BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Two men who were wrongly imprisoned after officers planted heroin on them are suing the Baltimore City Police Department, the state of Maryland as well as various current and former officers for more than $40 million. The case has ties to the Gun Trace Task Force scandal.
Plaintiffs Umar Burley and Brent Matthews told WJZ that they still do not trust police.
“We had screamed our innocence, but no one would believe it,” said Burley, who served almost eight years in prison before his release last year.
“They were supposed to protect and serve. What they did was unbelievable,” Matthews said.
Their case goes back to April 2010. Burley and Matthews allege their car was blocked in Northwest Baltimore by armed men in masks. They thought they were being robbed and fled. In the chase that followed, 86-year-old grandfather Elbert Davis was killed. An officer then planted heroin in their car.
Among the defendants is former Sgt. Wayne Jenkins. He later headed the corrupt Gun Trace Task Force and was sentenced to 25 years in federal prison last week. During that sentencing, Jenkins cried in court and apologized to Davis’ family for his actions.
Another defendant is the estate of the late Det. Sean Suiter.
Suiter’s on-duty killing last year remains unsolved. It happened one day before he was scheduled to testify in front of a grand jury about the 2010 incident involving Burley and Matthews.
“Detective Suiter was one of four officers who stopped Mr. Burley and Mr. Matthews without any reasonable suspicion, without any observations of criminality afoot,” said the plaintiffs’ attorney Steven Silverman.
“Detective Suiter was on the scene. He was wearing a mask. He had a gun drawn. He was part of the chase,” Silverman said.
“I am sorry that he is deceased. My heart goes out to his wife, his children, and his family, but he was there. As we go through discovery, we will flesh out what we need to flesh out to determine exactly what his role was,” Silverman said.
Suiter was never criminally charged. The lawsuit also names a current and former BPD officer who have not been criminally charged.
Matthews and Burley say they want accountability. Their lawsuit alleges police turned a blind eye to corruption, particularly in specialized units.
“I never saw no way of getting out of this but doing the time,” Burley said. “It’s been hell.”
Also Wednesday, Judge Catherine Blake sentenced another figure tied to the Gun Trace Task Force: 38-year-old Thomas Robert Finnegan of Easton, Pennsylvania.
Prosecutors say Finnegan — along with GTTF Det. Jemell Rayam and Rayam’s cousin David Kendall Rahim — robbed a South Baltimore couple at gunpoint. They posed as officers and stole $20,000.
Finnegan will serve eight and a half years in federal prison for his crimes.
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