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article imageStunning police corruption revealed in Baltimore trial

By Sébastien BLANC and Chris LEFKOW (AFP)     Feb 8, 2018 in World

A corruption case is drawing to a close in Baltimore after weeks of riveting testimony which has revealed stunning accounts of abuse by police in the troubled US city.

Drugs and guns seized from drug dealers and resold, hundreds of thousands of dollars pocketed, BB guns purchased so they could be planted on suspects...

Those are just a few of the revelations that have emerged during the trial of police detectives Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor, who have been charged with robbery and extortion and could face life in prison.

Closing arguments in the case began on Wednesday and were to conclude on Thursday, after which the jury is to deliver a verdict.

At the heart of the case is the Gun Trace Task Force, an elite plainclothes unit responsible for tracking down and seizing illegal weapons in the crime-ridden port city with a population of around 600,000, nearly 60 percent of whom are African-American.

Boarded up houses in east Baltimore
Boarded up houses in east Baltimore

All of their victims were black men, many of them drug dealers who the corrupt police officers knew could not go to the authorities to complain.

Six police officers have pleaded guilty to various charges and four of them have delivered gripping testimony at the trial of the other two officers.

Several avowed drug dealers have also been given immunity to allow them to testify about their encounters with members of the Gun Trace Task Force.

The Baltimore Sun has provided exhaustive front-page coverage of the case and detailed accounts of some of the most damaging testimony.

Mistrust of the police is already deep in a city plagued by high crime, drugs and poverty and the high-profile corruption case poses a challenge for Baltimore's new mayor, Catherine Pugh.

- 'Cops and robbers' -

Shawn Whiting, who testified on the second day of the trial, told the court that he had about $22,000 in cash in his bedroom when it was raided by police in January 2014, the Sun reported.

The seal of the Baltimore Police Department at police headquarters
The seal of the Baltimore Police Department at police headquarters

The police officers who carried out the raid reported seizing only $7,650, however.

Detective Maurice Ward, one of the six officers who have pleaded guilty in a bid to receive lighter prison sentences, said he split $3,000 with Taylor, the detective who is on trial.

Ward also told the court, according to the Sun, that Sergeant Wayne Jenkins, the Gun Trace Task Force supervisor, had instructed members of the unit to buy BB guns in case they were needed to plant on suspects.

Jenkins is also among the six officers who have pleaded guilty.

The court also heard an account of how members of the Gun Trace Task Force broke into a safe in a suspected drug dealer's home containing $200,000 in cash.

They removed $100,000, put $100,000 back inside and then filmed themselves opening up the safe as if for the first time.

"They were, simply put, both cops and robbers at the same time," Assistant US Attorney Leo Wise told the court in his opening arguments, according to the Sun.

Baltimore's mayor fired the police commissioner in January and said on Thursday that she was aware of the "deeply disturbing allegations arising from the trial."

"Be assured, we are addressing the culture and practices of the Baltimore Police Department in a way that will engender the highest level of trust and confidence our citizens want and need in those who are sworn to protect and defend," Pugh said.

With 343 homicides in 2017, Baltimore had the highest murder rate per capita in the country and the city is still recovering from riots that broke out in 2015 after the death in police custody of a young black man, Freddie Gray.

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