor pacing outside the courtroom on the day of verdict was Alex Hilton, who said he was harassed repeatedly by Hersl in the mid-2000s.

“I relocated because of him, and I'm poor, I don't have any money,” Hilton told me, near tears.

After Hilton stepped into the courtroom and saw the verdict come down, he relaxed. He shook and he had tears in his eyes, but his step was lighter. He was no longer stomping mad.

“I'm glad I came out today, I can get on with my own life,” Hilton said.

The trial may have provided a dose of temporary relief for Baltimore's pain. At the time of its conclusion, there had not been a homicide in the city since February 1—a period coinciding with the most explosive revelations in the GTTF case, as well as a popular, community-oriented initiative called Baltimore Ceasefire.

The FBI made clear in public statements and throughout the trial that the investigation into Baltimore Cops remained ongoing. After the verdict, Mayor Catherine Pugh, state's attorney Mosby, and other local officials offered statements about the future. But Hayes stressed that it was a federal investigation that exposed this mess—not the city's own reformers.

“I don’t believe the city or the administration is prepared to truly grapple with the widespread corruption—nor has the guts to fully purge it so that the black people of Baltimore can finally trust their government," he said.

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This article originally appeared on VICE US.

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