BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Two Baltimore City Police detectives are fighting for their freedom as the federal corruption case that could put them in prison for life inches toward the jury.
“These guys were willing to do whatever it took to lie, cheat, and steal over and over and over again,” said Assistant United States Attorney Derek Hines in his closing argument.
The complex case involves a RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) violation, a RICO conspiracy, and firearms violations. Wrapped into those charges are robbery and overtime fraud, and it took the judge almost two hours to read the jury instructions.
“They thought they were above the law because they were detectives in an elite unit,” Hines told jurors. “They believed they should be given a free pass because they were getting guns off the street.”
Hersl and Taylor are the only two officers in their former squad, the Gun Trace Task Force, who are fighting the charges. Hersl’s defense attorney, William Purpura, admitted his client stole some money, but he says it was simple theft and not robbery and that the government overcharged Hersl.
Regarding the overtime, Purpura said, “If it’s fraud, it was rampant in the aggressive police squads in Baltimore City. Right up the chain of command, it was acknowledged with a wink and a nod.”
He said the four officers who have reached plea deals and testified for the government are “liars” and showed a Monopoly Get Out of Jail Free card. Purpura claimed they told prosecutors what they wanted to hear in exchange for a conviction against his client and a reduced sentence for them.
Regarding Detective Momodu Gondo, who admitted to selling drugs, stealing money and a gun, Purpura told jurors, “That’s classic cooperator’s testimony that you just can’t believe.”
Prosecutor Hines said the defendants believed they were “above the law” and the people they stole from–some of whom were drug dealers–were targeted because the detectives believed they were “beneath the law.”
“The evidence shows that they were not working to rid the city of guns, they were hardly ever working,” Hines said. “This isn’t a case against all police, it’s a case against a group of criminals who hid behind their badges.”
The prosecution showed jurors pictures of nine victims and detailed the money stolen from each one. “No man is above the law; no man is beneath the law,” Hines said.
Because of the lengthy jury instructions, the judge dismissed jurors before they heard the closing argument from Detective Taylor’s attorney. The jury will hear that Thursday morning along with a final rebuttal closing from prosecutor Leo Wise before beginning deliberations.
The case has received widespread media attention and testimony has implicated other officers who have not been charged. The New York Times called it “one of the most startling corruption scandals in a generation.”
Baltimore City Mayor Catherine Pugh said Wednesday that she had not been following it closely. “Look, I’ve got to run a city. I don’t have time to sit in a trial,” she said.
The mayor went on to say she was aware of some of the testimony and “as anybody is, would be, in our community, would be surprised by some of the accusations that have been made.”
She expressed confidence in the new police commissioner, who has opened a unit to look into corruption allegations made at the trial.
“Much of what we’re discovering are individuals who’ve been in the police department and in that particular unit. That particular unit has been already broken up,” Pugh told reporters, and she said most officers are good.
University of Maryland Law Professor Doug Colbert listed to the closing arguments and told WJZ Investigator Mike Hellgren he was impressed by lawyers on both sides and said the trial is crucially important for the citizens of Baltimore.
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