How the Gun Trace Task Force Fueled Violence and Overtime During Baltimore Uprising

“I got an entire pharmacy,” former bail bondsman Donald Stepp said from the witness stand in federal court Thursday. He was quoting former police sergeant Wayne Jenkins, the center of the ongoing corruption trial of two members of the Gun Trace Task Force, an elite police squad charged with criminal conspiracies.

In a trial full of dramatic revelations of corruption, Stepp’s claim was especially significant in this beleaguered city, which was about to embark on a third citizen-led Ceasefire attempting to halt the brutal pace of near-daily murders for a weekend.

In June 2015, after what was then Baltimore’s deadliest month in decades, then-Commissioner Anthony Batts blamed the spike in murders on drugs looted from pharmacies during the unrest following the death of Freddie Gray in police custody in April of that year. Headlines blared: “Baltimore police commissioner: looted drugs during riots causing spike in violence.”

Others have claimed that the murders arose from the “Ferguson Effect,” which argues that police “stood down” for fear of being “the next viral video.”

But Stepp’s claims complicate both of those narratives. According to Stepp, early in the morning on April 28, 2015 as Baltimore police struggled to regain some control after weeks of protest had turned to a day of rioting, Jenkins had his own agenda.

“During the riots of Freddie Gray, he called me again, woke me up, said I needed to open the garage door,” Stepp said. When Jenkins pulled up, Stepp said, he got out of the car, opened the trunk and took out two large trash bags.

“I got people coming out of these pharmacies,” Stepp, who estimated making a million dollars off of selling drugs Jenkins stole, recalled his old friend saying.

Deborah Katz Levi, the head of the Baltimore City Public Defender Special Litigation Section, calls it callous.

“There’s some argument that these guys robbed drug dealers, some people say that, right, and that these guys, you know committed crimes against other alleged criminals—but when you’re taking prescription medication that the citizens of Baltimore, and in impoverished neighborhoods, really needed, that shows a level of callousness that rises all the way to the top,” she said outside the courthouse Thursday.

But in addition to taking medicine away from citizens, according to then-Commissioner Batts’ logic, Jenkins and Stepp contributed to “turf wars,” which, he said were “leading to violence and shootings in our city.”

Batts said 27 pharmacies were looted. And while most people think of the burning CVS at the heart of the unrest in Penn North, the DEA claimed that most of the pharmacies were targeted by organized gangs.

“You see the economic value for these gangs in targeting these pharmacies,” Special Agent Gary Tuggle told WBAL back in 2015, comparing the price of Oxycontin—which he said could go for $30 a pill to heroin, which was selling for $10-$15 a bag.

Stepp testified that he and Jenkins regularly burgled buildings—and that he bought a wide variety of equipment used in such burglaries, including grappling hooks, crowbars, sledgehammers, and tracking devices for Jenkins and other police officers, whom he did not name.

He described Jenkins as a man in control of the city.

“It was easy for him to be able to steal because he had access, incredible access because of his position,” Stepp said.

While the exact role the Gun Trace Task Force and other rogue officers played in the looting of drugs and the rise of violence is unknown, it is clear that the task force, which was described by prosecutors as “both cops and robbers at the same time” profited from it.

Cooperating co-defendants testified that, as the murder rate rose in 2015, then-Commissioner Kevin Davis asked Jenkins how he was keeping his squad motivated. According to Evodio Hendrix, Jenkins told the commissioner he was using overtime to keep his crew happy and getting guns off the streets. Davis allegedly told Jenkins to “keep up the good work.”

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Filming Cops
Filming Cops 5618 posts

Filming Cops was started in 2010 as a conglomerative blogging service documenting police abuse. The aim isn’t to demonize the natural concept of security provision as such, but to highlight specific cases of State-monopolized police brutality that are otherwise ignored by traditional media outlets.

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