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Members of rogue Baltimore police unit found guilty of corruption charges

by Jon Schuppe /  / Updated 
Image: Daniel Hersl
This undated photo provided by the Baltimore Police Department shows Daniel Hersl, one of seven police officers who worked together on a firearms crime task force who are charged with stealing money, property and narcotics from people over the course of two years.Baltimore Police Department via AP

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Two members of a rogue Baltimore police unit were found guilty Monday of corruption charges — a case that marred what was already a bleak period for the crime-plagued city.

The officers, Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor, were convicted by a federal jury of racketeering and robbery, part of a broader conspiracy among members of the police department's Gun Trace Task force that involved holding up drug dealers, conducting illegal searches, claiming unearned overtime and trying to cover up their crimes, authorities said.

Six other officers, including two who testified against Hersl and Taylor, have already pleaded guilty.

None of the officers remain on the force, as the police department fired Hersl and Taylor immediately after Monday's verdicts, officials said. Hersl and Taylor were each acquitted of a gun charge.

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Newly appointed Commissioner Darryl De Sousa said in a statement that he had officers monitoring the trial, which included new accusations of corruption and new intrigue over the death of Detective Sean Suiter, who was shot to death last fall, a day before he was to testify to a grand jury about the now-disbanded unit.

The trial featured witnesses testifying that officers peddled garbage bags full of drugs purportedly looted during the city's 2015 riots, sold seized drugs and guns, committed armed home invasions, and were told to carry BB guns to plant on suspects.

Some of the crimes and cover-ups were captured in secretly recorded conversations, portions of which have been played at the trial.

Last week, one of the disgraced officers, Momodu Gondo. confirmed the names of several officers who he said stole money with him in 2008 and 2009, including Suiter.

Related: Disgraced Baltimore officer says detective slain before testifying was also corrupt

De Sousa, appointed earlier this year to get a handle on gun violence, said Monday that the officers' indictments, and the trial, "uncovered some of the most egregious and despicable acts ever perpetrated in law enforcement."

The department has created a new corruption unit "that will focus, specifically, on this case and the allegations that were made, but were not part of the indictment or prosecution," De Sousa said. He added: "Our job moving forward is to earn back the trust and respect of the community."

The trial came at a particularly difficult time for Baltimore, where the 2017 murder rate climbed to record levels and where the police department is already under federal oversight for a pattern of unconstitutional street stops.

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh cited the need for those court-mandated reforms in her response to the verdict, which she called "the right one, given the abundance of compelling and damning evidence" against the Gun Trace Task Force.

De Sousa has reportedly said he wants to bring back plainclothes units to target gun and drug offenders ─ work similar to what the rogue unit did ─ but do it legally.

But that could make it harder to regain public trust.

Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said in a statement that the trial exposed the city's inability to weed out corruption that lasted nearly a decade, and "affirmed the gross misconduct that communities have complained of for years" but weren't believed.

"It shouldn’t take federal investigations to recognize and trust the community," Ifill said.

Stephen M. Schenning, the acting U.S. Attorney in Maryland, said after the verdicts that the case was "corrosive of the trust we need to do our jobs effectively" but the verdicts sent a message that, in the end, the justice system brings dirty officers to justice.

"You can't rob people just because they're drug dealers," he said in remarks captured by local Fox affiliate WBFF. "In the end you're going to get caught and pay a price."

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